In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Romanesque

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Early Surveys
  • Bibliographies
  • Critical Interpretations
  • Historiography
  • Essay Collections
  • Series
  • Journals
  • Primary Sources
  • Classicism
  • Cultural Exchange
  • Modern Uses of Romanesque Art
  • Monasticism
  • Monstrous
  • Pilgrimage
  • Relics and the Cult of Saints
  • Ritual
  • Urbanism
  • Women and the Arts
  • Word and Image

Art History Romanesque
Kirk Ambrose
  • LAST REVIEWED: 30 January 2014
  • LAST MODIFIED: 30 January 2014
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199920105-0012


Coined at the turn of the 19th century to signal a perceived Roman aspect to architecture of the 11th and 12th centuries, Romanesque is today a contested term, with some scholars preferring century descriptors. Romanesque typically refers to the arts produced in western Europe sometime after 1000 CE until the middle of the 12th century, a time marked by the rise of Gothic art in France. The term “Romanesque” can likewise be extended to the arts of central Europe and Russia, but, for reasons of space, the monuments of these regions cannot be considered here. In some parts of western Europe, including Germany and Portugal, scholars classify monuments from the early 13th century as Romanesque. Broadly construed, this period witnessed a remarkable flourishing of the arts in a host of media, as well in other cultural spheres. Many continue to refer in general terms to a “renaissance of the 12th century.” With the benefit of nearly a century of scholarship preceding this publication, it has become increasingly difficult to generalize about the scope and variety of cultural activities across Europe. As eclecticism characterizes the visual arts of the period, most studies on Romanesque tend to be based largely on specific monuments, media, or regions. In addition, many scholars approach their subject with an eye to thematic or key methodological concerns, resulting in a rich and complex historiographic tradition. This article provides an overview, by no means comprehensive, of major trends of investigation, as well as offering an introduction to key sources.

General Overviews

General overviews of Romanesque art are rare, with most appearing a generation ago, including Künstler 1968, Nebolsine 1969, and Zarnecki 1971. Recent surveys tend to focus on a specific region, such as Vergnolle 2009, or a narrow range of monuments, such as Barral i Altet 1995. Thematic approaches characterize the overviews of Petzold 1995 and Sekules 2001. Most recently, Wolf 2007 eschews a synthesis in favor of sustained analyses of a select number of monuments.

  • Barral i Altet, Xavier. The Romanesque: Towns, Cathedrals, and Monasteries. Translated by Chris Miller. New York: Taschen, 1995.

    Lavishly illustrated, approachable survey that attempts to synthesize eclectic developments in various types of architecture.

  • Künstler, Gustav, ed. Romanesque Art in Europe. Greenwich, CT: New York Graphic Society, 1968.

    Divided by country; provides overview of architecture and monumental arts. Useful for its large numbers of plates, most of high quality.

  • Nebolsine, George. Journey into Romanesque: A Traveller’s Guide To Romanesque Monuments in Europe. New York: Putnam, 1969.

    Fairly well-illustrated checklist of major monuments across Europe. Introductory remarks on the origins of the Romanesque are dated.

  • Petzold, Andreas. Romanesque Art. New York: Abrams, 1995.

    Approachable, albeit opinionated, survey of all media with an eye to social context. Suitable for undergraduates, but out of print.

  • Sekules, Veronica. Medieval Art. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001.

    Covering the arts from 1000 to 1500 thematically, with many Romanesque monuments addressed.

  • Vergnolle, Eliane. L’Art roman en France: Architecture-sculpture-peinture. Paris: Flammarion, 2009.

    Lavishly illustrated survey of French monuments by a leading scholar of the Romanesque. Concerned largely with issues of style and dating.

  • Wolf, Norbert. Romanesque. London: Taschen, 2007.

    Highly selective, though lavishly illustrated, survey examines individual works at length. Emphasizes religious meaning, as well as material sumptuousness.

  • Zarnecki, George. Romanesque Art. New York: Universe Books, 1971.

    Approachable short survey, with chapters divided by artistic media. Rather limited text, but many pictures of key monuments; ambitious in its scope.

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