In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Art of the Crusader Period in the Levant

  • Introduction
  • Foundational Studies
  • Essential Modern Studies, Surveys, and Historiography
  • Disciplinary Critique of Crusader Art
  • Archaeology and Material Culture
  • Coins and Seals
  • Sculpture
  • Monumental Painting and Mosaic
  • Icon Painting
  • Manuscript Illumination
  • Glassware, Metalwork, Ivory, and Textiles
  • Crusader Cyprus
  • The Latin Empire of Constantinople and Its Vassal States
  • Textbooks
  • Anthologies
  • Exhibition Catalogues
  • Data and Bibliographic Resources

Art History Art of the Crusader Period in the Levant
Richard A. Leson
  • LAST REVIEWED: 13 October 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 May 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199920105-0109


How to characterize the art and architecture of those Western settlers who arrived in the Levant in the wake of the First Crusade (1099) is a question that remains subject to debate. The art, architecture, and material culture of this population is here described as “Frankish” rather than the more traditional “Crusader,” since the former was the term applied to Western settlers regardless of their country of origin or social status by the populations of the Eastern Mediterranean. While the chronological scope of Frankish art and architecture potentially extends much later, this article privileges developments in the Eastern Mediterranean between the years 1099 and 1291, the traditional dates associated with the Frankish occupation of the Levant. The mainland possessions won by the crusaders, to include the Kingdom of Jerusalem, the County of Tripoli, the Principality of Antioch, the County of Edessa, and portions of Armenian Cilicia, were the principle sites of Frankish art and architectural patronage. These territories correspond roughly to the modern Israel, Palestine, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Armenia, and south-central Turkey. Other equally important locations include the monastery of Saint Catherine’s in the Sinai that, while only briefly a crusader possession, is strongly linked with Frankish icon painting; the Crusader Kingdom of Cyprus, established by the Lusignan dynasty of Jerusalem in 1192; and the Latin Empire of Constantinople and its vassal states (1204–1261). While foundational studies attempted to identify the oeuvre and ethnic origins of individual Frankish artists, particularly those operating in the Levant, the past few decades witnessed significant scholarly dispute concerning the nature or character of this artistic phenomenon as a whole. Discussion centered upon the disparate stylistic and iconographic character of Frankish art and architecture, as such works may exhibit elements of Western Christian, Eastern Christian, and Islamic visual traditions simultaneously. Are they therefore best described as colonial, crucial to the development of a “Maniera Greca,” constitutive of a Mediterranean “lingua franca,” or neatly summarized under the all-encompassing rubric of Crusader art? Proponents of Crusader art argue that it is a geographically and chronologically circumscribable phenomenon in which the salient ideological and local concerns of the crusader enterprise are consistently manifest, a line of reasoning that privileges the visual and material record over earlier scholarly emphasis on artists’ ethnicity or place of origin. More recent scholarship, however, approaches the art and architecture of the Franks through a postcolonial lens, emphasizing the neglected but essential role of Eastern Christian and Islamic visual traditions.

Foundational Studies

Modern scholarship on Frankish art and architecture emerged in the wake of the Napoleonic expeditions to the Levant. The establishment of the British and French mandates and attendant partitioning of the Middle East after the First World War, followed by creation of the state of Israel in 1948, further facilitated Western access to crusader sites. Melchior de Vogüé 1860 is the first modern survey of extant Frankish churches in the Holy Land and defines Frankish architecture as a colonial exponent of the French Romanesque. Rey 1871 offers the first study of Crusader castles and fortifications in Syria and Cyprus. Diehl 1897 sustains the Franco-centric approach of Melchior de Vogüé and Rey and expands inquiry beyond architecture to sculpture, painting, mosaic, and numismatics. Viaud 1910 and Vincent and Abel 1912–1926 are the first major comprehensive studies of the important Church of the Annunciation at Nazareth and the Holy Sepulchre, respectively. While still Franco-centric, Enlart 1925–1928 is the first comprehensive art historical account to acknowledge the comingling of Western and local visual traditions in Frankish art and architecture. Deschamps 1930 is an important early study of the famous Nazareth capitals in which the author argues for the sculptures’ Burgundian stylistic pedigree. Rather than a colonial French product, Boase 1938–1939 defines Frankish art as the distinctive intermingling of Western and Eastern artistic traditions in Palestine.

  • Boase, Thomas S. R. “The Arts in the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem.” Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes 2 (1938–1939): 1–21.

    DOI: 10.2307/750021

    Defines Frankish art as a composite of Latin, Byzantine, and Armenian visual traditions, a position upheld by the majority of scholars in the wake of the Second World War. First major English language study of the subject.

  • Deschamps, Paul. “La sculpture française en Palestine et en Syrie á l’époque des Croisades.” Monuments et mémoires de la Fondation Eugène Piot 31 (1930): 91–118.

    DOI: 10.3406/piot.1930.1886

    Follows established orthodoxy in arguing for the French character of the art and architecture of the mainland Crusader territories. Identified Burgundian Romanesque analogues for the famous Nazareth capitals and a handful of Frankish sculptural remains.

  • Diehl, Charles. “Les monuments de l’Orient latin.” Revue de l’Orient latin 5 (1897): 293–310.

    Important fin de siècle account of the state of research establishes connections between French and Levantine ecclesiastical and military architecture, supplemented by some attention to sculpture, painting, mosaics, and numismatics.

  • Enlart, Camille. Les monuments des croisés dans le Royaume de Jérusalem: Architecture religieuse et civile. 4 vols. Paris: Geuthner, 1925–1928.

    First comprehensive study of Frankish art and architecture in Syria-Palestine written from an art historical perspective expands architectural corpus of Melchior de Vogüé 1860. Characterizes Frankish art as a French colonial enterprise, but emphasizes blending of European and local visual traditions. Two text volumes and two atlas volumes.

  • Melchior de Vogüé, Charles Jean. Les églises de la Terre Sainte. Paris: Didron, 1860.

    First empirical examination of Frankish art. Establishes a working corpus of churches characterized as a branch of the French Romanesque. Defines this corpus as a French enterprise, an attitude sustained in Rey 1871 and Diehl 1897.

  • Rey, E. Guillaume. Étude sur les monuments de l’architecture militaire des croisés en Syrie et dans l’île de Chypre. Collection de documents inédits sur l’histoire de France, series 1: Histoire politique. Paris: Impr. Nationale, 1871.

    Earliest survey of Crusader castles includes fortifications in Syria and Cyprus. Argues for distinct Hospitaller and Templar designs. Architecture of each site described in detail, contextualized, and dated. Question of Eastern and Western design origins raised for the first time. Supplemented by important drawings, plans, and engraved plates.

  • Viaud, Prosper. Nazareth et ses deux églises de l’Annonciation et de Saint-Joseph. Paris: A. Picard et Fils, 1910.

    First modern study of the Frankish Church of the Annunciation at Nazareth. Includes archaeological plans and first full description of the five extraordinarily preserved historiated capitals discovered in the shrine-grotto beneath the church in 1908.

  • Vincent, Hugues, and Félix-Marie Abel. Jérusalem: Recherches de topographie, d’archéologie et d’histoire. Paris: Gabalda, 1912–1926.

    First comprehensive account of the Frankish Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Includes valuable detailed plans, scale drawings, plates in color and in black and white.

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