In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Early Medieval Architecture in Western Europe

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • References
  • Architectural Sculpture
  • Architecture and Liturgy
  • Urban Studies
  • Secular Architecture
  • Journals

Art History Early Medieval Architecture in Western Europe
Charles McClendon
  • LAST REVIEWED: 29 May 2019
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 May 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199920105-0138


The precise definition of the early Middle Ages as a historical period is far from clear, as is the specific beginning and end of the Middle Ages as a whole. In terms of architecture, it is generally taken to postdate the experiments of the late antique/early Christian period and to end sometime soon after the year 1000, when according to the monk Raoul Glaber the world put on a “white mantle of churches,” which is usually related to the emergence of Romanesque. This bibliography follows these general chronological perimeters, extending from the middle of the 6th to the early 11th century. Unlike Romanesque and later Gothic, early medieval architecture does not embody a single, particular style, aside from the often perceived antiquarian tendencies of the so-called Carolingian Renaissance of the late 8th and 9th centuries under Charlemagne and his immediate successors. Most studies are therefore regional, produced often by scholars writing in their native languages and focused on the monuments of their homeland.

General Overviews

Due to the ambiguous nature of the concept of the early Middle Ages, there are few broad studies that focus exclusively on this period. Often, as with Porter 1909 and Conant 1979, and to a lesser extent with Stalley 1999, the material is treated summarily as a prelude to the achievements of Romanesque architecture. Barral i Altet 1997 provides many images and some plans of important buildings but the commentary is sparse. More recently, McClendon 2005 and Untermann 2006 stay within the chronological framework defined in the introduction and present a wide array of structures in order to demonstrate that early medieval architecture was important and innovative in its own right and not simply an example of decline between the better known structures of late antiquity and the central Middle Ages.

  • Barral i Altet, Xavier. The Early Middle Ages from Late Antiquity to A.D. 1000. Taschen’s World Architecture. Cologne, Germany: Taschen Verlag, 1997.

    A richly illustrated survey of major monuments with an emphasis on stylistic qualities largely devoid of a broader historical context. Includes a short bibliography but no notes.

  • Conant, Kenneth John. Carolingian and Romanesque Architecture 800–1200. 4th ed. Pelican History of Art. New Haven, CT, and London: Yale University Press, 1979.

    A standard survey of the material with four chapters of Part I discussing pre-Romanesque church building, but the text is little changed since the first edition in 1954 and therefore lacks reference to more recent scholarship and archaeological developments.

  • McClendon, Charles B. The Origins of Medieval Architecture: Building in Europe, A.D. 600–900. New Haven, CT, and London: Yale University Press, 2005.

    The most recent scholarly publication in English to focus exclusively on early medieval architecture in western Europe with extensive illustrations, notes, and bibliography. Can be read both as an introduction and as a guide to further research.

  • Porter, Arthur Kingsley. Medieval Architecture: Its Origins and Development, with Lists of Monuments and Bibliographies. 2 vols. New York: Baker and Taylor, 1909.

    A pioneering work that attempts to trace stylistic developments in Europe from antiquity to the end of the Middle Ages. Although Porter expresses appreciation for the formative contribution of monuments from the 6th to the 11th centuries, only one of the ten chapters deals with this period under the label of Carolingian.

  • Stalley, Roger A. Early Medieval Architecture. Oxford History of Art. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999.

    A richly illustrated introductory text, although, despite the title, its major focus is Romanesque architecture. Two initial chapters discuss the emergence of the early Christian basilica and the so-called Carolingian Renaissance, followed by thematic explorations of architectural developments primarily in the 11th and 12th centuries.

  • Untermann, Matthias. Architektur in frühen Mittelalter. Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 2006.

    An extensive survey of many sites throughout western Europe organized chronologically and geographically. Plans abound with a few photographs, some in color. Descriptions and analyses of buildings are brief with few notes and limited bibliography.

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