Some writers apply the term "Romanesque" to the period of Christian art in Italy and Western Europe which extended from the 3d to the 10th century; but it is more usually applied to the period extending from the 9th to the 12th or 13th century. Until the 9th century Christian art, especially architecture, had flowed in two main streams, which in locality and in characteristics were quite distinct from each other. The one is usually called the Basilican style, SEE BASILICA, which had its origin in Rome; the other is called the Byzantine style, which had its origin in Constantinople. SEE ARCHITECTURE.
In the very active period of church erection which existed in Central and Western Europe from the 9th to the 12th century, the basilican and Byzantine styles were in a sense forced into a new style, which took on certain characteristics of these former styles, but which had many very marked original features.
The general ground plan of the later basilicas, that of the Latin cross, was retained. For the convenience of the officiating clergy, a semicircular apsis, or choir, was placed at the farther end of the main nave and at the end of each arm of the transept. From this general typical ground plan there were many variations, which were chiefly caused by the disconnected times and plans by which the different parts of the edifices were erected.
The round arch is a distinctive feature of the Romanesque style, which is termed, indeed, by many writers the Round Arch style, in distinction from its successor the Pointed Arch, or Gothic, style. SEE GOTHIC ARCHITECTURE. The round arch was inherited from both the basilican and the Byzantine style. During the latter part of the Romanesque period, the pointed arch began to be used in parts of the openings, and, indeed, in a few cases was almost entirely adopted; but the other features of these edifices mark them as distinctively Romanesque. The method of covering enclosed spaces by vaulting differed greatly from that in the preceding styles, and forms one of the most prominent features in this style.
During the early Romanesque period, especially in Italy, the campanile, or bell tower, was built separate from the church, as in the leaning tower of Pisa; but later it was attached to the church edifice. Indeed, the single tower was expanded into a system of towers surmounted by spires, producing a balancing of parts around the entire structure. The towers were in many cases flanked by small turrets, which produced beautiful and picturesque effects. In many cases a lofty tower with turrets rose over the intersection of the transept and the nave. In the Cathedral of Bamberg four lofty towers rose, two on each side of the nave.
One of the most attractive features of the Romanesque architecture is the introduction of delicately formed arcades in various places on the exterior, where they produce pleasing effects, as under the cornices of the choirs, or apsides, or on the main facade. These arcades sometimes rose, like steps, up along the lines of the roof. Sometimes they were placed in successive tiers up the entire height of the facade, or even up the entire height of the campanile, as in the cathedrals of Lucca and Pisa.
The portals of churches were often flanked by greatly variegated and deeply set clusters of columns. These were surmounted by capitals, and the same or similar clustered lines were carried in an arch over the doorway. In a few cases the inner lines over the doorway were thrown in round arches, while the arches gradually changed to pointed ones. These clustered arches were, in the Gothic style, replaced by rows of angels. The courts of cloisters were frequently surrounded by arcades of exquisite beauty, the columns usually being double, no two being alike, and more frequently one column being twisted. Clustered columns were also introduced in the interiors of churches. Indeed, the entire Romanesque architecture is marked by a rather too exuberant fancy, variety being considered necessary or desirable, even when more harmony could be secured by less varied types of decoration.
The capitals of pillars were manifestly modelled upon the type of the late Roman Corinthian or the Composite capital; but independence of motive was soon manifested, and great variety was introduced in the capitals, which were generally managed in excellent harmony with the lines of the new style. Many new plant forms were conventionalized, and the foundation was laid for the subsequent luxurious Gothic foliation. Animal forms, both realistic and imaginary, were frequently introduced in the midst of plant forms or alone, in the capitals of pillars and elsewhere. These not unfrequently represented ogres and other hideous beasts, which were to frighten hypocrites and the wicked from entering the house of God, the precursors of the gargoyles of the Gothic. Not unfrequently the chief columns of portals rested on the backs of lions or massive dogs, typifying the strength and defenses of the Church.
In truth and consistency of architectural character, the Romanesque style, in its best examples, takes very high rank among the historic styles. It is the only one of the great styles in history which did not pass into decadence through the perversion of architectural features or principles. It was cut off in the height of its career by its successor the Gothic — the pointed displacing the round arch, with all its entire new type of decoration. The finest examples of the Romanesque style are: in Italy, the cathedrals of Pisa, Lucca, Parma, Vercelli; in France, those of Avignon, Toulouse, Bayeux, Clermont, Perigueux, St. Itienne, and other churches in Caen; in Germany, those of Worms, Bonn, Speyer, Treves, Hildesheim, and Bamberg; in England, those of Peterborough, Waltham, and Winchester. Many of the finest effects in this style are found in detached fragments, which were made in churches that were not finished until this style had been superseded by the Gothic.
During the Romanesque period there was some activity in sculpture. The chief works in this branch of art were in ivory. Many of them are extremely interesting from the fact that they show an earnest spirit, though with much naiveness and almost crudeness of execution. In painting, the chief works were in miniature, in the decoration of missals, and other MS. books of devotion. In France, more especially, many important compositions were executed in fresco, after the style current in the Orient, and probably done by Byzantine artists. See Lübke, Hist. of Art; Kugler, Gesch. der Baukunst; id. Gesch. der Malerei; Schnaase, Gesch. der Kunste; Fergusson, Hist. of Architecture; Rosengarten, Hand-book of Architectural Styles. (G.F.C.)