Medieval art

Medieval art covers a vast scope of time and place, over 1000 years of art history in Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa. It includes major art movements and periods, national and regional art, genres, revivals, the artists crafts, and the artists themselves.

Art historians classify Medieval art into major periods and movements. They are Early Christian art, Migration Period art, Celtic art, Byzantine art, Islamic art, Pre-Romanesque and Romanesque art, and Gothic art. In addition each "nation" or culture in the Middle Ages had its own distinct artistic style and these are looked at individually, such as Anglo-Saxon art or Viking art. Medieval art includes many mediums, and was especially strong in sculpture, Illuminated manuscripts and mosaics. There were many unique genres of art, such as Crusade art or animal style.


Medieval art in Europe grew out of the artistic heritage of the Roman Empire and the legacy of the early Christian church. These sources were mixed with the vigorous "Barbarian" artistic culture of Northern Europe to produce a remarkable artistic legacy. Indeed the history of medieval art can be seen as the history of the interplay between the elements of classical, early Christian and "pagan" art.

Major art movements

Art in the Middle Ages is a broad subject and art historians traditionally look at it based on about eight large-scale movements, or periods.

  • Early Christian art covers the period from about 200 (before which no distinct Christian form survives), until onset of a fully Byzantine style in about 500. During this period Christian artists adopted the Roman crafts of painting, mosaic, carving and metalwork.
  • Byzantine art emerges from what we call Early Christian art in about 500. During the Byzantine iconoclasm period of 730-843 when the vast majority of icons (artwork with figures) was destroyed; so little remains that today any discovery sheds new understanding. After the resumption of icon production in 843 until 1453 the Byzantine art tradition continued with relatively few changes, despite, or because of, the slow decline of the Empire. It is often the finest art of the Middle Ages in terms of quality of material and workmanship, with production centered on Constantinople. Byzantine art's crowning achievement were the monumental frescos and mosaics inside domed churches, most of which have not survived due to natural disasters and the appropriation of churches to mosques.
  • Insular art refers to the distinct style found in Ireland and Britain from about the 7th century, to about the 10th century, and later in Ireland. The style saw a fusion between the traditions of Celtic art and the Germanic Migration period art of the Anglo-Saxons in the production of books, high crosses and other objects of Christian art. The style was transmitted to the continent by the Hiberno-Scottish mission, and its anti-classical energy was extremely important in the formation of later medieval styles.
  • Migration Period art describes the art of Germanic and Eastern-European peoples on the move during the Migration Period from about 300-900, also including the early Hiberno-Saxon period in Britain and Ireland. These influence interacted with Christian art, as well as the Animal style and Polychrome style.
  • Islamic art during the Middle Ages covers a wide variety of crafts including illustrated manuscripts, textiles, ceramics, metalwork and glass. It refers to the art of Muslim peoples in the Near East, Islamic Spain, and Northern Africa. There was an early formative stage from 600-900 and the development of regional styles from 900 onwards.
  • Pre-Romanesque art is the period from the crowning of Charlemagne in 800 to the start of the Romanesque period in the 11th century. It includes Carolingian art, Ottonian art (Germany), Anglo-Saxon art (England), as well as the art of France, Italy and Spain. During this period Roman classical influences are actively absorbed and Carolingian art becomes the seed from which would later emerge Romanesque and Gothic art.
  • Romanesque art refers to the period from about 1000 to the rise of Gothic art in the 12th century, which developed in conjunction with the rise of monasticism in Western Europe and particularly France, but also included Christian Spain, England, Flanders, Germany, Italy, and elsewhere. Its architecture is dominated by thick walls, short, squat structures, and round-headed windows and arches. The name comes from 19th century art historians, as it was the first time since ancient Rome that Roman architectural forms were clearly used.
  • Gothic art is a variable term depending on the craft, place and time. The term originated with Gothic architecture in 1140, but Gothic painting did not appear until around 1200 (this date has many qualifications), when it diverged from Romanesque style. Gothic sculpture was born in France in 1144 with the renovation of the Abbey Church of S. Denis and spread throughout Europe, by the 13th century it had become the international style, replacing Romanesque. International Gothic describes Gothic art from about 1360 to 1430, after which Gothic art merges into Renaissance art at different times in different places. During this period forms such as painting, in fresco and on panel, become newly important, and the end of the period includes new media such as prints.

Medieval art by region, type and genre

See also

External links

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