Romanesque the Last Judgement Research Proposal

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Romanesque/The Last Judgement

Romanesque art developed in Western Europe from approximately 1000 AD through to the 13th century or later. The term "Romanesque" was coined much later, in the 19th century by art historians, and referred to a style which can be found mostly in architecture, but also in other areas of art, such as carvings, paintings and murals. Romanesque art resembled Roman art in many ways, especially in the case of architectural style, with round-headed arches, barrel vaults, and apses. However, there are is also a considerable amount of differences between the two styles which cannot be overlooked when discussing Romanesque art. As with any other period in art history, one cannot strive to acquire a complex understanding of Romanesque art without reflecting on its context and geographical focus, as well as themes and influences. This paper looks at these factors which are key in the development of Romanesque art, and analyzes the theme of "The Last Judgment" by discussing several important works of art from the period in question.

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In this context of the expansion of monasticism, Romanesque art combined a number of influences which in turn, gave birth to a new artistic language that was capable of articulating the tenets of the Christian faith using artistic means of expression. For instance, one of the best examples of this new artistic idiom could be found in the realm of architecture, with Romanesque architects inventing the tympanum, on which "The Last Judgment" as well as other scenes from the Bible was painted. Aside from the religious and artistic explanations behind this choice, there was also the very practical intention of preparing the faithful for the ceremonies and prayer which would take place inside the church.

Research Proposal on Romanesque the Last Judgement Assignment

Social and economic factors are perhaps the most relevant aspects when trying to understand why the theme of the Last Judgment was the mark of Romanesque art. The 11th and the 12th centuries were the scene of great artistic and cultural activity. The main force behind this unprecedented in this surge of artistic expression was the expansion of monasticism and the creation of several new orders across Europe, such as the Cluniac, Carthusian and Cistercian. A great number of monasteries were built throughout Europe which largely contributed to the evolution and propagation of cultural life, as monasteries were places of intense intellectual activity and creation. In addition, economic prosperity and political stability, as well as an increase in population favored the cultural boom which span approximately two centuries.

As we have seen before, architecture was a very significant part of Romanesque art thanks to the birth of several new orders of monks but also to the surge of cultural activity, and the practical need of priests and monks to visually depict, and thus revive, scenes from the Bible. As stone churches were built to accommodate ever-larger number of monks, growing crowds of pilgrims came to worship the relics of the saints, for instance at Sainte-Foy at Conques in present-day France. This was the first time since the fall of the Roman Empire that church facades, doorways and capitals were adorned with monumental sculptures. Frescoes were applied to vaults and walls inside churches; for instance, the Temptation of Christ painted inside San Baudelio de Berlanga in the Spanish province of Soria.

Romanesque art was also influenced by Byzantine art which had preserved several features of Hellenistic art that had disappeared in the West, such as the tradition of expressing a repertoire of gestures expressing emotions, and a coherent modeling of the human body under drapery. A very good example of these elements can be found in the ivory plaque depicting the Journey to Emmaus and the Noli Me Tangere dating to 12th century Spain.

The use of the theme of the Last Judgment must be explained and understood from a theological point-of-view which requires us to inquire into the religious teachings of the early middle ages. During the 4th and 5th centuries, the possibility of purgation after death started to receive a great deal of attention as the leaders of the churches tried to reconcile this particular promise with the principle of judgment by merit (McLaughlin 188). By the 6th century, purgation had become the privilege of the few rather than the common fate of most Christians. The purifying fire which would enable certain Christians to be granted purgation was associated with individual eschatology (Ibid 189) - that is, the fate of only some of the faithful. Although Augustine had also discussed the power of the purifying fire, it was not until the 6th century that this hypothesis became an axiom in the Western church, with Gregory the Great writing in his "Dialogues": "one should believe in a purging fire before the judgment for certain light faults" (Idem). From this moment on, the fire was linked primarily to the period prior the end of the world, but the earlier identification with the fire of judgment also persisted.

Ideas about the afterlife changed, and the anxiety concerning the fate of the departed grew during this time; this anxiety was concretized in the increased care devoted to the dying and the dead. In fact, the entire passage from life to death was central to the Christian faith between the 4th and the 9th centuries, with prayers being performed around the deathbed to ensure a smooth transition to the next world, as well as to ward off demonic attacks on the soul of the dying. There was a significant number of developments in liturgy and doctrine over these centuries that in turn, determined the birth of a coherent set of teachings and prayers about the dead.

As far as the process of individual judgment of the dead, early medieval visions focused on presenting the dead person as good but imperfect. Although there is hope for the salvation of the soul as a result of this judgment, there is also the possibility of the soul being possessed by demons because of the sins that all Christians commit during their lifetime. In this sense, in many texts written during this period of time, the soul is illustrated as helpless in the face of evil at the moment of death. From this point-of-view, prayer is the only way to protect the soul of the dead from demonic intervention.

Perhaps more so than Spain or Italy, France is considered the epitome of Romanesque creation: "nowhere else do the monuments of earlier centuries appear in such almost uninterrupted unity of style, and the beautiful words of the monk Claber to the effect that shortly after the year 1000 all the world - but especially France and Italy - was covered with a white garment of churches, would not have been true of any earlier epoch" (Gantner, Pobe, Heynemann, Roubier: 11). With its west tympanum, Autun Cathedral, located in Autun, offers a great example of Romanesque art focused on the theme of the Last Judgment signed by Giselbertus, a French sculptor whose work has been acclaimed as one of the most original during the period of Romanesque art.

The Church of St. Foy in Conques, France, has preserved a huge and painted tympanum depicting the Last Judgment. Impressive figures illustrate the words of the Bible, with a narrative skill which was skillfully mastered by 12th-century sculptors who were able to dramatize the scene, and add words to the images which aimed at clarifying the message for those who could read. Christ is depicted as the judge, enthroned beneath a huge cross, inscribed "The sign of the cross will appear in the heavens when the Lord comes to judge humanity." Christ signals the judgment, and the inscriptions read,"Come, Blessed of my Father, receive the Kingdom prepared for you." Led by the Virgin, St. Peter, a king, a cleric and angels, "The assembly of saints stand happy before Christ the Judge. Thus are given to the elect, united forever in the joy of Heaven, glory, peace, repose, and days without end. The chaste, the peaceful, the gentle, the pious receive happiness and security, free from fear," Christ's down-turned left hand emphasizes the command, "Depart from me, cursed ones," as the image depicts demons dragging the sinners (Stokstad 227).

Angoul me Cathedral located in the French province of Charente provides another beautiful example of how the theme of the Last Judgment was employed by Romanesque artists. Consecrated in 1017, the cathedral has a decorated facade which features more than 70 sculptures, divided into two intermingled columns based on their theme, i.e., the Ascension and the Last Judgment. The aim of this brilliant intertwining of Biblical themes was to convey a message that all Christians should recognize their sins, repent and be redeemed (Clapham 90). In the case of the Last Judgment, the sculptures were focused on the stage of repentance. Two other important tympana at Cluny and S. Benigne at Dijon have been destroyed (Ibid 102).

The gradual expansion of southern French Romanesque art into the more northerly provinces of the country did not result in a… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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Romanesque the Last Judgement.  (2009, March 6).  Retrieved May 31, 2020, from

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"Romanesque the Last Judgement."  March 6, 2009.  Accessed May 31, 2020.