The medieval period was a period that exploded with art. In a culture where many of the common people were illiterate, sculpture, painting and architecture were important to daily life. Although the content of the two periods was similar, there were some important differences that set them apart from one another.
The Romanesque period lasted approximately A.D. 1000 to A.D. 1200. The name "Romanesque" refers to the similarity between that style and styles that the ancient Romans favored. The Gothic period followed the Romanesque period, spanning roughly A.D. 1100 to A.D. 1450. Both periods fell within the medieval era, the period of time between the civilizations of classical Greece and Rome and the Enlightenment.
The vast majority of Romanesque art was designed for the Western Church -- the Roman Catholic Church. Because of this, the themes were Christian in nature, depicting Jesus, Mary, the apostles and other events from the Bible. Painters often sized the figures in their paintings relative to their importance; for instance, they painted Jesus larger than less important characters. The colors they chose were often muted. Painters reserved brighter, more vivid colors for illuminated manuscripts and windows. Sculptors created works that were representative rather than strictly realistic.
Christian themes remained central to Gothic art, although depiction of mythological scenes and animals became more common. The largest difference between Romanesque art and Gothic art was that realism became more important in Gothic art. Artists used brighter colors, along with more light and shadows, in their paintings. They began to use perspective, proportion and symmetry, which made the scenes more realistic. Other forms of Gothic art were sculpture, metalwork, stained glass, embroidery, frescoes and illuminated manuscripts.
The differences between Romanesque art and Gothic art are clearly seen in the architecture of the churches of the periods. Romanesque buildings featured rounded barrel arches. Thick walls and pillars supported the weight of the stone buildings. Windows were small and interiors dark. Some examples of this are Germany's Trier Cathedral, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem and the Basilica of Saint-Sernin in Toulouse. The flying buttress was the distinguishing feature of Gothic architecture. These winglike structures built on the outside of buildings allowed them to be much taller, and because the outer walls were no longer supporting the weight of the building, larger stained-glass windows could be installed, filling the interiors with light and color. Architects abandoned the round arches of the Romanesque churches in favor of high, pointed arches.
Bethany Seeley has been publishing articles since 2000 on topics relating to church history and theology. She received a Bachelor of Arts in psychology from Houghton College and a Master of Arts in church history from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. She also loves art, cooking, gardening and books of all types.