What is the Romanesque Style of Architecture?

Apr 14, 2022

Imagine yourself walking on an aisle of a church flared with massive Corinthian columns on either side, flamboyant arches, round vaults with large openings above your head, decorative frescoes on the wall and stained glass of the window allowing natural light to penetrate. These all sum up to a specific style that is called Romanesque architecture.

Back story, we call it Art Story!

Romanesque architecture emerged in Europe between the late 10th century and the 12th century to accommodate the rise of monasticism. Romanesque designs often doubled up as defensive structures since it was a by-product of dark ages.  To make the structures fire-resistant, Romanesque constructions were shifted from timber to stone.

Evolution of the style

Romanesque architecture is the direct modification of Roman architecture which grew in Italy, France, Germany, Central Europe, Spain, and Britain. It is a fusion of Roman, Carolingian, Byzantine and local Germanic traditions and Islamic art. The stratification of Romanesque style includes Pre-Romanesque and Early Romanesque architecture that had thick rubble walls, smaller windows, vault-less roofs, and rhythmic ornamental arches while Mature Romanesque Architecture had more refined style and increased use of the vault and dressed stone. In England, mature Romanesque architecture is known as Norman Architecture.

Romanesque architecture was implemented into a wide variety of different buildings, of which the most common were village churches, abbey churches, cathedrals, and castles. The most important were the great abbey churches.

Design Characteristics

Romanesque architecture had evolved from ruins of Roman buildings. It is a bold attempt in assimilating various architectural styles and generating a new style with salient features such as:

Thick Exterior Walls: The walls of Romanesque buildings are often massive with few small punctures in the wall and large openings followed by arches. They are often double shells, filled with rubbles. The first Romanesque style employed rubble walls, smaller windows and un vaulted roofs.

Thick Exterior Walls

Vaults and Roofs: Materials of vaulted roofs had a shift from wood to stone. The vaults are mainly of two types: Barrel vault and Groin vault, made of either stone or bricks. Eventually, these evolved into the pointed ribbed arch used in Gothic architecture.

Roofs & Vaults

Towers: Towers were usually circular, octagonal, or square. It became a regular feature of Romanesque Architecture instead of a defensive measure as designed earlier.

Towers

Buttress: A buttress is a vertical support member that rests on a wall to provide additional support. In Romanesque style, buttresses are generally of flat square profile that does not project a lot beyond the wall. In the case of aisled vaulted churches, barrel vaults or half barrel vaults over the aisles helped to buttress the nave.

Columns and Arcades: Monolithic columns cut from a single piece of stone were frequently used in Romanesque architecture in Italy. Types of columns such as drum columns, hollow core columns, salvaged columns and pilasters were used. Rows of semi-circular arches, supported on rectangular masonry piers, or columns occur in the interior of large churches, separating the nave from the aisles.

Columns & Arcades

Arches and Openings: The arches used in Romanesque architecture are nearly always semi-circular for openings such as doors and windows.

Arches & Openings

Frescoes: Fresco is a type of mural painting on freshly laid plaster. Frescos were painted on vaulted ceilings to elaborately illustrate the life of Christ and teachings of the church.

Fresco

Rose Window and Stained Glass: Romanesque churches have wheel windows or rose windows with plate tracery. Stained glass murals were small pieces of colored glass stitched together to form a picture of mythological characters and stories.

Rose Window and Stained Glass

Conclusion:

Seizing the aspirations of a new age, Romanesque art and architecture started a revolution in building, architectural decoration, and visual storytelling. With special characteristics like use of rounded arches, massive walls, piers, and barrel and rib vaults, the Romanesque period saw a revival of large-scale architecture in addition to a new interest in expressive human forms. This imposing style of architecture with dominating elements, make Romanesque buildings an inspiration to millions even today!

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Ranjinee Mallick

The pen is mightier than the sword. I take this very personal. I read more books, articles and write more than designing spaces. Got all the passion to keep up the zeal till I’m able to hold the pen!!