Medieval Art definition

A time of artwork that was characterized by iconographic painting illustrations of Biblical scenes.  The work emerged from the early Christian church influence as well as the Roman Empire heritage.  The combination of the two lent a kind of “Barbarian” artistic culture in Northern Europe because it combined with Christian and pagan art. 

Early Christian artists of the period took ideas from Roman carvings, metalwork, mosaics and paintings. Much of their work is classified as being completed around 200-500, at which time the Byzantine style started to grow rapidly.  

Byzantine art is often considered to be the best artwork developed in the Middle Ages because of its craftsmanship and the quality of materials used.  Much of the artwork was destroyed, including many of the fine mosaics and frecos that decorated the doomed churches of the day. 

Celtic art in the Middle Ages developed among the people of Britain and Ireland from around the 5th-12th centuries.  In the 7th and 8th centuries, there grew a combining of the Anglo-Saxons and Germanic traditions, which in turn created a style of artwork known as “Hiberno-Saxon” (Insular art).

From 300-900 there existed what is known as the Migration Period in the Middle Ages.  During this time art made from Eastern-European and Germanic peoples emerged.  Several different styles of artwork were then visible, including the Polychrome style, Animal style and Christian artwork.

From 800 to the 11th century, there began Pre-Romanesque art that started when Charlemagne was crowned king.  The classical influences of Roman art impacted the artists of this time resulting in Carolingian art – which in turn brought about Gothic and Romanesque art. 

Romanesque art is characterized by sturdy buildings with thick walls and rounded arches and windows.  The ideas for the structural characteristics were taken from ancient Rome, which is why the art period is called “Romanesque” today.

Gothic art first came about with Gothic architecture in 1140 – a divergent from Romanesque architecture.  When the Abbey Church of S. Denis was being renovated in 1144, Gothic sculpture was born.  The style grew in Europe and started to replace the Romanesque style.  Eventually, Gothic art was mixed into Renaissance art, at which time painting on panels and in fresco became significant in the arts, as well as prints. 

Also happening during the Middle Ages were developments in Islamic art.  Illustrated manuscripts, textiles, ceramics, metalwork and glass were all forms of Islamic arts being developed.  Muslim artists in the Near East, Islamic Spain, and Northern Africa worked in the early formative stage of the period from 600-900 and then diverged in a variety of styles starting in 900 depending on the region in which the artist worked.