Western European Medieval Art

  • Studying the 8th–12th-century iconography of the Creation offers a possibility to follow the logicof spreading of the iconographic patterns fully or partially on a wide territory of Mediaeval Europe. The most influential of all Early-Christian protographs for Western Europe was the so-called Cotton Genesis. It was the ultimate source of cycles, singular compositions or some separate elements that could be integrated in other scenes with similar subjects belonging to other traditions, e.g. “Roman-type” monuments (frescoes and book illumination of Rome and Lazio) etc. Thus, in the scenes of the First Day of Creation and the Creation of Adam in Carolingian and some later monuments, the figures of angels standing by the Creator may be related to the personifications of the Days of Creation in the Cotton Genesis. The recently discovered 8th–9th-century Langobard frescoes in the Crypt of the Fall near Matera allow us to attribute the first examples of this kind of separate motive migration to Carolingian period. They also mark the Southern border of ‘Сottonian’ expansion area in Western Europe. The monuments of Rhein-Maas region, including the Verdun homiliary (first quarter of the 12th century), mark the Northern border of this type’s expansion.

  • Altar zone is the most significant and sacred part of the interior of any Christian church. Architects and sculptors used special methods to decorate an altar and to emphasize its particular role in the composition of the building. Rome was an important and celebrated center for pilgrims who wished to venerate innumerous relics and get blessing of the Pope. The article analyzes the architectural decoration of altar zone in the churches of Rome. It included an altar itself, an altar barrier, a pulpit and a ciborium. There are a few monuments that can be explored as examples of a typical medieval arrangement of the altar space in Rome: San Giorgio in Velabro, Santa Maria in Castello in Tarquinia, Santa Maria Assunta in Anagni and Santi Giovanni e Paolo in Ferentino. These monuments represent the first type of the alter space arrangement.Santa Maria in Cosmedin and San Clemente are the examples of second type, more severe and secluded. So, it is possible to identify several methods of creating altar spaces and to characterize particular features of style and iconography of the Roman medieval architecture in general and of altar spaces in particular.

  • The article offers an analysis of specific building practices and church planning of Early Franciscans. It focuses on the issues of a significant liturgical transformation within the Roman Church and the Order itself, which began in the second half of the 13th century. The author analyzes the phenomenon of chancel barriers of Late Medieval and Early Renaissance Franciscan churches in Italy. Along with providing a brief overview on possible reconstruction of decoration and architectural forms of the “tramezzi”, this paper draws attention to its significance within the spatial hierarchy and liturgical cursus of the Friars. The article also considers some pivotal turns and perspectives of modern historiography, which are generally devoted to the principles of interior divisions and limitations in the Christian sacred architecture as a whole.

  • During the Middle Ages Sicily is characterized by a great plurality of influences due to the position of the island, between the West and the East, in the Mediterranean basin making it a border land where different cultures coexisted influencing each other. The Norman dominion created a unique kind of cultural syncretism that was typical of this region until the 15th century. After the Sicilian Vespers (1282), when the island revolted against the Angevin dominion, the crown of the Sicilian kingdom was offered to Peter III of Aragon (1273/74–1337). The new king had no real power, and the baronial families, divided in Latin and Catalan fractions, ruled the island. These families showed their power through the construction of their residences, new ecclesiastical buildings and family chapels.

    In Palermo in the decoration of private palaces the use of Arabic stone inlay, or tarsia, becomes an expression of the Latin fraction. The stone tarsia was also used in religious buildings, such as the façade of S. Agostino church, built at the end of the 13th century, or the Calvello chapel in S. Francesco built at the beginning of the 14th century, both build by private commission. This kind of decoration during this period was probably used as a political message of the Latin families adversary to the Catalan, Iberian families that arrived to the island with the Aragon king.

    Only in the second half of the 14th century new architectural language appeared in buildings such as St. Antonio at Steri constructed by Manfredi III Chiaromonte († 1391), where the stone decoration was abandoned and new elements were used, such as the ribbed vaults and a rib-vaulted apse. Another Chiaramonte commission, St. Maria in Baida, shows the use of Catalan gothic motives in the architectural decoration.

    The focus of this paper is to underline how the island in its condition of border land was subjected to the influence of other cultures which expanded its horizons in the arts and architecture. 

  • Founded in Norman times, the Principality of Taranto was a satellite area at the borders of various kingdoms, passing to Swabians and Angevins. Under the governor of the central power, its Princes were chosen among the ruling families to control the territory better and take advantage of its natural geographical strategy, especially for trade with the Adriatic Sea and the East. The exception to this long series of rulers was the Orsini del Balzo family, with its two representatives Raimondo († 1406) and his son Giovanni Antonio (†1463), totally focused on making the fief firmer thanks to some separatist tendencies from the Crown. After the election of Raimondo Orsini del Balzo as Prince of Taranto in 1399, many artistic centres flourished insmall towns. An example is the magnificent basilica of S. Caterina in Galatina (near Lecce) founded by Raimondo,which houses Princes’ tombs and well–known frescoes of the beginning of the 15th century.

    A few kilometres away from Galatina, the small town of Soleto was invested with new importance by the Orsini del Balzo. The core of the homonymous County, it reached its maximum territorial expansion during that time. Here there are several sites celebrating the glories of the family, but the most important one is the so-called Guglia, a belfry, approximately 45 m tall, decorated with sculptures and coats of arms, leant against the façade of the Church of Maria Santissima Assunta. The paper is focused on the analysis of this monument,variously dated between the end of the 14th century and the first half of the 15th century and differently linked to Raimondo or Giovanni Antonio. Even though not so many years passed between the governments of the father and the son, their patronages were really dissimilar: the first was devoted to the tradition of Romanesque art, whereas the second focused on a language receptive to the International Gothic. This study wants to endorse the figure of Giovanni Antonio as commissioner of the tower and highlights the political importance of this piece of art declaring the power of the family in a territory at the borders of the Kingdom of Naples.

  • Meliore is a Florentine painter active in Tuscany in the second half of the 13th century. At different times about 10 works were attributed to his authorship, each of them containing the image of Our Lady. Nowadays the only confirmed artwork with his signature is a dossale with the Savior, the Virgin with the Child and three Apostles. Other works were attributed to Meliore by the art historians. These images represent a very remarkable group of monuments. His early works are quite simple, but in 20–30 years his style transformed approaching that of the early works of Duccio and Cimabue. The author suggests that the panel of Madonna with Child Enthroned from the Moscow Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts (inv. 240) can be attributed to Meliore or to his milieu. Meliore’s artworks resemble the traditions of Pisa and Lucca (formed mainly under Byzantine influence), as well as that of Florence and Siena (the spirit of Coppo di Marcovaldo), especially in the later period. In the scholarly literature on the 13th century Italian painting the schools of Pisa, Florence or Siena are usually distinguished. Yet the group of images of Our Lady united under thename of Meliore, very different in their artistic qualities and emotional expression, allows us to think about these boundaries as conditional and to pose the question whether it is legitimate to talk about their separate formation in the second half of the 13th century.

  • This paper proposes some new methods of interpreting the iconographic program of one of the most famous monuments of Romanesque wall painting — the decoration of the сrypt of St. Nicolas Church in Tavant. The path proposed by our methodology is not based on the traditional reduction of options that have not passed the semantic and iconographic selection, but on the contrary — on accumulating the maximum possible quantity of interpretations formed by all the variants of reading each image. We propose to focus researchers’ attention on controversial images, those currently having no certain recognized meaning. Subsequently we consider these multivariate interpretations from the position of the variation assigned to them, which could be, on the one hand, laid by the author — these are ambivalent symbols initially, fixing several images or state transitions in themselves; and on the other hand, laid by the interpreter — ambiguous images,the exact knowledge of which could be lost in the course of time or for other reasons, requiring separate study. Each of these options should be considered in all possible perspectives of the typological and topographical context, forming an almost unlimited number of variations of meaning. Such a methodology will allow an interpretation as wide and comprehensive as possible, without being limited to the choice of one storyline. In this article we justify the possibility of using such a methodology, which might be the only solution for working with a number of complex monuments that have a wide range of iconographic mutations.

  • The French printed Books of Hours dated to the end of the 15th — early 16th century can be viewed as unique items. Their connection with handwriting tradition makes them outstanding. This correlation concerns both their iconography and decorative design. The transitional character of this type of books determined particular approach to the text, decoration and iconographical models. Subsequently it also generated a lot of discussions about these books: from their titles and genesis to attribution and methodological problems. The similarity of Book of Hours’ contents to that of other books of prayer and liturgical books, such as Breviary or Psalter with supplement, could influence the images. The resulting problem of migration and transformation of iconographical models in different French typographies is one of the most serious and interesting in studying the book engraving of this period. The visual similarities between manuscripts and printed Books of Hours can be detected not only in the decorations, ornaments and letters, but also in large engraved pictures ranging from images imitating the marginalia in the margins of manuscripts and “miniaturized engravings” to iconographical models and programmes which had been transferred from manuscripts to printed books. The present paper, basing on the materials from Saint Petersburg libraries, analyses some connections between illuminated liturgical books and codices with engravings, as well as researches some debated points concerning the early French printed Books of Hours.

  • The article analyzes the place and significance of narrative scenes in the structure of sculpted altars created in the duchy of Brabant at the end of the 14th — first half of the 16th centuries. This steady predominance of dynamic multi-figure narrative compositions is exactly what distinguishes South Netherlandish works from sculpted altarpieces from other European centers. However, occasionally more or less significant attention was also paid to non-narrative images within Brabantine carved retables, may be, to please the tastes of their customers and buyers originating from very different regions of Europe.

    The article presents various approaches to explaining such a clear preference for narrative. Most often, the altarpieces include the standardized cycles of the childhood of Jesus, the Passion, the lives of the Virgin Mary and the saints. Becoming a kind of background for the liturgy, they sometimes have a semantic connection with it, but they do not literally illustrate the service. Dynamic sculptural cycles reveal close parallels also with mystery plays. Of great importance for the development of narrative imagery was the spread of religious mysticism and the movement of Devotio Moderna in the Netherlands. Detailed, realistic, emotional scenes answered the arising need for visual support for individual meditation on the events of the New Testament.