Medieval Sculpture. Sculpting in the Middle Ages

Medieval Sculpture. Sculpting in the Middle Ages
Isabel del Rio

Medieval Sculpture. Sculpting in the Middle Ages. Hard times! Hard times that lasted one thousand years! Hard times which were really peculiar for artists throughout Europe.

Medieval Sculpture. Frederick II gold and silver casket for Charlemagne

Medieval Sculpture. Frederick II gold and silver casket for Charlemagne

After the great classical Greek and Roman sculpture, it came a dark period. The breakup of the Roman Empire in Western Europe (5th century) marked the end of urban life, communications, commerce and an organized administration. Former citizens, now converted into peasants, survived under the protection of warriors (future nobles) while successive invasions of foreign people expanded fear into the villages. Thus, they looked for hope in religion. The Middle Agesis absolutely religious. Both, in Christian and Muslim lands. But until the end of the latest

 invasions in Western Europe

Medieval Sculpture. Romanesque Virgin in Segovia (Spain)

Medieval Sculpture. Romanesque Virgin in Segovia (Spain)

(Magyars and Vikings in the 10th century), even the religious artistic manifestations were poor there (only some remarkable works in time of Charlemagne in France). The richest and Oriental Byzantium built beautiful buildings and made mosaics and decorative arts, but iconoclastic struggles were not the best atmosphere for sculpting or for painting, and these artistic manifestations will be relegated to an ornament to the inside of the temples. The same happened in mosques: symbolic art (epigraphic, geometric, floral) but not realistic figures.

Medieval Sculpture, by Veit Stoss

Medieval Sculpture, by Veit Stoss

In fact, five hundred years of neglect led to fret proportion, expression, movement and anatomical study. Furthermore, when the sculptors of Romanesque monasteries and Gothic cathedrals wanted to sculpt again, the old classic models were destroyed or buried (we must wait for the Renaissance before excavations begin, timidly, in Rome). Then, a new art appeared, an anonymous art but also full of freedom.

Romanesque sculpture (12th century) is realistic but symbolic. For example, the religious and abundant Maternities (“Madonna and Child”) are completely hieratic because they look to eternity and the Virgin is only the throne of his son = God. The disproportion is childish but touches us by his true piety and we enjoy the terrible monsters of rock carved on the capitals and arcades. Who can be afraid of them? People who still lived in the shadows of a superstitious and illiterate society.

After the 13th century, life improved. Cities and markets reborn and it was the time of the fantastic Gothic cathedrals. Little by little, sculptors tested smiles (White Virgin in Toledo Cathedral) and sorrows (Central scene of St. Mary’s altar in the church of the Virgin Mary in Krakow by Veit Stoss), even anger (Centaur fighting a Dragon at Westminster Abbey in London) and little by little, the figures started to be proportioned. However, it was not the classic proportion of Policleto but a more elongated proportion, resulting elegant figures with a sinuous

Medieval Sculpture. Centaur fighting a Dragon

Medieval Sculpture. Centaur fighting a Dragon

movement (S). The anatomical study still must wait, religion has never been a supporter of the nude. They cover the bodies with stilted tunics and mantles and the figures are always painted. Her favorite color was golden, accompanied by other brilliant colors which suited with the stained-glass windows of those pointed cathedrals. Did they want to reach the sky? At least they created a celestial atmosphere in the interior of those fabulous temples.


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