Article

Wall Painting in Europe

Matthew Reeve

in Medieval Studies

ISBN: 9780195396584
Published online December 2010 | | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/obo/9780195396584-0091
Wall Painting in Europe

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  • Medieval and Renaissance History (500 to 1500)
  • Literary Studies (Early and Medieval)
  • Medieval and Renaissance Philosophy
  • Byzantine and Medieval Art (500 CE to 1400)
  • Anglo-Saxon and Medieval Archaeology

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This bibliographical essay considers European wall painting of the Romanesque and Gothic periods, covering the years c. 1000–1400, with a particular focus on England, Italy, France, and Germany. Wall painting or “mural decoration” had a long history in both religious and secular architecture: in secular buildings it descended from Roman domestic interiors, and in ecclesiastical settings mural painting had an uninterrupted history from early Christian churches and catacombs through the Renaissance. As such, the temporal period under discussion here relates to modernist labels and divisions of the history of art rather than to any particular phenomenon of the arts of the High Middle Ages. The study of medieval wall painting is best understood as a subfield of art historical and archaeological inquiry into the visual art of the Middle Ages, and as such it borrows from and contributes to scholarship on other media. Throughout the Romanesque and Gothic periods, it is probably rare that wall painters worked exclusively in one medium; instead, they appear to have also worked in other media, including glass and panel painting, tile making, and metalwork. Because of the multimedia nature of the medieval artist, the style and iconography of wall paintings could be transferred between media, thus placing wall painting in a close relationship with the other arts. The study of medieval wall painting is frequently dependent on contemporary descriptions and antiquarian accounts to aid in the reconstruction of lost paintings. Because of this, it is also vital to consider the stylistic and archaeological contexts in which the copies were made in order to come to a fuller appreciation of the original style and form of paintings. However closely related to the study of the arts of the Middle Ages in general, wall painting is materially and conceptually an integral component of the history of architecture, even if it is all too seldom treated as such. Wall paintings are inexplicable without knowledge of the date, archaeology, spatial orientation, and function of the medieval buildings that they adorned and articulated. Recent discussions of wall painting have argued for the significance of mural painting in the original conception of buildings, thus positing a scenario in which patrons and designers imagined painted cycles and their narrative and thematic breaks in accord with the physical and liturgical spaces of the buildings themselves at the design stage. Knowledge of the relationships of wall painting (or, for that matter, glazing) at the planning phases is significant in understanding how medieval buildings could be conceived in part as signboards or scaffolds for image programs, and how their forms were altered accordingly.

Article.  8917 words. 

Subjects: Medieval and Renaissance History (500 to 1500) ; Literary Studies (Early and Medieval) ; Medieval and Renaissance Philosophy ; Byzantine and Medieval Art (500 CE to 1400) ; Anglo-Saxon and Medieval Archaeology

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