Unit 5. Culture and Art in Middle Ages. Romanesque and Gothic Art


Medieval culture was deeply religious. The literature, philosophy and arts of the period reflect a theocentric mentality, or in other words, God was at the centre of all things. All daily activities were also governed by religion. Therefore, representatives of the Catholic Church exercised strong ideological, economic and social control.

Until the 12th century, the culture was shut in monasteries that kept the monopoly of Literacy and Art. Monks were almost the only one privileged group that could read and write. Monasteries developed an important role as the cradle of learning and teaching, always linked to a very high religious commitment. Monasteries used to be in the countryside. They were built around the church, next to which there were a cloister and a chapterhouse. There used to be a library and a scriptorium. So, they were the main vehicle to spread the culture, always impregned of a very highly religious meaning.

Complete the parts of a monastery:
  • Church – Cloister – Refectory- Guesthouse – Gardens- Scriptorium

Church: Important part of the monastery, as the main activity of the monks was prayer.

Cloister: A type of courtyard or central square. The rooms of the monastery were organised around the cloister.

Guesthouse: Where pilgrims stayed in their journeys.

Refectory: The room where the monks made all daily activities. The meals were made in there.

Gardens. Where the monks worked, from where they obtained their food.

Scriptorium. Also Known as library: Where the monks copied literary texts.

From 11th century monasteries developed a proficient cultural life related to religious purposes. Romanesque was developed in the Iberian Peninsula, Christian Kingdoms linked to the Christian Pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela. Beginning in France, this Christian pilgrimage developed a new artistic style, where religious buildings highlighted. In the Northmost of Iberian Peninsula throughout the Pyrenees, there are several examples of this style across the Camino de Santiago. 

Ways of St. James in Europe.png

The cultural life was developed eventually in monasteries. There were two main MONASTIC ORDERS.  They consisted of monks living in isolated monasteries in rural areas. Most followed the Rule of Saint Benedict, which instructed them to pray and work. The most important monastic orders were:

  • Order of Cluny. This order spread throughout Europe in the 11th century. Its monasteries were very powerful and many farmers worked in them.
  • Cistercian Order. This order was founded in the 12th century in reaction to the wealth that had been accumulated by Cluny. In contrast, it imposed a return to the simple life and manual labour.

They had farms and lands were vassals and serfs worked (Feudal Europe). They were given many lands by the kings or noblemen. They created large fiefs.

Resultado de imagen de cluny monastery

Monastery of Cluny

Also, other important institutions were MENDICANT ORDERS. From the 12th century on, these orders emerged to preach in cities. At the start, members lived from alms. The main orders were:

  • Franciscans. The Franciscan order was founded by Saint Francis of Assisi and sought a return to a model of life which mirrored the poverty of Christ, prompting clashes between this order and the papacy.
  • Dominicans. The Dominican order was founded by Saint Dominic. Its official name was the Order of Preachers. At its heart were great theologians like Saint Thomas Aquinas.

From the 12th century on, spread a new wave of interests in literacy. Kings tried to foster culture along the repopulation and urban renaissance.

1. CULTURE. The age of universities.

With the urban growth of the High Middle Ages, cultural activity moved to cities. Thanks to the bishops of cities like Paris and Chartres, schools associated with the local cathedral were founded. The first universities or Studia generalia emerged from these schools in the 13th century. Students studied arts, law, medicine and theology. The most important were the Sorbonne (Paris), which was attended by the greatest intellectuals, and the universities of Oxford (England) and Bologna (Italy).
From the 13th century on, there was a shift in philosophical thought through the work of the Muslim philosopher Averroes, who helped spread Aristotle´s ideas in the West. The most important medieval philosopher was Thomas Aquinas, whose work synthesised Christian and Aristotelian thought and who had a big influence on European culture.

 Universities grew during this period from the evolution of associations of scholars:

  • Bologna (1088), Paris (1160) and Oxford (mid 12th century) were the first universities in the world.
  • Some more universities were founded, such as Cambridge (1208), Salamanca (1218), Padua (1222), Naples (1224), and Montpellier (1289).
  • Each university had its own statutes that ruled their academic life.
  • The university was divided into faculties.

1.1. Spanish Culture

  1. Cultural wealth of the Iberian Peninsula.

After the fall of the Roman Empire, Latin evolved into the Romance languages: French, Portuguese, Castilian, Catalan, etc. However, Latin remained the language of culture in ecclesiastical and university spheres for many centuries. Therefore, the languages used by intellectuals and spoken by the people were different. From the 13th century, literature in Romance languages was consolidated.

One of the manuscripts was copied the most times was that by the monk Beatus of Liébana, Commentary on the Apocalypse. Its illustrations reflected the horrors of the last judgement. Therefore, an illustrated medieval manuscript is known as a Beatus in Spain.


The earliest forms of literary expression were chansons de geste, epic poems that narrated the legendary feats of a hero. Minstrels related these poems from memory. The best-known chansons are The Song of Roland, in French, and The Poem of the Cid, in Castilian.

  1. Contact between three cultures.

Toledo: the city of the three cultures. (Click to see the linked presentation)

The Taifa period did not mean a decline in Andalusian cultural activity. Different courts made many efforts to promote the work of scientists; poets, like Ibn Quzman and Ibn Hazm; and, above all, philosophers like Averroes (who was responsible for spreading Aristotelian thought in the West), and Ibn Arabi.
Jewish thought also developed in Islamic territories, thanks to key figures such as the doctor and theologian Moses Maimonides (Cordovan Jewish).

In the 12th century, Jewish, Muslim and Christian intellectuals began a period of unprecedented cultural collaboration through the Toledo School of Translators, fostered by the king Alfonso X, the Wise, where many great works of eastern thought were translated from Arabic into Latin. There were also translations into Romance languages. Along with intellectuals of the three religions, he was the author of works on law, history, poetry and astronomy.

Alfonso X labour. Besides his political role, as conqueror of Murcia and founder of many reconquered Christian cities, repopulating and giving Fueros and Cartas Puebla, Alfonso X, gave us an important cultural legacy.


Las Cantigas de Santa María (Canticles of Holy St. Mary) was written in Galician.

Las Siete Partidas.

Chronica General. The first Spanish History.


Ramón Llull was the most relevant figure in Philosophy, Theology, Science and Grammar, in Arabic, Latin and Catalan.

From the 13th century on, the first universities and studia generalia appeared. The first university was founded in Palencia, where they studied Trivium and Quadrivium (Theology and Art) , from 1185, there was a cathedral school on which Alfonso VIII granted the status of studium generale or university in 1212. But the most relevant University in Castilla was the University of Salamanca, founded in 1218, and that of Valladolid in 1293.

Literature: From the 14th century on, theocentrism was superseded and this was evident in literature, with a proliferation of works focusing on human themes. Some of the most outstanding are: Tales of Count Lucanor, by Juan Manuel; The Book of Good Love, by the Arcipreste de Hita; and the chivalric romance Amadís de Gaula.


Romanesque art is mostly religious and it spread thanks to the Benedictine order (Monks). This style lasted among the 11th century and the late 12th century. It was created in Burgundy (France). Its characteristics are common in all Catholic Europe.

-Architecture is the main art that developed in this style. It is common the use of the round arch, the barrel vault, and the groin vault.

Churches and monasteries were the main buildings that they constructed.

  • Churches had Latin cross ground plans with side aisles.
  • Some of the pilgrimage churches had aisles in the apse: ambulatory.



-Sculpture: Profuse decoration on the tympanum of portals. High and low reliefs in churches. Carved stone and wood with religious motifs. The Last Judgement or Evangelism scenes. Not very realistic or expressive sculptures.


Resultado de imagen de virgen romanica

Major buildings are St. Sernin (Toulouse, France), the Cathedral of Pisa (Italy), the Cathedral of Durham (UK) and the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela (Spain).

Imagen relacionada
St. Sernin of Toulose (France)

Resultado de imagen de catedral de pisa

         Cathedral of Pisa (Italy)

                  Santiago de Compostela Cathedral in Spain tourism destinationsSantiago of Compostela (Spain)

      – Painting is also linked to architecture and we preserve wall paintings.

  • Most of the remains are onto the vaults of the apses.
  • They have plain and bright colours.
  • They do not have any movement or expression.
  • The themes are the same ones as in sculpture.


2.1. Spanish Romanesque art.

It had the same characteristics as the European Romanesque. It entered Spain thanks to the arrival of pilgrims through the Camino de Santiago and due to the establishment of the Benedictine Order of Cluny.The Spanish romanesque churches were not as big as French or Italian, but followed the same decorative features. There are major architectural examples throughout the north of the peninsula:

  • San Martín de Frómista (Palencia).


  • San Isidoro de León.
  • Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela.
  • Former Cathedral of Salamanca.
  • Cathedral of Zamora.


  • Cathedral of Jaca (Huesca).
  • Monastery of San Pedro de Roda (Gerona).
  • Monastery of Santa María de Ripoll (Gerona).
  • San Clemente de Tahüll (Lérida).

– In sculpture there are very good pieces of evidence in capitals and portals of churches:

  • Cloister of the Monastery of Santo Domingo de Silos (Burgos).
  • Portal of the Monastery of Santa María de Ripoll (Gerona).
  • Pórtico de la Gloria (Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela).


  • Columns of the Holy Chamber of the Cathedral of Oviedo.
  • Portal of San Vicente de Ávila.

– In painting there were influences from the Byzantine and the French art.

Wall paintings such as byzantines frescoes. The most important examples are in the Pyrenees region.Resultado de imagen de san clemente de tahullSt. Clemente de Tahüll (Lleida)                     

Resultado de imagen de san isidoro de leon     Frescoes in the Church of San Isidoro (León)


It was a style that emerged in the 12th century in the Duero valley, although it expanded southwards and to Aragon until the 16th century.

Muslims (mudéjares) who remained in the Christian kingdoms were the authors of the buildings of this style.

It was common the construction of churches with Muslim characteristics:

  • They used brick as the main constructive material with geometrical designs.
  • Tiles were common to decorate the walls.
  • They made fine plasterworks on the walls.
  • The ceilings are usually wooden following the Muslim tradition.

The best examples are preserved in Sahagún, Toledo, Sevilla, and Teruel           

Resultado de imagen de mudejar sahagun
Resultado de imagen de toledo mudejar
Santiago del Arrabal (Toledo)

 Imagen relacionada


4. GOTHIC ART: The age of the cathedrals

It was the new artistic style that developed in Europe between the late 12th century and the late 15th century. It was created in France (Île-de-France) and it spread all across Europe. It is also a religious art, although there are more civil examples.

– Architecture:

  • It is the art of the Cathedrals and showed the power and wealth of the cities.
  • A new constructive system developed based on the pointed arch, which permitted the construction of the ribbed vault.


Términos de arquitectura medieval en inglés                                                                                                                                                                                 Más

Buildings could be higher thanks to those arches and to the flying buttresses.

  • The churches have also a Latin cross ground plan, but its crossing is at the centre. Unlike the Romanesque apses, the Gothic apse is polygonal.
  • Rose windows covered with stained glasses could be opened at the façades of the churches.
Stainglassed windows in Toledo.
  • Palaces, marketplaces or City Halls were other major Gothic buildings.


3.1. Spanish Gothic art.

It also follows the same characteristics as in Europe.


– 13th century: Cathedrals of Burgos, León, and Toledo.



– 14th century: Cathedrals of Barcelona , Gerona, and Palma de Mallorca.

– 15th and 16th centuries: Cathedrals of Seville, Segovia, and Salamanca.

  • Lonjas in the Crown of Aragon (Valencia, Palma de Mallorca).
  • Isabelino style in Castilla: Monastery of San Juan de los Reyes (Toledo), and Palacio del Infantado (Guadalajara).
Resultado de imagen de san juan de los reyes
S. Juan de los Reyes


  • They were much more realistic than the Romanesque sculpture.
  • The figures had a lot of movement and were really expressive.
  • Curved lines were really common.
  • Most of the statues and reliefs are religious.
  • They could be free-standing or carved on the portals of the churches.
  • They used to carve on stone or on wood.
  • The most typical themes are Jesus on the cross or the Virgin with the Child. Moreover, there are sepulchres, choir stalls, altarpieces, and pulpits.

Spanish Sculpture:

There are several fields where we can find Gothic sculpture:

  • Portals. Cathedrals of Toledo, Burgos and León.
  • Choirs. Cathedral of Toledo.
  • Sepulchres. Sepulchre of Doncel (Sigüenza). Sepulchre of John II and Isabella of Portugal (Cartuja de Miraflores, Burgos).
El Doncel (Sigüenza)
  • Altarpieces (retablos). Cathedrals of Toledo and Seville. Cartuja de Miraflores (Burgos)

Gothic Painting:

  • It is realistic and natural painting.
  • Painting was done on wooden plates in tempera.
  • There were some miniatures on religious books.
  • Colours were quite bright and it was usual to use golden backgrounds.
  • There are two major Gothic painting schools:

–  Italy: Giotto was the main painter in the 13th century. He is widely known due to his frescoes in Assisi and in Padua.

Resultado de imagen de giotto padua
Scrovegni Chapel frescoes´ – Giotto.


Madonna in Maestá

– Flanders: It was a school that grew in the 15th century. It was more realistic due to the use of the oil. Jan van Eyck is the main representative of this school and he used to paint polyptychs.

Arnolfini Portrait

Access the Word Document: unit-5-romanesque-and-gothic                                          

 Gallery of pictures: PInterest: https://es.pinterest.com/Bakulalu/art/



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