Artistic Italy

  Italian text by AnnaLisa Limardi - Translation & adaptation by Domenico Russumanno.
Romanesque architecture is debased Roman architecture. Romanesque is generally considered by art historians as a Pan-European architecture with both the manner of construction and the style having a consistency that stretches geographically from Ireland to the Balkans. 
Architecture of a Romanesque style also developed simultaneously in the north of Italy, parts of France and in the Iberian Peninsula in the 10th century and prior to the later influence of the Abbey of Cluny. 
Romanesque architecture was the first distinctive style to spread across Europe since the Roman Empire.
With the decline of Rome, Roman building methods survived to an extent in Western Europe, where successive Merovingian, Carolingian and Ottonian architects continued to build large stone buildings such as monastery churches and palaces.


The style, sometimes called First Romanesque or Lombard Romanesque, is characterized by thick walls, lack of sculpture and the presence of rhythmic ornamental arches known as a Lombard band.

The architecture of late antiquity (or early Christian) and the first centuries of the Middle Ages remained substantially faithful to the Roman tradition. 
The form, structure and decoration of churches and baptisteries (whether basilica or centrally planned) mostly derived from the adaptation of ancient buildings to the needs and customs of the new religion.
Major examples of architecture from this period are to be found in Rome (basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore,... 
...also known as Santa Maria della neve, and also the basilica of  Santa Sabina) ...

...and Ravenna, an important centre in the development of early Christian and early medieval art. Ravenna became the capital of the Western Empire in 402 AD and witnessed the construction of many buildings in keeping with this role, including the Battistero degli Ortodossi (or Neoniano), the basilica of St. Apollinare Nuovo, St Vitale and St Apollinare  in Classe and the mausoleums of Galla Piacidia and Theodoric. 

The style which became known as "Romanesque" developed initially in northern Italy from the end of the 11th century, with great achievements like the basilica of St. Ambrogio in Milano (the archetype of this style), St. Michele in Pavia, the cathedral and baptistery in Cremona, the cathedrals of Modena, Parma, Piacenza and Ferrara and St. Zeno in Verona.
It also flourished  in other regions: Tuscany (Pisa Cathedral), the Marche (San Ciriaco in Ancona), Puglia (Apulia - cathedrals of Bari, Bitonto, Ruvo, Troia and Trani) and throughout Sardinia.

Romanesque churches and abbeys are found everywhere, in the historic centres of cities and in the countryside.They are a characteristic feature of the Italian landscape.

Typical elements of the style are rose windows, ribs, cross vaults and rows of hanging arches.
Sculpture also played a mayor role in decoration; it was viewed as an integral part of the overall architectural project and often the architect and the sculptor are one and the same person.
Sculpture in the Lombard period combined Byzantine elements with animal, plant and geometric motifs of German origin (arches decorated in stucco in the Lombard Tempietto or Santa Maria in Valle in Cividale, Friuli).

During the Carolingen period, on the other hand, there was some return to Classical forms (Gold Altar of Volvinio in St Ambrogio in Milan) which continued under the Otto Emperors despite the close links with Byzantinum (stucco work in San Pietro al Monte di Civate near Lecco and the ciborium of St Ambrogio also in Milan). 

The Romanesque period opens with bronze panels on the doors of the basilica of St. Zeno in Veona.

Figurative sculpture took on a vigorous popular characteristic. The first Italian artists whose names were known were sculptors, proof of the growing importance of the art in contemporary society.
Shortly after the 1,100 Wilingelmo decorated Modena Cathedral with powerful original figures and his influence was felt in Cremona, Nonantola and Ferrara.
The work of Bonanno Pisano, in the cathedral of Pisa and Monreale, is characterized by great plastic force combined with an almost heraldic taste.

Benedetto Antelami worked at the turn of the 12th century, in the period of transition between Romanesque and Gothic.
He made elegant and strikingly realistic sculptures influencing the work going on in Cremona, Venice and Vercelli.
Apulian cathedral (Trani, Molfetta) are also filled with superb Romanesque sculpture.

Detail - Door panel by Barisano - Trani Cathedral

Painting and Mosaics 
Italian painting was dominated by the Byzantine tradition for the whole period between the fall of the Roman Empire and 1200.
Portrayal tended to become precious, elegant and highly stylized while realistic imitation of nature became increasingly rare.
Wall painting are almost the only ones which have survived from this period.


Wall painting are almost the only ones which have survived from this period.
Sometimes they are extremely refined (basilica of Aquileia, Santa Maria Foris Portas at Castelseprio), at other times more popular in tone ( St. Angelo in Formis near Capua, St. Clemente in Rome).

The magnificent mosaic cycles in Ravenna (St. Vitale, St Apollinare), in Sicily (Palermo, Cefalu' and Monreale), in Venice (St. Marco) and Florence (Baptistry) often date from different periods but, despite the fact that they sometimes have a decidedly original features, they are a demonstration of the long domination and the continuing vitality of Byzantine culture.
Rome -Basilica Santa Maria Maggiore 

Milano-Basilica Sant'Ambrogio

Bari - Apulia  - The Cathedral

Cividale - Friuli - Lombard Tempietto

The Gospel according to Bonanno Pisano
Bronze door - Monreale - Sicily 

Ravenna Mosaics

In the more northern countries Roman building styles and techniques had never been adopted except for official buildings, while in Scandinavia they were unknown. Although the round arch continued in use, the engineering skills required to vault large spaces and build large domes were lost.
​There was a loss of stylistic continuity, particularly apparent in the decline of the formal vocabulary of the Classical Orders.
In Rome several great Constantinian basilicas continued in use as an inspiration to later builders. 

Some traditions of Roman architecture also survived in Byzantine architecture with the 6th-century octagonal Byzantine Basilica of San Vitale in Ravenna being the inspiration for the greatest building of the Dark Ages in Europe, the Emperor Charlemagne's Palatine Chapel, Aachen, Germany, built around the year AD 800.
Dating shortly after the Palatine Chapel is a remarkable 9th-century Swiss manuscript known as the Plan of Saint Gall and showing a very detailed plan of a monastic complex, with all its various monastic buildings and their functions labeled.

The largest building is the church, the plan of which is distinctly Germanic, having an apse at both ends, an arrangement not generally seen elsewhere.
Another feature of the church is its regular proportion, the square plan of the crossing tower providing a module for the rest of the plan.

These features can both be seen at the Proto-Romanesque St. Michael's Church, Hildesheim,  1001–1030.

Places you might consider visiting
if you are in the vicinity


Milan: St Ambrogio, St Lorenzo Maggiore, St Nazaro Maggiore, St Simpliciano, St Cesto, St Eustorio, Campanile di St Satiro, Abside di San Giovanni in Conca, Archi di Porta Nuova, Tesoro del Duomo, Musei del Castello.
Brescia: St Salvatore, Santa Maria in Solario, Rotonda, Museo Eta' Cristiana.
Como: St Abbondio, St Fedele, Museo Civico.
Cremona: Duomo
Pavia:  St Michele, St Pietro in Ciel d'Oro, St Teodoro, Museo Civico


Verona: St Lorenzo, Santa Maria Antica, Duomo, SS Apostoli, SS Tosca e Teuteria, St Zeno Maggiore, St Stefano, St Giovanni in Valle.

​Emilia Romagna

Modena: Duomo.
Ferrara: Cattedrale.
Ravenna: Battistero degli Ariani, Battistero degli Ortodossi o Neoniano, St Apollinare Nuovo, St Giovanni Evangelista, St Vitale, St Apollinare in Classe, Santa Agata Maggiore, Mausoleo di Galla Placidia, Mausoleo di Teodorico, Sarcofagi in Duomo, Museo Nazionale, Museo Arcivescovile.

Firenze: Barristero, SS. Apostoli, St Miniato di Monte, Museo Archeologico.
Pisa: Duomo, Battistero, St. Zeno, St. Pierino, St Frediano, St. Sepolcro,  St. Paolo a Ripa d'Amo, Leaning Tower, Museo Nazionale St. Matteo.
Lucca: Facciate del Duomo, St. Frediano, St. Michele in Foro, St. Giusto, St Cristoforo, St. Pietro Somaldi, Museo Nazionale di Villa Guinigi.​


Spoleto: St Salvatore, Santa Eufemia, St Gregorio Maggiore, St Ponziano, Museo Civico.
Perugia: St. Pietro, St. Angelo.


Roma: Santa Agnese, Santa Maria Maggiore, Santa Costanza, Santa Sabina, St.Clemente, Santa Maria in Aracoeli, Santa Maria in Cosmedian, Santa Maria in Trasyevere, Santa Cecilia in Trastevere, St Cesareo in Palatio, St Paolo fuori le Mura, SS.Giovanni e Paolo, Santa Maria Antiqua, Santa Maria in Domnica, St Prassede, Santa Pudenziana, SS. Cosmo e Damiano, SS. Quattro Coronati, Santa Francesca Romana, Tesoro di San Pietro in Vaticano, Catacombe di San Callisto, Catacombe di Domitillia, Sacre Grotte Vaticane, Museo Vaticano Pio Clementino, Museo Pio Cristiano, Museo dell'Alto Medioevo, Biblioteca Apostolica, Museo Nazionale di Villa Giulia, Museo Nazionale Romano.
Viterbo: Cattedrale,Santa Maria Nuova, St Sisto, St Giovanni in Zoccoli.


Teramo: Cathedral


Napoli: Duomo Santa Restituita & Battistero, basilica di San Gennaro extra-moenia, Catacombe di San Gennaro.
Salerno: Duomo


Bari: Cattedrale, St. Nicola, St. Gregorio, Pinoteca Provinciale.
Bisceglie: Santa Margerita, St Adoeno, Cattedrale.
Troia: Cattedrale.
Brindisi: Santa Maria del Casale.
Lecce: SS. Nicolo' e Cataldo.


Palermo: St. Giovanni degli Eremiti, St. Cataldo, SS. Trinita', S. Spirito, St. Giovanni dei Lebbrosi, La Martorana, Cattedrale, Palazzo Normanni & Cappella Palatina, Ponte dell'Ammiraglio, Zisa, Cuba.
Messina: Chiesa dell'Annunziata dei Catalani


Cagliari: Cathedral

Minor arts - Illumination, a technique used to illustrate and decorate manuscripts, provides important examples of pictorial art between the end of the Classical era and the late Middle Ages.

The images, are inspired by religious events or are used to decorate initial letters with geometric or floral motifs.
In a number of centres (Milano, Padua, Pisa, Bari, Troia) illumination followed the Byzantine tradition.


Illumination : The art or act of decorating a text, page, or initial letter with ornamental designs, images, or lettering.

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