Romanesque art in Italy (AD 800–1300s)

12C Romanesque frescoes in the Chapelle des Moines at the Abbaye de Cluny in Berzé-la-Ville, Romanesque art in Italy (AD 800–1300s), Italy, Italy (Photo by Uknown)
12C Romanesque frescoes in the Chapelle des Moines at the Abbaye de Cluny in Berzé-la-Ville

Medieval Mass was in Latin; carved bas reliefs helped explain the Biblical lessons to the illiterate masses

Romanesque carvings in the Conques abbey church doorway, Romanesque art in Italy (AD 800–1300s), Italy, Italy. (Photo by Peter Campbell)
A detail from the Bayeux Tapestry showing Bishop Odo, half brother to William the Great (and the guy who commissioned the tapestry in the 11C), cheering his troops forward, Romanesque art in Italy (AD 800–1300s), Italy, Italy. (Photo Public Domain)

Artistic expression in Dark Ages and early medieval Italy was largely church-related. Mass was recited in Latin, so to try and help explain the most important lessons to the illiterate masses, Biblical bas reliefs around the churches' main doors, and wall paintings and altarpieces inside, told key tales to inspire faith in God and fear of sin (Last Judgements were favorites).

Romanesque sculpture was somewhat more fluid than Byzantine, but still far from naturalistic, usually idiosyncratic and often wonderfully child-like in its narrative simplicity, frequently freely mixing Biblical scenes with the myths and motifs from local pagan traditions that were being slowly incorporated into early medieval Christianity. 

These reliefs were wrapped around column capitals and fitted into the tympanum (the arched spaces above doorways; the complete door, tympanum, arch, and supporting pillars assemblage is the portal).

Still, God, Jesus, and Old Testament morality tales held little interest for the masses. What the bulk of peasant worshippers could appreciate was the growing bevy of specialized saints who could help with plentiful crops, a fruitful marriage, lost sheep, or ailing health.

Chapels were centered on fancy silver and gold reliquaries displaying bits of popular saints to which worshippers could pray.

Saintly statues also began creeping onto facades, though that would become more of a Gothic convention.

Otherwise, decoration was spare, and what little Romanesque art existed was seen as crude by most later periods and was often destroyed, replaced, or covered over the centuries as tastes changed and cathedrals were remodeled over the centuries.

It survives mostly in scraps, innumerable column capitals and tympanums or carvings set above church doors all across Italy.

Artists & examples of Romanesque art in Italy

* Pisa's Duomo. Bonano Pisano's bronze San Ranieri door panels on the cathedral were the only to survive a 16th century fire.

* Verona's San Zeno Maggiore. The 48 relief panels of the bronze doors, one of the most important pieces of Romanesque sculpture in Italy, were cast between the 9th to the 11th centuries and are flanked by strips of 12th century stone reliefs.

* Parma's Baptistery. The exterior sports a series of Romanesque allegorical friezes by Benedetto Antelami, who also carved the state inside, while anonymous 13th century Romanesque frescoists painted the walls.

* Aosta's Collegiata dei Santi Pietro e Orso. On the edge of town, this Romanesque church preserves part of an 11th century fresco cycle and 40 remarkably 12th century carved column capitals in the cloisters.

Photo gallery
  • 12C Romanesque frescoes in the Chapelle des Moines at the Abbaye de Cluny in Berzé-la-Ville, Romanesque art in Italy (AD 800–1300s), Italy (Photo by Uknown)
  • Romanesque carvings in the Conques abbey church doorway, Romanesque art in Italy (AD 800–1300s), Italy (Photo by Peter Campbell)
  • A detail from the Bayeux Tapestry showing Bishop Odo, half brother to William the Great (and the guy who commissioned the tapestry in the 11C), cheering his troops forward, Romanesque art in Italy (AD 800–1300s), Italy (Photo Public Domain)

Where to find Romanesque art art in Italy

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The Atrium (Photo by Jean-Christophe BENOIST)
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Basilica di Sant'Ambrogio
Milan: San Vittore

From this 4C church, St. Ambrose—bishop of Milan when the city was briefly capital of the Western Roman Empire—had a profound effect on the development of the early church

 
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A mountaintop abbey with great views and Romanesque frescoes

 
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transport
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Gravedona
Northern Lake Como

A northern Lake Como town with a pair of nice Medieval churches

 
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The Amalfi Cathedral (Photo by Jorge Royan)
The Duomo
Downtown Amalfi

The gorgeous cathedral of Amalfi: Cattedrale di Sant'Andrea di Amalfi, the Museo Diocesano di Amalfi, and the Chiostro del Paradiso, or Cloisters of Paradise

 
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The Parma baptistry is one of the glories of Italian Romanesque architecture

 
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The Romanesque cathedral with 16C frescoes by Correggio and others

 
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"Crucifixion and Last Supper" (1360–65) by Andrea Orcagna (Photo by Sailko)
Fondazione Salvatore Romano
Florence: Oltrarno

Orcagna's "Last Supper" fresco in the old refectory of Santo Spirito

 
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Civate
Lecco

A town by a smaller lake S of Como with Romanesque churches

 
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Bardolino
Garda's eastern shore

A Lake Garda town famous for its wine since antiquity

 
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Toscolano-Maderno
Garda's eastern shore

A beach town and Romanesque church on Garda's western shore

 
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transport
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The Duomo
Downtown Sorrento

The Renaissance Cathedral in Sorrento has some fine intarsia (inlaid wood) work on its doors (1990s) and the choir stalls (1930s)

 
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A detail of Jonah and the Whale form one of the two medieval pulpits (Photo by Berthold Werner)
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The Duomo
Downtown Ravello

Ravello's "cathedral" has some lovely Romanesque mosaics and carvings

 
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The atrium of the Duomo (Photo courtesy of the Cattedrale di San Matteo)
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The Duomo
Downtown Salerno

Cattedrale di San Matteo—the cathedral of Salerno—houses ancient Greek columns, Roman sarcofagi, medieval pulpits, and the body of St. Matthew the Evangelist

 
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 (Photo by Ricardo André Frantz)
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Santa Maria in Aracoeli
Rome: Tiber Bend

The sad story of the Santo Bambino at the Capitoline church

 
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No, the picture isn't askew; the church is (Photo by Samuele Manfrin)
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San Michele degli Scalzi
Pisa: Along the Arno

The evening-more-leaning tower of Pisa (bonus: leaning church)