The Middle Ages correspond to a period of about a thousand years. It begins in the middle of the 5th century (end of antiquity) and ends with the renaissance at the end of the 15th century
Art historians generally divide the Middle Ages into nine major trends :
- the Christian Paleo, from about 200 AD to the 7th century, heavily influenced by the legacy of Roman art;
- Byzantine took off in the East with the end of the Western Roman Empire in 476. It continued until the fall of Constantinople in 1453;
- Celtic, representing the culture of the Anglo-Saxon peoples (Ireland and England), from the 5th to the 12th century;
- the art of migration introduced by the movement of Germanic peoples between 300 and 900 AD;
- The pre-Romanesque style lasted from the coronation of Charlemagne in 800 to the 11th century;
- The novel developed during the so-called rural period, from the beginning of the 11th to the end of the 12th century;
- the Cistercian, in the course of the 12th century, rejected Romanesque art as too imposing and lavish. He worked in favour of architectural simplicity and stylistic simplicity;
- The Gothic style took off with urbanization, from the middle of the 12th century to the middle of the 15th century approximately;
- Islamic art from the 7th to the 16th century developed essentially with reference to the Muslim religion
The Middle Ages is a period of humanity during which the various religions spread over the world.
An essentially religious art
Three styles in particular stand out: Byzantine, Romanesque and Gothic.
The style is largely inspired by Roman art and Christianity and is also influenced by its Eastern origins.
The architecture is characterised by the construction of monumental domed churches such as the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul (formerly Constantinople). Large, colourful murals, mosaics and paintings on wooden panels decorate these churches.
The representations are usually of holy figures (icons) often accompanied by portraits of emperors (representing God on earth). The artists made extensive use of rich materials, enamel paste, mother-of-pearl and ivory inlay. Finally, they were particularly fond of gilding with fine gold.
In the 8th century, the iconoclastic movement led to a massive destruction of this artistic heritage.
Byzantine Christian art was reborn in the middle of the 9th century. It spread to Europe at the time of the Arab conquests. Cultural exchanges intensified during the crusades in the 12th and 13th centuries.
Christianity and the construction of buildings linked to this religion have left their mark on European architecture.
This particularity leads to new technical constraints. These are reflected in the massive appearance of the buildings and the thick walls often reinforced by external buttresses. The semi-circular arch generally characterises the shape of the openings. Rather narrow and few in number, richly adorned with magnificent stained glass windows, they lead to a dimly lit interior. However, the colour palette of the master glassmaker was essentially limited to blue and red at that time.
Numerous stone statues usually decorate the facades (Notre-Dame la Grande de Poitiers).
The statuary and the very important decoration of the capitals represent the essence of sculptural art at this time.
Inside, large frescoes adorn the walls and ceilings (St Savin Abbey). Painted in bright colours, they generally represent biblical characters and episodes. Unfortunately, many of them have been covered or destroyed over time.
In addition to frescoes in churches, illuminated (hand-decorated) manuscripts represent pictorial art. These are usually bibles (Winchester Cathedral Bible), gospels, and psalters (collection of psalms). In Europe, the printing press was not invented until 1450 by Gutenberg.
The beginning of urbanisation saw the construction of the great Gothic cathedrals (Notre-Dame de Paris). This style succeeded the Romanesque and originated in the Ile de France. It then developed throughout Europe and lasted until the end of the Middle Ages.
Many art historians consider Gothic architecture to be an evolution of the Romanesque style. However, it differs from the Romanesque style in many important ways:
- the cross vault replaces the barrel vault. Supported by four pillars, it allows for a considerable structural lightening;
- This technique allows a very significant increase in proportions, particularly in the elevation;
- on the outside of the buttresses support the pillars in their upper part;
- Thinner walls accept more gaps, due to their much reduced load-bearing role;
- In particular, the size of the openings, which are more numerous and increase in height enormously, creates a very bright interior atmosphere. The shape is characterised by pointed arches;
- The use of more colourful stained glass windows allows for this abundant light to enter;
- Finally, a roof characterised by high, pointed spires protects the vaults. Milan Cathedral has an impressive 135 jagged spires.
The art of stained glass reached its peak with the creation of sumptuous rose windows (Notre-Dame de Reims cathedral).
Gothic painting differs from that of previous periods in its depiction of non-religious subjects. However, the depictions of holy figures remain the most important. Their size is greater than that of other subjects. The colours are vivid.
Large frescoes adorn the walls of religious buildings and especially their huge vaults.
Illuminations are still very important, especially in prayer books (books of hours).
Altarpieces, carved panels in various materials (wood, stone, ivory, etc.), are used to decorate the back of altars. Generally painted in bright colours, often with a golden tint, they can be fixed or movable, simple or with several panels (diptychs, triptychs and polyptychs). Often, some of these panels are simply paintings and not carved.
The sculpture still recalls the classicism of Greek and Roman art. However, a more naturalistic style is emerging.
In the Middle Ages, art was totally influenced by religions. It is marked by the preponderance of architecture. The ornamentation of religious buildings (churches, cathedrals, abbeys, etc.) also required the intervention of artists such as painters and sculptors. The master glassmakers who created the stained glass windows were on the borderline between art and craft. Mosaics and tapestries can also be admired from this period. Finally, the art of calligraphy and illumination has left us with precious evidence. The Middle Ages came to an end with the Renaissance at the beginning of the 16th century.
Sources : Wikipédia, musée-moyenage.fr, histoire-france.net, panoramadelart.com