One of the greatest collections of Romanesque Catalan Frescoes is in the Museum of Calatan Art in Barcelona. The Fresco collection contains whole Romanesque Church interiors which were saved from being exported to the UA in the early 1900’s. The influence of Roman Byzantine art is clear but there is a directness in the Frescoes that illustrates medievals mans need to be close to God. This Romanesque Fresco collection is a pure joy and a great treasure. I hope you enjoy the photos. Paul Williams.
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The MNAC’s ( Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya) Eleventh and Twelfth century collection of Romanesque Fresco painting is one of the most important in the world. The collection comprises whole Apse and wall paintings rescued from remote churches of the Pyranese before they were completely destroyed or sold to art dealers in the USA in the early 1900’s.
The impact of earlier major forms of liturgical decoration conditioned Catalan mural painting from the middle of the twelfth century onwards. During this period Spain was under Islamic rule and Christian communities had been pushed north and took refuge in the isolated valleys of the southern Pyrenese. The way of understanding artistic composition and the technical problems of creating frescoes in the Church of Sant Quirze de Pedret influenced generations of Romanesque artists in Spain. The force of the groups from Taull in the Val de Boi is equally perceptible in the tendency to abstraction and geometry or in the liking for intense colours.
The whole interior wall of Romanesque churches are decorated with Frescoes as are the roof of the apse. The frescoes seem to be a connection with heaven giving the illusion that you have entered the house of God. Systematisation of the Romanesque decorations brought about a simplification of the style as can be seen in the illusionistic outlining of the space, or in the treatment of the large number of the figures of the Romanesque church interiors which moves away from a desire to be naturalistic. Certain conventions were adopted from the Roman Byzantine tradition with the most important part of the church, the curved ceiling of the apse above the altar, often being received for frescoes of Christ in Majesty, or Pantocrator, sitting in an eye shaped mandorla blessing the congregation below. Below on the apse walls are frescoes of the Apostles and the Virgin Mary. The skill of the early Romanesque painters when reproducing the Romanesque formulae they had to learned determined the results, at times revealing a poor understanding of painting techniques but which in the best cases achieves an originality and vigorous expressiveness that is compelling.
At the end of the twelfth century medieval art received a new and powerful wave of Byzantine influence. European courts enthusiastically welcomed this new influx from the East, explained by the intensification of contacts between the West and the Byzantine Empire at the time of the Crusades. Romanesque art adopted a virtuous naturalism of the art of the Komnenoi dynasty, attracted by the classical appearance, sophisticated and ornamental, typical of the refined culture of Constantinople. The transmission to Europe of this new style has always been associated with the Germanic countries and the British Isles, but the importance of the Mediterranean context must not be overlooked. In this respect, being directly linked by sea with the Roman Byzantine developments and with the Aragonese expansion into Sicily and southern Italian peninsular, the strong trading links of the Catalan speaking territories with Constantinople made Catalonia a very notable point of arrival and emergence of this twelfth century Romanesque art.
The Romanesque frescoes follow popular themes of the Middle ages and Byzantium. Christ Pantocrator or In Majesty is a popular icon and the image is known as a Theophany, in which Christ is revealed as God. He is surrounded by a vertical eye shaped aureola called a mandorla which also originated from Byzantium. The Theophany is usually surrounded by a Tetramorph with the four symbols of the Evangelists – Mathew depicted as a man, Mark as a lion, Luke as a Bull and John as an Eagle. The layout of the apse frescoes also follows traditional Byzantine rules using 3 registers with Christ or the Virgin Mary occupying the top register and the Apostles in the central register. The rest of the Romanesque churches were decorated with frescoes depicting scenes from the bible as well as scenes from the saints life that the church is dedicated to.
Romanesque churches have small windows and only dim light would have illuminated the inside. The frescoes would only have come to life when lit by the candles during services and the flickering candle light would have revealed the frescoes in a subdued adding a spiritual element that is hard to gauge today. Fine detail would have been lost under such viewing circumstances and the direct simplicity of the Romanesque style was well suited to the architectural restrains of the time. Today the Romanesque style may often look unsophisticated to modern viewers but the directness of its message is often more potent than the realism that developed in the church art of the Renaissance.
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