A History of English Art in the Middle Ages

By O. Elfrida Saunders | Go to book overview

Chapter III GENERAL CHARACTERISTICS OF ROMANESQUE ART

ENGLISH art after the Conquest was definitely a part of the wider Romanesque movement, which in all the western countries formed the transition from classical to Gothic art. In architecture, which led the way, the essential features of the movement were a gradual development from the Roman types of building, with their heavy walls, barrel vaults, and domes, towards lighter and more varied forms, slenderer columns, larger windows, cross-vaulting, and cruciform plans, until the way was fully prepared for the grace and vitality of the Gothic style.

The movement spread gradually over Europe, through the tenth and eleventh centuries, taking different aspects in different districts. In England the Saxon architecture of the century preceding the Conquest had been a fairly primitive form of Romanesque building. And after the Conquest, when a more highly developed type of Romanesque architecture had been introduced from the Continent, our 'Norman' architecture still had its own individuality, and even made contributions to the common stock of architectural forms: Durham Cathedral, for instance, is thought to have been the first nave in Europe to be roofed with a stone cross-vault.

The Romanesque movement was not by any means confined to architecture. In all the countries concerned there was a parallel development in the other arts. Workshops of carvers, painters, goldsmiths, and glaziers sprang up in connexion with every important building operation: they worked at Hildesheim, at Cluny, at Compostela, at Toulouse, and no less in England, at Canterbury, Winchester, Durham, and York, where fragmentary remains bear witness to what must have been considerable schools of art in the Romanesque

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