Middle Ages in Europe
n Period between the defeat of the last western
Roman emperor in 476 and the beginnings of the
Renaissance in the 15th century.
n To early historians, it was a period of
darkness/ignorance and decline, a “middle” time
between one impressive civilization and another.
n Today we view it as a fascinating period in its
own right – Europe was formed, and a
distinctive Christian culture grew, now view it as
a time of immense achievement.
Middle Ages cont.
Three major shifts occurred during this time:
1. Cultural leadership moved north from
the Mediterranean to France, Germany, and
the British Isles.
2. Stability of Christianity.
3. Emphasis shifted on here-and-now to
the hereafter, and with it from the body as
beautiful to the body as corrupt – Interest
in realistically representing objects of the
world disappeared, nudes were forbidden,
and even images of clothed bodies showed
ignorance of anatomy.
n Art became the servant of the church.
n Theologians believed church members would
appreciate divine beauty through material beauty,
and lavish mosaics, paintings, and sculpture were
n Sculpture was used to embellish architecture,
and was concentrated especially around principal
entryways like a “welcoming committee”
Three Styles of Medieval Art
1. Byzantine (330 – 1453) mosaics and icons
2. Romanesque (1000-1200) frescoes and
3. Gothic (1200-1500 century) stained glass,
Bird Mosaic, Byzantine
Religious Mosaic, Byzantine
Mosaic of Empress Theodora , Byzantine
• Dome is one of the main features
• Mixed style of Graeco-Roman and Oriental
• Basilica structure
• Wood ceilings prone to fire and devastation
Following the Edict of Milan in 313
Constantine began an extensive building
program to provide churches and
meeting places for Christians. Previously
they met in private homes that had
rooms for worship.
The first Christian churches used Roman
structural and design elements.
The basilica evolved into the essential
design for the church that is still used
• 1000-1200 AD
• Architecture needed to accommodate large numbers
• Pilgrimages and holy relics
• Shaped like Latin cross (nave, crossing, transepts, high
• Stone ceilings
• Dark, heavy look
• Made changes to the arch by making it narrower, taller,
and pointed at the top, which could support more
weight because most of the force was directed
downward instead of outward.
• Other features – spires, gargoyles, rose windows, flying
buttresses, ribbed vaults
• Emphasis on light and height
• Took over 100 years to build
• Reflected wealth of church