The Influence of Monastic Orders on Romanesque Art & Architecture

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  • 0:02 Monastic Orders &…
  • 1:33 Monasteries & Art
  • 3:07 Monastic Cooperation &…
  • 5:17 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

Medieval European society was dominated by religious orders, who had a fair amount of wealth and social power. In this lesson, we'll see how these orders influenced artistic production through both their cooperation and their competition.

Monastic Orders and Medieval Europe

Here, put this on. Also, go ahead and shave your head while you're at it. No, not the whole thing, just the top. Why is this necessary, because we're talking about religious architecture, so I figured you'd want to look the part. You're welcome. You see, in Medieval Europe, religion was a big deal. It was such a big deal, in fact, that people would segregate themselves from normal society in order to complete devote themselves to prayer, a pious lifestyle, and the study of the Christian gospels. We call these people monks or nuns. Now, as various monasteries, or churches that housed monks were formed, each one developed their own set of rules. Some said you had to pray eight times a day, or fast on Sundays, or abstain from earthly pleasures like drinking. Each group with its own set of rules was called a monastic order. Now, these monastic orders were the center of medieval religious life and received a fair amount of money from local lords and princes. As they became wealthier, they put their money to use in building large churches and filling them with art. This really kicked off in what we call the Romanesque period, which lasted from roughly 1050 to 1200 CE. So, grab your robes and say your vows, and let's check out how these monastic orders impacted the arts.

Monasteries & Art

So, let's start with the basic idea of how the rise of monasteries led to a rise in art. This here is the fictitious virtual monastic order of the Studytine monks. The Studytine monks, like most other monastic orders, believe very firmly that a life of religious devotion can only be perfected by surrounding themselves with religious…everything. So, first and foremost, we need a place for our monks to live and worship. We need a monastery. But, this monastery can't just be any old building; it has to enhance our religious devotion. So, we'll hire architects to design our monastery, and the church within it, to be full of religious imagery. We use a cruciform` basilica plan for the blueprints, which gives the church the shape of a cross. Above the front doors we'll place three large windows, to symbolize the Holy Trinity. The church itself needs to be large, both to hold all of our worshippers and to inspire people as to the power and immensity of God.

And, now that we have the building, let's fill it with statues, carvings, and other objects to help the common people understand the Bible. After all, most average people in this time period are illiterate; only monks and nobles can read and write. So, we need art that both encourages us to reflect and meditate on the Bible, and provides a visual depiction of things we want the congregation to remember.

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