The Romanesque was Western Christendom’s first unified style of art, spreading throughout much of Europe in the 11th, 12th and the first half of the 13th century.
It originated in France, linked to the Cistercian religious order and the Abbey of Cluny, emerging simultaneously in Spain, France, Italy and Germany.
Its name is owing to its employment of Roman techniques, an attempt being made to recover the spirit of a new “Christian Rome” as an instrument for the dissemination of Christianity.
At the architectural level, the churches were built based on a Latin cross or basilica layout, the apse facing eastward.
The use of thick stone ashlar walls is a hallmark of this artistic style, together with semicircular arches and barrel vaults. Openings and windows are scarce, allowing little light in, while outside buttresses are used. Romanesque cloisters wrap around the courtyards of the monasteries, cathedrals and convents.
The porticoes are decorated with sculptures featuring hieratic poses, or images of the Virgin and child. The capitals are decorated with Biblical scenes.
Romanesque painting is characterized by its frescos devoid of perspective or depth. Pure and vivid colors are used, and the art is manifestly didactic, having moralizing messages, to teach people the Scriptures through art.
In Spain Romanesque structures were built in the Christian kingdoms in the north of the Peninsula, especially linked to the pilgrimages on the Camino de Santiago, or Way of St. James.
Two sources that shaped the Spanish Romanesque were the Peninsular Pre-Romanesque and Islamic art.
The Romanesque is an essentially religious art characterizing the construction of churches, cathedrals and monasteries, such as the Cathedral of Santiago, Santo Domingo de Silos, San Clemente de Tahull, and San Esteban de Gormaz.
The early Romanesque appeared in Catalonia, with evident influences from the Lombard Romanesque. It is an austere and relatively unadorned architecture, with discreet ashlar masonry on the walls, and tall towers. Clear examples are the monasteries of Santa María de Ripoll and San Pedro de Roda.
The full-fledged Romanesque can be found along the entire Camino de Santiago: the cathedral of Jaca, the monastery of San Juan de la Peña, the monastery of Leyre, in Navarra; San Martín de Frómista, in Palencia; and the Royal Collegiate Church and Royal Pantheon of St. Isidore in Leon, known as the Romanesque Sistine Chapel.
Finally, the late or Hispanic Romanesque is an art with Romanesque foundations, but with its own local features, such as the Holy Chamber of the Oviedo Cathedral, churches with side porticoes in Segovia (San Martín, San Millán, San Esteban), San Miguel, in Sotosalbos, and Santo Domingo, in Soria.