The Romanesque Period
The Romanesque period covers the 11th and 12th centuries, a time when civilization in Europe was beginning to re-emerge after the Dark Ages followed the fall of the Roman Empire. Taking ancient Roman remains as their model, Romanesque artists, architects and furniture designers copied Roman styles in a rather crude fashion, although later works of Romanesque art show a brilliance of their own.
Romanesque Architecture & Cathedrals
Both Gothic and Romanesque architecture styles are predominantly seen in churches and cathedrals. However, Romanesque cathedrals were massive, solid, dark and gloomy, whereas the Gothic style was much lighter, with slender, steeper lines and tapering spires. Romanesque churches and monasteries were the focal point of civilization, and most of the furniture and works of art of this period are ecclesiastical.
The style of Romanesque architecture is impressive, since with little knowledge of mathematics or engineering, medieval builders were able to create massive structures on a scale never seen before, in such a way that they have endured through the centuries. French Romanesque architecture introduced the vaulted style with soaring arches and pillars. This style was later brought to Britain by the Norman conquerors.
Portals & Sculpture
Romanesque portals were imposing and heavily decorated. Romanesque sculpture and artwork were used to lavishly decorate churches and cathedrals, giving us an insight into the fashions, lifestyles and culture of early medieval Europe.
History of Romanesque Furniture
Since the common people of this era lived very simply, Romanesque furniture was predominantly designed for churches and for the aristocracy. The poorer classes would make do with a rough bed, or just a mattress of straw on the ground, perhaps a storage chest or two, and a board supported by tree trunks that served as a dining table.
Church furniture was ornate, decorated with either carvings or paintings in an imitation of the old roman furniture styles. Arches and curves were the design theme, both in the shape of the item itself, and the carved paneling and decoration. Simple animal and plant forms were also used in carving. Many items were brightly painted to lighten up gloomy interiors.
Romanesque Furniture Examples
Pictures of Romanesque furniture show carved chests, simple stools, benches and trestle tables, and roughly carved, pillared bedsteads. Chairs as we know them, with back and arm rests, were mainly the prerogative of important personages such as bishops and overlords. Such chairs were often heavily decorated with carving, painting and inlays, and were a symbol of power.
Romanesque Revival & Reproductions
In the late 19th century, styles of architecture copying the Romanesque and Gothic architectural style from about 1050 became popular in the United States. The Romanesque Chateauesque style was a symbol of affluence, and the super-rich built themselves imitation medieval castles. Furniture, artwork and sculpture Romanesque style was used to decorate these mansions lavishly, using some genuine antiques but mostly imitation and reproduction items.
Romanesque shingle style houses were also a popular architectural feature of 19th century America. Loosely copying Romanesque styles, the Romanesque Shingle style was composed of geometric shapes coupled together with shingles.
These styles brought about an interest in all things Romanesque, and the Romanesque influence can still be seen today in richly carved and painted furniture, and ornately decorated articles such as Cellini Romanesque flatware, which has become a collector's item.
Romanesque decor brings back an era of romance, where knights in shining armor rode off to battle, poets and bards expounded the virtues of fair and gracious ladies, and valiant kings laid the first steps towards building great nations. The Romanesque style was the true beginning of modern architectural and furniture design as we know it. Its story is continued on in the Gothic furniture era.