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A Journey through History with Medieval Paintings

Medieval Paintings are among human history’s most intriguing and enthralling art pieces. They provide insight into the thoughts, ideas, and lifestyles of individuals who lived hundreds of years ago, and their complexity and detail often astound us. Medieval times paintings exhibit a broad range of styles, topics, and techniques, from the brilliant illuminated manuscripts of the ninth century to the vibrant frescoes of the Italian Renaissance.

Paintings of the Medieval Period

The influence of the Christian Church, which played a major role in medieval society, was one of the most fundamental forces that impacted medieval art. The Church commissioned many of the most important works of medieval art, such as illuminated manuscripts, paintings, and altarpieces. These paintings, which frequently featured events from the Bible and saints’ lives, were designed to encourage piety and devotion among the devout.
Medieval paintings also represented the Middle Ages’ larger cultural environment. Europe had a hierarchical social structure during the period, with a small elite of monarchs, nobles, and clergy controlling much of society. This social system was represented in period art, frequently featuring images of monarchy and nobles in ornate settings.
Nonetheless, non-Christian cultural and aesthetic traditions, such as those of the Islamic world and the Byzantine Empire, affected medieval painting. These inspirations may be observed in the ornamental motifs, such as geometric patterns, elaborate borders, and vivid, colourful colours.

Type of Medieval Paintings

Here are some of the most notable types of medieval paintings:

1. Byzantine Painting

Started in the Byzantine Empire and was distinguished by the use of gold leaf and an emphasis on religious topics. Flattened, stylised figures with wide, expressive eyes were common in Byzantine art.

2. Romanesque Painting 

Romanesque painting first appeared in the 10th century and remained popular until the 11th and 12th centuries. It was distinguished by vibrant colours, thick outlines, and a concentration on religious topics.

3. Gothic Art 

Developed in the 12th century and was fashionable into the 13th and 14th centuries. It was distinguished by light and dark shading, complex details, and an emphasis on naturalism. Religious issues were frequently shown in Gothic art, but images from ordinary life were also featured.

4. Frescoes 

Frescoes are paintings done on wet plaster. They were popular throughout the Middle Ages and were frequently used to decorate churches and other religious structures. Frescoes were frequently used to illustrate scenes from the Bible or other religious themes.

5. Illuminated Manuscripts 

These were hand-copied volumes with intricate artwork, borders, and typography. Throughout the medieval period, illuminated manuscripts were popular and were frequently written by monks or other expert scribes.

Famous Medieval Paintings

Here’s a collection of well-known medieval times paintings:

  • The Bayeux Tapestry
  • The Crucifixion 
  • The Wilton Diptych
  • The Ghent Altarpiece
  • The Book of Kells
  • The Last Judgement

Medieval Painting Styles

The flat, two-dimensional form of medieval paintings generally lacks perspective and depth. Figures are frequently depicted in profile, with little effort to represent them realistically. Clothes and other aspects are frequently stylised and streamlined. Gold leaf and other metallic colours were frequently used, giving the paintings a shimmering quality.
Colours in medieval paintings were frequently vivid and powerful, with a limited palette. The most regularly utilised hues were red, blue, green, yellow, and brown, frequently employed in flat, unmodulated regions. 
Shade and gradation were rarely utilised, and when they were, they were usually created by hatching or cross-hatching techniques.

Medieval Painting Techniques

Tempera and fresco were two of the most popular methods.

Tempera painting entailed combining pigments with an egg yolk or another binder, such as oil or glue, to produce a smooth, opaque paint. After that, the paint was put in thin layers on a gesso-prepared hardwood panel or canvas.
Another standard method in medieval art was fresco painting. The artist added colour to wet plaster on a wall or ceiling in fresco painting, allowing the paint to dry and bind with the plaster as it cured.

Famous Medieval Artists

Among the most well-known medieval artists are:

Giotto di Bondone 

An Italian painter who flourished in the 13th and 14th centuries, Giotto is widely regarded as one of the Renaissance’s forefathers. His paintings are distinguished for their realism and use of depth and perspective.

Jan van Eyck 

Jan van Eyck was a Flemish painter who flourished in the 15th century and is most renowned for his realistic portraits of people and landscapes. At the time, his use of oil paint was novel, allowing him to produce paintings with greater richness and depth.

Simone Martini 

Martini was a 14th-century Italian painter famed for his elaborate and opulent style. Lavishly embellished backgrounds and brilliant colours frequently characterise his works.

Fra Angelico 

A Dominican monk who flourished in the 15th century, Fra Angelico was an Italian painter whose paintings frequently show holy subjects. His use of light and colour contributed to his paintings’ spirituality and transcendence.

Hieronymus Bosch 

A late medieval Dutch painter famed for his inventive and often surreal portrayals of religious and mythological topics. His works are distinguished by their complex detailing and symbolic application.

Gothic Medieval Paintings

Gothic Medieval Paintings
Gothic Medieval Painting is licensed under CC0 1.0

In the late medieval period, during the 12th century, Gothic art evolved as a response to the Romanesque art style that had dominated Western Europe for the preceding two decades. The focus on light, space, realism, and a more prosperous and ornate style defined Gothic art.
The use of light was one of the fundamental contrasts between Gothic art and earlier kinds of painting. Gothic artists attempted to create a sense of lightness and transparency in their paintings by employing brighter colours and letting more light pass through their compositions. 
This was accomplished using stained glass windows and other architectural elements that enabled more natural light to enter churches and cathedrals.

Medieval Wall Paintings

Medieval wall paintings peaked during the 11th and 15th centuries, during the Romanesque and Gothic eras. These paintings were vital to imparting religious stories and lessons to the primarily illiterate public. 
They were frequently made alongside other types of art, like stained glass windows, sculptures, and illuminated manuscripts. Medieval wall paintings were primarily done using the fresco technique, which entails painting on fresh wet plaster. In fresco painting, pigments are combined with water and put on the wall in tiny pieces. 
Once the plaster cures, the pigments become entrenched in the surface, resulting in a long-lasting and durable painting.


The Christian Church, medieval social hierarchy, and non-Christian cultural and artistic traditions, such as those of the Islamic world and the Byzantine Empire, all impacted medieval paintings. Among the most notable styles were Byzantine, Romanesque, and Gothic. 
Illuminated manuscripts, frescoes, and other methods, such as tempera, were widely used. Medieval paintings’ flat, two-dimensional forms lacked perspective and depth, and metallic hues were frequently utilised. Giotto di Bondone, Jan van Eyck, Simone Martini, Fra Angelico, and Hieronymus Bosch were among the famous artists of the time. Throughout the 12th century, Gothic art emerged, stressing light, space, realism, and an extravagant style.

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