Art and architecture

Romanesque wall painting in Normandy

Jacob fighting the Angel, church nave at Saint-Jean-le-Thomas (Manche). Photo P.-Y. Le Meur. Together with painted glass windows, mural painting is probably one of the least well represented of the visual arts in the Romanesque buildings of Normandy. Historians and archaeologists have known for a very long time that these forms of art, both involving colour, were practised in Normandy, but a very small number of known examples does not enable an overall picture of the subject to be presented.

Christ entering Jerusalem (detail), church of Norrey-en-Auge (Calvados)Greater attention applied to the subject than hitherto and some recent discoveries prove that, regardless of their size or status, the interior of religious buildings was enhanced by painted decoration. Cain and Abel's offerings, church nave at Saint-Jean-le-Thomas (Manche). Photo P.-Y. Le Meur. The nave of St Jean-le-Thomas (Manche) offers scenes from Genesis and in particular the Offerings of Abel and Cain, the Murder of Abel and the Malediction of Cain (1st half of the 12th century). From the same period in Norrey-en-Auge (Calvados) the figurative decoration is confined to the east bay of the nave, in other words the part closest to the altar – reconstructed in the 13th century - but these paintings (the Adoration of the Magi and the Entry of Christ into Jerusalem) were covered up at the end of the 12th century like the rest of the church by a coating of white wash on which imitation stonework was painted.

Decorative painting – in other words non-figurative painting - occupied a remarkable place in mural painting throughout the Middle Ages. Various fragments found at Mont-Saint-Michel, Cerisy-la-Forêt, Caen and Falaise attest to its decorative quality which was often modest, but also very striking as much in terms of its execution as in its chromatic impact.

Chancel wall-paintings at Manéglise (Seine-Maritime).In comparison to what is found in other parts of the building, surviving decoration of church choirs is less common as this area was very often re-worked during subsequent centuries. Chancel wall-paintings at Manéglise (Seine-Maritime).The recent re-dating of the surviving paintings in the choir of Manéglise (Seine-Maritime), 2nd half of the 12th century, however, allows the iconographic and pictorial richness that these programmes could contain to be demonstrated. Two superimposed illustrated registers may be found above the side windows. The Doubting of St Thomas precedes what could be the Ascension. Other figurative scenes, probably illustrating the lives of the saints, decorated the vaults. Although fragmentary, these paintings belonged to a set which was the product of a single campaign. It was characterised by the quality of its execution and the sparkle of its colours (blue and green especially).


Vincent Juhel

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