What and how much do you know about medieval artwork?
What did they stand for, and why were they made?
And what made medieval paintings so special?
It is, of course, the story behind them!
Medieval artwork definitely had a religious touch to it.
Yes, the medieval period gave us art that revolved around the early Christian art movement.
In today’s blog, I am going to bring forward 13 most famous medieval artworks that will unveil interesting stories of the medieval period.
And all the other periods that have given us enthralling artwork!
But how much do we really know about the famous medieval artworks across the globe? So without further ado, let’s travel a little back in history and understand the significance of medieval paintings!
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Table of contents
- Significance of Medieval Paintings
- Christ Pantocrator (c. 500- 600)
- Lamentation- The Mourning of Christ (1306)
- Kiss of Judas (1306)
- Maesta (c.1308- 1311)
- Ognissanti Madonna (c.1310)
- Annunciation with St. Margaret and St. Ansanus (1333)
- The Allegory of Good and Bad Government (c. 1338- 1339)
- Christ Rescuing Peter from Drowning (1370)
- Wilton Diptych (c.1395- 1399)
- The Trinity (c.1411- 1427)
- Adoration of the Magi (1423)
- The Ghent Altarpiece (1432)
- Author’s Note
- Frequently Asked Questions
Significance of Medieval Paintings
The Medieval Ages span not 100 but 1000 years, starting around 300 CE.
300 CE marks the fall of the Roman Empire in history.
The Middle Ages are known to have lasted until the Renaissance era began in the 1400s.
Some of the famous medieval artwork that came out of this period turned out to be the most influential artwork in Western art culture.
The medieval period is an important era in the history of art because of the number of famous medieval artworks, art movements, and genres that emerged in the period.
All the famous painters we know today have drawn inspiration from and been influenced by the middle ages art paintings.
If you look at any middle age paintings, you’ll see commonality in the structure of the paintings.
Bodies are not rigid and stiff; we see flowing gowns, capes and fabric.
We see flying figures; we see a lot of things depicting divineness.
So, let us look at some of the magnificent medieval artwork that continues to be a part of our world to this day!
Christ Pantocrator (c. 500- 600)
When we think of famous medieval artworks, we have to bring in the infamous Christ Pantocrator which is known to be the oldest religious painting!
Made in c.500-600, Christ Pantocrator literally translates to “Christ the Savior”.
In the painting, you will see Christ with a raised hand, which acts as a symbol of protection that he blesses upon the world.
With the other hand, he holds a bejeweled Gospel book.
This is one of those Jesus paintings, where Christ is depicted with large, kind eyes, with a face that showcases a mixture of emotions.
It is said that the asymmetry that you see in the painting was intended.
It was made to show the duality of Jesus, from the asymmetry, to the expressions that are being shown.
You see both serenity and firmness in the same painting!
Today, the painting resides in Saint Catherine’s Monastery, in Egypt.
Lamentation- The Mourning of Christ (1306)
The Lamentation– The Mourning of Christ by Giotto di Bondone is one among his most famous medieval artworks.
Made in the year 1306, the proto-renaissance artist, this famous medieval painting is part of his fresco series.
The painting is a part of Giotto di Bondone’s paintings series that depicts Life of Jesus and Life of Mother Mary.
The painting is rather a very moving one, where we can see Christ’s lifeless body after his crucifixion.
It is one among the sad medieval arts, where we see disciples, and other relatives of Christ around his corpse, mourning and weeping.
Apart from people on the ground, we can also see angels flying above the departed Christ.
Focus on their expressions, what do you see?
The angels too have joined in grieving for Christ’s downfall.
Such an emotionally fueled moment, and yet so beautifully captured with art!
Kiss of Judas (1306)
Did you know that the Kiss of Judas was also called the “Betrayal of Christ”?
This is because, right after Judas kisses Christ after the Last Supper, right before Christ was going to be arrested.
Yes, right before the betrayal by Judas!
This extremely dramatic scene is painted by Giotto di Bondone again, and the event takes place in the Garden of Gethsemane.
It is fascinating how this detailed art piece is one of the most famous medieval artworks.
Let’s bring our focus on how Christ is portrayed in this middle ages painting.
If you notice, you’ll see that Christ’s body language is hostile.
This is because he knew that Judas was going to betray him, and he even predicted his own death.
Today, this medieval painting resides in Scrovegni Chapel, in Italy.
Maesta (c.1308- 1311)
Maesta, created by the founder of Sienese School of Painting and Italian painter, Duccio di Buoninsegna, is one among the famous medieval artworks.
The middle ages painting is an altarpiece, which is a combination of several individual artworks by the artist for the city.
Do you see how many characters are shown in this single medieval painting?
The central focus is, of course, Jesus, who was shown as a toddler with a halo around his head.
Maesta literally translates to “majestic”, which represents Jesus here, with Virgin Mary and other prophets around him.
The Virgin Mary is depicted to be a larger figure holding Jesus, compared to other prophets around them.
A majestic painting for a majestic period, indeed!
Ognissanti Madonna (c.1310)
You will find that famous medieval artworks often have different versions of the same painting by different artists.
The Ognissanti Madonna which literally translates to Enthroned Madonna, was again created by the great Giotto di Bondone.
Do you see any similarities with the previous middle ages art by Duccio di Buoninsegna?
Yes, this representation of the Virgin is again called the Maesta, the painting that we discussed before.
As you can see, even here, Virgin Mary’s figure is larger than the rest, and personally I feel even baby Christ looks more grown up!
But the majestic feel, the gold, the regalness, everything add to the beauty of what we understand as medieval artwork.
The Uffizi Gallery of Florence, Italy is home to this wonderful example of a medieval art piece.
Wouldn’t it be magnificent if you had a replica of the Ognissanti Madonna in your humble abode?
Explore the Reproduction Painting services at PortraitFlip to get a replica of your favorite medieval art!
Annunciation with St. Margaret and St. Ansanus (1333)
The next one in our list of famous medieval artworks is by two artists who are infamous for middle age gothic art.
The Annunciation with St. Margaret and St. Ansanus was created by Lippo Memmi and Simone Martini in 1333.
This medieval artwork is painted in tempera and gold, on a wooden panel that folds into three, which is also called a triptych.
This middle age gothic art is considered a masterpiece from its time.
The intricate details and designs on it will leave you awestruck!
The side panels of the triptych were painted by Memmi and the central panel featuring Gabriel and Virgin Mary.
The painting immortalizes the moment when Mary was informed that she’s chosen to be carrying the offspring of God himself.
But, there are also other symbolizations in the painting, did you notice?
Gabriel is shown holding the symbol of peace, an olive branch.
There was also a vase set on the floor between Gabriel and Mary, which depicted a symbol of purity.
Today, this incredible and famous medieval art rests at the Uffizi Gallery in Florence.
The Allegory of Good and Bad Government (c. 1338- 1339)
It is impossible not to talk about this particular middle age art while discussing famous medieval artworks!
The Allegory of Good and Bad Government was painted by Ambrogio Lorenzetti.
The middle art style used for this particular medieval painting is fresco, and it is a series of three frescoes!
From these three frescoes, apparently there were six different scenes and they were acknowledged to be the masterpieces of Lorenzetti.
As the name suggests, this painting was commissioned by the city council to demonstrate a political message.
The paintings display symbols of virtue, which also resemble how the republic was governed.
The art was brilliantly made, as the artist had compared the good city with the bad city
While the good city depicted harmony, peace, and a well-maintained colorful place, the bad city was created with fading colors, ill-maintained structure, and crime.
In this medieval art painting by Lorenzetti, he also shows his skills on realistic architectural drawings!
Christ Rescuing Peter from Drowning (1370)
Lorenzo Venziano’s Christ Rescuing Peter from Drowning is one among the most famous medieval paintings from the middle ages era.
It is believed that the initial commission was for an altarpiece, and only later was it mutilated.
The central panel of the whole piece now rests at the Museo Correr in Venice.
This central part is where Christ hands over the keys to St. Peter and it is skillfully painted by Venzanio.
Unfortunately, the side pieces got destroyed in 1945, in Berlin.
This famous medieval artwork we are discussing here is one of the pieces that survived in the end.
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Wilton Diptych (c.1395- 1399)
We also have a diptych among the list of famous medieval artworks, which is the Wilton Diptych.
But what is a diptych?
We earlier came across a triptych, which has three panels.
Therefore, diptych is a two paneled painting, often seen in middle ages artwork.
The National Gallery of London is now home to this portable diptych.
The artist painted this medieval art for King Richard II.
Did you know the king is also represented in this painting?
The person seen kneeling down in front of the Virgin Mary and Baby Christ is in fact King Richard.
According to sources, this painting is a vital example of International Gothic style, which again makes this painting one of the most enthralling middle age Gothic art.
The Trinity (c.1411- 1427)
When we think of famous medieval artworks and religious paintings, it is impossible not to think of the holy trinity.
Yes, the next one in line among our famous medieval paintings is The Trinity by a Russian painter, Andrei Rublev.
This medieval artwork is known to have been painted somewhere between 1411 and 1427.
So, what does this middle ages art portray?
The painting shows three angels—who represent the trinity, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
These are the angels who announced to Abraham and Sarah that they would have a son together.
Yes, God is not directly depicted in this painting, even then, this famous medieval artwork is known for being a religious painting.
One that represents the spirit of godliness!
Adoration of the Magi (1423)
A lot of us are familiar with Leonardo da Vinci’s version of “Adoration of the Magi”.
But, did you know that there is another version, prior to da Vinci’s that is one amongst the famous medieval artworks?
This medieval artwork was painted by Gentile da Fabriano in 1423; the medium used in it was tempera on wood.
This is in fact known to be one of Fabriano’s masterpieces, which represents the journey of the Magi through different scenes.
Like you can see in the painting, this middle ages art is filled with vibrant hues, with gold dominating over all.
The Artist’s attention to detail is phenomenal, because one can spend hours watching this painting and still miss some of the intricate details!
One would even find it mysterious how the artist’s mind worked on this painting!
The Ghent Altarpiece (1432)
I saved the most magnificent among the famous medieval artworks for last!
The Ghent Altarpiece was created in 1432, and it is a polyptych altarpiece!
Yes, not two, not three, but this altarpiece has 12 panels, each painted to glory!
This famous medieval artwork has a lot of specialties!
For starters, this painting can be identified as the transition painting from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance Era.
It is also known to be the first major oil painting to be created.
Definitely a masterpiece!
The masterminds behind this medieval art are the Early Netherlandish painters, Hubert and Jan van Eyck, two brothers!
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I hope you enjoyed reading my list of famous medieval artworks!
Every painting has its unique properties, and knowing these paintings from the past is very close to time traveling, don’t you think?
I would love to hear your valuable thoughts in the comment section below!
Until next time,
Frequently Asked Questions
Medieval art is also known as Byzantine Art, Romanesque Art, and Gothic Art.
Lamentation – The Mourning of Christ (1304-1306) by Giotto is known to be the most popular medieval artwork.
Fresco, panel, illuminated manuscript, and iconography paintings are the different types of painting styles from the medieval period.