Catalan Romanesque Art – World heritage and cradle of our national identity

Visual arts, in all their forms, were among my sister Ari’s main interests and affections; but this is a hugely broad field and she -like everybody else- had to be content knowing well a few corners of it. Medieval European Art -and Catalan-Occitan Romanesque Art in particular- was one of those corners she knew quite deeply and, of course, loved much.

Our countries -Catalonia and Andorra- and the areas of Spain and France bordering the Pyrenees host many of the best art works from this period (10th and 11th centuries), known as First Romanesque or Lombard Romanesque –since it took place in the region of Lombardy and soon spread into Catalonia and the south of France (Occitanie).

My sister was planning a series of posts about this, and began to select good illustrations and to write some drafts, but had no time to go beyond. My aim now is not to finish her task, like I have done in some other occasion, since I couldn’t honestly do it well. Ari held a Master’s Degree in Medieval Catalan Literature, and therefore she was also learned and knowledgeable about the history, art and culture of our homeland during that epoch, when our Nation was born and our language acquired its full development and importance. Furthermore, she resided many years in Andorra and in La Seu d’Urgell, in the midst of the mountains where Romanesque art flourished and shone like perhaps in no other place -not even in Lombardy, where it began to emerge. She had visited many times most of these churches, watched the original frescoes, sculptures, wood carvings… -except those kept in the USA- and without any doubt would have written worthy articles, from a truly personal perspective, which I lack. So I will limit myself to copy some disperse notes and introductory words and show a few pictures to illustrate the beauty and splendour of this old, venerable and -in some experts’ opinion- most representative of Catalan art forms.

For centuries, Romanesque paintings -especially First Romanesque ones-, with their simple, hieratic forms, recurrent motives and bright primary colours were regarded as somewhat naïve and inferior in merit to Gothic. But this underestimation came to an end during the early 20th century. Then there was a major effort to study and catalogue the wall paintings in the Catalan churches of the Vall de Boí and other places of the Pyrenees. This activity was driven by both the academic interests of scholars, and by art dealers, whose only motives were financial gain. Between 1905 and 1909 the Board of the Museums of Barcelona printed faithful reproductions of these Pyrenean frescoes, and this unleashed a desire for their acquisition by museums and private collectors. By 1919 many intermediaries were involved in buying and selling these works, which went mostly to museums and private collections in the USA.

Taüll became one of the few exceptions to this trend, since the local population refused to allow the frescoes and other art works to leave their churches. This action was escalated to the level of the Commonwealth of Catalonia and to the bishop of La Seu d’Urgell (and, as such, Co-Prince of Andorra). Eventually, it was agreed that the frescoes would be best kept in the National Museum of Catalan Art (Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya -or MNAC), secure from possible theft or unscrupulous transactions. A team of Italian experts carried out the task of removing the paintings from the walls and, in some cases, replacing the works with in situ reproductions.

The Taüll Romanesque paintings preserved in the MNAC have since become world famous. Interest by art academics and professionals has led to a systematic study of all other remaining Romanesque murals of the Vall de Boí and other locations, and most of these are now in safe protection at MNAC in Barcelona and at the Museums of Vic, Lleida and Solsona.

Here down I present two of the best know Pantocrators (Christs in Majesty) preserved: the one from the apse of Sant Climent de Taüll (c. 1023 – Vall de Boí, Alta Ribagorça) and the one from the apse of Santa Maria de Mur (c. 1069 – Castell de Mur, Pallars Jussà):

Pantocràtor de Sant Climent de Taüll – Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya

Pantocràtor de Santa Maria de Mur – original at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts

[In the open book in the hands of Mur’s Christ it is written: Ego sum via, veritas et vita. Nemo ad Patrem nisi per me (I’m the way, the truth and the life. No one [can arrive] to the Father if not through me – Jo sóc el camí, la veritat i la vida. Ningú [no pot arribar] al Pare si no és per mi.]

I add below a splendid portion of Sant Climent’s painting (which appears cropped at the header and not well shown in the picture of the complete apse), also a closer picture of the lion from Santa Maria de Mur and a painting from the church of Santa Maria d’Àneu (first half of 11th century – Escalarre, Pallars Sobirà), figuring an imposing six-winged, many-eyed seraphim:

Mark holding a Lion; his usual “avatar” (Sant Climent de Taüll – MNAC)

Winged lion, symbolizing Mark Evangelist (Sta. Maria de Mur – Boston M.F.A.)

Six-winged seraphim from Santa Maria d’Àneu (c. 1050 – MNAC)

Some Sculptures

I’ve realized that Ari would have dedicated a whole post to some wonderful wood carvings kept in a few of the churches. They have been there for nearly a thousand years and, in several cases, survived to spoliations and even great fires. I share here the three pictures that she had selected among many for commenting (but I will not write anything aside of their succinct references and of pointing out that they are very singular and beautiful art works):

1- Deposition from Sant Joan de les Abadesses. 2- Deposition from Santa Maria de Taüll. 3- Majestat Batlló (Batlló Majesty):

Devallament de Sant Joan de les Abadesses (MNAC)

Devallament de Santa Maria de Taüll (MNAC)

Majestat Batlló (MNAC)

I will not try to explain why a young girl of our century; not Christian, but animist and close to Hinduism, fond of dance, American musical movies, Japanese ‘manga’ and Belgian-French cartoons (like Tintin, for example) felt so captivated by these ancient works of Christian art. Instead, I will show here a curious -in fact unique- sample of Pre-Romanesque painting (also Catalan; some hundred or more years older than everything I have shown above) that she immensely admired, to the point that -being kept in Solsona, where Ari lived her last months- she went to contemplate it at least once a week. She said it was a wonderful sample of far-reaching cultural intercourse at those ancient times, of anachronism, of mystery, of truly enlightened spirituality… and an outstanding proof of the esoteric ways and knowledge of some Christian practitioners in our land in the 9th or 10th century.

This painting is known as “L’Orant” (The Praying One) and it comes from Sant Quirze de Pedret (a small church in Cercs, Berguedà).


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(All photos shown are public domain except the last, which was shot by Ari herself.)



13 thoughts on “Catalan Romanesque Art – World heritage and cradle of our national identity

  1. Thanks a lot to you for commenting, my friend ! I’m really glad you liked these outstanding art works. Both Ariel and I became most interested in them long ago, and she was a true expert on that epoch; its history, art and literature. A warm hug !!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you !!! And may you receive some tight ones and some kisses from Ari in dreams. I’m dreaming of her these days…, so, be on the watch ✨ ✨
      BTW, in one of the dreams I remember better, she was happily holding a little baby in her arms – so maybe things up there are just right and fair for her at last . How I wish it was true !

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I will definitely be on the watch!!! She is more than welcome, anytime!!!! I will wait with open arms!!!! =) I do hope things are right for her as well!!! She deserved so much happiness, and I feel she is finally getting that!!!!

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  2. Now that you mentioned that, Linus. I have to tell you 2 nights ago I too had a dream, but I did not speak to her, instead I was looking at a picture of Ari, she was wearing a pink dress with white flowers, and she was kneeling down and holding a small child in front of her, the child looked to be no more than 2 years old, maybe a little younger. Interesting….I do believe our little firefly has finally gotten her wish…..=)

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    1. Oh !!!! It was four nights ago I dreamt of her with the baby. She was beaming and presented it to me. I took it in my arms and I was told it was a girl. She wore a white woollen cap and still had a bit of milk in her lips after lactation . I got very emotional and hugged Ariel with all my strength .
      I do not remember well now which colours she was dressing; just that her skirt was clear, translucent and half-showed her legs. I returned the baby to her, and then she said we were in the Palace Hotel in London (??) and that she felt very well and strong, and feeling able to feed and raise the baby by herself, even if she looked very lean and even skinny.
      I’m impressed by your words, because i just want to believe that she is somewhere alive and happy… I miss her a lot, but if she is not alone and has her wishes fulfilled, I’m more happy than I could tell .
      Thank you so much for your wonderful news, John . You’ve made me thrill and cry . I loved this kiddo much more than myself or anybody else, including my parents and… anybody. I just wish she is fine !!!!!!!!!!!!!!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I believe she is definitely fine…….and as happy and free from judgement as anyone could possibly be…..One day we will see her again and share the most wonderful of moments….for all eternity!!!! You are very welcome as always my friend!!!! God bless!!!!!

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