1902 Encyclopedia > Mural Decoration > The Mediaeval Wall Paintings of the Continent. Oriental Mural Painting.

Mural Decoration
(Part 17)


The Mediaeval Wall Paintings of the Continent. Oriental Mural Painting.

The Mediaeval Wall-Paintings of the Continent.— In the main the above remarks on English mural decoration apply equally to that of France, Germany, and Scandinavia. Though each of these countries had certain peculiarities of stlye, mostly slight and unimportant, yet in method of execution, choice and arrangement of subjects, and division of the wall-spaces there is a very close similarity between them all. Italy, on the other hand, developed a style of her own, more purely pictoral, with less regard to the exigencies of architecture. In northern lands the mural paintings were strictly subordinate to the main features of the structure for which they were designed, while in Italy as a rule the architect did but little to decorate the interior of his buildings, and left the painter free to treat the walls as he pleased.

The very close similarity of the mural decoration in the churches of Sweden to those to those of England is every remarkable, and some of the Swedish churches of decoration, covering walls and ceilings alike of dates varying from the 13th to the 15th centuries, all of which have little or nothing to distinguish them from contemporary work in England. Mandelgren’s Monuments Scandinaves (1862) has well-executed reproductions of some of the best of these, especially the fine and complete specimens in the churches of Bjeresjoe, Amencharads Räda, Risingë, and Floda. One of these, the north chancel wall of the church of Räda, 13th century, has been selected (Plate I.) as a good and characteristic example of the treatment of a large wall-space in the 14th century; the dado of painted curtain-folds, the tiers of single life-size figures in architectural niches treated with great breadth and decorative skill, and the band below of subjects on a rather smaller scale give a good idea of a common schmes of ecclesiastic decoration. Anl inscription on one of these paintings gives the date of their execution as 1323. The lower subject represents the death of the Virgin, above are figures of the apostles, and highest of all, painted on the curved boarding of the waggon vault, are a row of seated prophets under round arches. The other examples on the same plate, given as specimens of 15th century flowing pattern, are from the church of Kumbla, also in Sweden, and fully illustrated in Mandelgren’s valuable work.

Oriental Mural Painting.— In the churches and monasteries of the Greeks mural painting is still practised very much as it was in the 12th or 13th centuries. [Footnote 48-1] Neither colouring, nor drawing, nor method has in the least altered during the last six hundred years. Everything is fixed by certain unchangeable hieratic rules, and the Greek painter-monk would think it impious to improve upon or deviate from the artistic canons for sacred subjects handed down from century to century. For this reason it is generally imposible, from internal evidence, to guess the date of the interesting wall-paintings with which many churches in eastern Europe, Egypt, and Asia Minor are decorated.

In India and Ceylon mural painting has been largely used from very early times, especially to decorate the walls of temples. Some of these appear to be executed in true fresco. Birth-stories of Buddha and other sacred subjects most frequently occur. As among the mediaeval and modern Greeks, the strong conservatism of the Hindu races makes it difficult to judge as to the dates of these painting. [Footnote 48-2] (W. MO.—J. H. M.)


(48-1) See Byzantine MS. from Mt. Athos, quoted by Didron, Iconogr. Chrét.

(48-2) Many books given under the head of "Early Christian paintings in Italy" apply also to this last division. Plates and descriptions of mediaeval paintings are mostly scattered through the proceedings of various societies, such as those of the Society of Antiquaries (Archaeologia, Vet. Mon., and Proceedings), the Archaeological Institute, the Archaeological Association, and many other central and local societies in England and abroad. The "List of English buildings with mural decoration" (Science and Art Depart., S. Kens. Mus., 1872) gives references to illustrations of most of the paintings catalogued. See also Merrifield, Original Treatises on Painting, 12th to 18th century (1849); Latilla, Treatise on Fresco, Encaustic, and Tempera (1842); Woltmann and Woermann, Hist. of Painting, vol. i. (1880); Blackburn, Decorative Painting (1847); Collins, Gothic Ornaments (1850); Mérimée, Peintures de l’Eglise de S. Savin (1845); Straub, Peint. mur. en Alsace; Voisin, Peint. mur. de la Cathédrale de Tournay; Fleury, Peint. mur. du Laonnois (1860); Galembert, Peint. mur. de St Mesme de Chinon (1855); Gaucherel, Decoration appliqué à l’ Architecture; David, Hist. de la Peinture au Moyen Âge (1863); Hotho, Gesch. d. christlichen Malerei (1872); Zahn, Ornamente aller klassischen Kunstepochen (1843-48); Salazaro, Mon. dell’ Italia Meridionale, 4to al 13mo sec. (1872-80); Racinet, Polychromatic Ornament (1873); Owen Jones, Grammar of Ornament (1842-45); Gailhaboud, L’ Architecture du v. au xvii. siècle (1869-72); Förster, Gesch. der Ital. Kunst; Dohme, Kunst u. Künstler d. Muttelalters (1877); Ridolfi, Maraviglie dell’ Arte.

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The above article was written by:

William Morris; founded the firm of Morris, Marshall, Faulkner, and Co., to promote artistic house decoration, 1861; established the Kelmscott Press, 1890; author of The Earthly Paradise, The Life and Death of Jason, a version of the Odyssey, and News from Nowhere;


John Henry Middleton, M.A., Litt.D., D.C.L.; Slade Professor of Fine Art in the Univ. of Cambridge, 1866; later, Art Director of the South Kensington Museum; author of The Engraved Gems of Classical Times and Illuminated Manuscripts in Classical and Mediaeval Times.

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