In Italy, the period of Romanesque art lasted somewhat longer than in other countries. The rapid development of Romanesque painting, due to direct contact with the East, was intensified by the fact that Byzantine exponents of mosaic art, centered in Rome and elsewhere in the peninsula, were still carrying on their impressive work, which undoubtedly influenced fresco painters.
Its continuance is due, moreover, to the late appearance of the Gothic art style, for in fact Italian Romanesque art may be said to reach its conclusion in the hands of Old Masters from the duecento and trecento such as Duccio di Buoninsegna (c.1255-1319) – leader of the conservative Sienese School of painting – the older Florentine painter Cimabue (Cenni di Peppi) (1240-1302) and even perhaps Giotto di Bondone (1267-1337) – all of whom paved the way for the quattrocento Early Renaissance, which emerged in Florence.
There are few paintings in Italy which do not show traces of Byzantine art from one source or another. Even in the north, you can clearly recognize Byzantine characteristics surviving in Ottonian art in the Christus Pantocratorof the apsidal vault of the church of Monte Maria at Burgusio, near Bolzano.
Of course, as in other countries, each artist reconciles the Byzantine influence he has undergone with local traditions and customs, adding moreover the weight of his own creative power. The importance of his personality will be determined by the total result, according to the share assumed by the various elements.
The earliest and most important record of the revival of monumental painting on Italian soil has survived in the northern area of the Apennine peninsula, in the vicinity of Como: the apse decoration in the former parish church San Vicenzo, in Galliano near Cantu. The mural workshop which created the paintings was originated from Milan.
The Last Judgment on the western wall of the church Sant’Angelo in Formis is painted in the Byzantine tradition and refer back to the formal ideal of Classical antiquity. Group compositions as defined by isocephaly, that is the arrangement heads all at the same level, is a specific characteristic of Ancient and Byzantine art.
The Sant’Angelo in Formis, near Capua, is a nearly completely intact church building from the early Middle Ages whose entire interior is decorated with frescoes. The interior entrance wall is occupied by a colossal depiction of the Last Judgment. The angel shown in the picture is a detail of this fresco.
Byzantine art served as a source of inspiration for a long time for many artists in the most diverse manner, in terms of both formal style and subject manner. The main subject of Romanesque painting, the depiction of Christ in Majesty has Byzantine origin. The fresco in Formis, probably painted by a master from Constantinople, follows Byzantine traditions.
The fresco on the eastern wall of the entrance porch of San Pietro al Monte near Civate is one of the most important Italian contribution to Romanesque painting. It illustrates chapter 12 of the Apocalypse: beneath the mandorla containing Christ in Majesty we see the writhing body of a dragon of gigantic proportions. Fighting the monster is the heavenly host, led by the Archangel Michael.
The wall and vault frescoes in the former Benedictine monastery church in Lombardy, on the slopes of Monte Pedale overlooking Lake Como, were executed by five different artists or workshops at the end of the eleventh century. The frescoes, among the most superb decorations in early Romanesque painting, combines Ottoman elements with remnants of an ancient Roman illusionism, Byzantine formulae, and clearly Romanesque compositional principles.
The Heavenly Jerusalem is depicted in the eastern section of the vault in San Pietro al Monte, Civate, following the fresco of the formeret on the east wall. God the Father is shown seated on his throne, with the Book of Life in his lap and the Holy Lamb by his feet. The painter used the iconographical image of a garden to represent the Heavenly Jerusalem.
The Benedictine monastery church in Lambach, Austria, was built from 1056 to 1089. Its extensive fresco cycle (twenty-three scenes and remnants of scenes) is in a good state of preservation. It was executed by a workshop, likely located in Salzburg, which must have been familiar with the mosaics in the vestibule of San Marco in Venice. It is assumed that the chief master was schooled in one of the centres of Byzantine art export, in Aquileia or Venice.
The work done by the Master of the legend of St Clement (in San Clemente, Rome) and his workshop had a far-reaching effect in Rome and far beyond. This Roman school might even have influenced the paintings of the abbey of Castel Sant’Elia near Nepi).
The crypt of the church of San Clemente is regarded as a treasure house of Romanesque painting. It boasts ninth-century frescoes in the nave and in the narthex a cycle from the early twelfth century representing the legend of St Clement.
This fresco in the lower church of San Clemente, depicting figures in a slightly bent posture carrying the reliquary, shows similarities to Burgundian examples in the treatment of garment.
Apart from the evocations of early Christian models, on which almost all painting in the city of Rome was based, it was ultimately the local factor of antiquity that determined the character of Romanesque painting in Rome more strongly than anywhere else. The most significant examples of this style are the murals in the lower church of San Clemente, the church dedicated to the pope whose relics are stored there.
The scene depicting the miraculous rescue of a child from the sea of Azof by St Clemens was painted by an artist whose style is marked by unusual contours, shining highlights, and especially decorative arrangements. From the depth where the pope’s body had been submerged, the legend goes, a marble chapel had arisen. Once a year the masses of water receded, making the chapel accessible to pilgrims. One day a mother last her small child there, but found him again the next year, unhurt. Below this scene we see a medallion portrait of Clemens, flanked by donor figures.