The Master of Santa Maria de Taüll

Catalan Frescoe – The Madonna Enthroned c.1123

The Santa Maria de Taüll is a Romanesque church in the Catalan village of Taüll, located in the Valle de Boi (Lleida Province, Spain). It is one of the most notable examples of a totally painted Catalan Romanesque church still extant. The consecration of the church by the Bishop of Roda and Barbastro on December 11, 1123, provides the key for dating the paintings at the east end.

A triumph of primary colors, Romanesque churches were chaotic in their chromatic richness. In the most important part of the church, the apse, the Virgin Mary is portrayed as the Child’s throne in a scene from the Adoration of the Magi. Inside the semi-cylinder, apostles pose as witnesses of this divine manifestation.

The artist referred to as the Master of Santa Maria de Taüll, has a readily recognizable style. Take note of the bright strips of color dividing the paintings into scenes. The symmetry of the monumental figures, which are stoic and full of nobility. The bodies are elongated, especially the faces, hands, and fingers; the clothing has thick outlines; the geometric fabric falls in dense folds.

To contemporary eyes, this fresco may seem rudimentary, almost childish in its use of bright primary colors. I hope you will take a few moments to study its composition. It is formal art, governed by rules encased in a far ago time. It presents a narrative. It’s an early form of storytelling, meant to illustrate Bible stories, in a dazzling, vivid and linear manner.

Perhaps this image will help you understand what I mean. It’s meant to represent the fresco in a refurbished state. The colors refreshed and vibrant as they might have appeared when new.

In art, as in other things, by studying where we have been, perhaps we can understand where we are.

If you want to visit the church, you can find information here: Romanesque Centre of Vall de Boi

What is Romanesque art?

Today’s Musical Selection: The Song of the Sibyl (Catalan El Cant de la Sibil·la)


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