The Medieval Period in Europe ranges from the third century to the emergence of the Renaissance in Italy in the fourteen hundreds. The Romanesque style was the first truly international style of medieval times, followed by Gothic in the late twelfth century. One of the most important surviving monuments of architecture and sculpture of the Romanesque period is the Benedictine abbey church of Sainte-Marie-Madeleine at Vèzelay in Burgundy. Part of the church that I believe is an important part of medieval history is the Pentecost and Mission of the Apostles, tympanum of the center portal of the narthex of the Madeleine, Vèzelay, France, 1120-1132. The church was one of the four starting points on the route to Santiago de Compostella and even launched the second crusade in 1146. The Pentecost and mission of the apostles is a very religious piece, and Christ is obviously the all powerful one in Christianity, which is why he is bigger than his surroundings. This piece, being involved with these pilgrimages, clearly exhibits the themes of religion and power. The most obvious reason being is it is part of a church but the way the tympanum is constructed with Christ brings in the theme of power also. In many ways the Pentecost and mission of the apostles is similar to the Egyptian Palette of King Narmer. The use of hierarchy of scale in the sculptures along with religion and reasons the sculptures with created makes these two pieces compatible.
The Pentecost and Mission of the Apostles, part of the central portal at the narthex of La Madeleine, is a piece of iconographic importance from the Middle Ages. Unfortunately, this elaborate tympanum over the central portal of the church has an unknown sculptor. Part of the reason why these churches were built so extravagantly was so that the pilgrims would have a place to go and pray for atonement, to Saint Mary Madeleine. The Basilica Church of St. Mary Magdalene in Vèzelay was the largest Romanesque church in France and only ten yards shorter than the Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris. Since it claimed to guard the relics of St. Mary Magdalene, Vèzelay became a major medieval pilgrimage destination and also saw the launch of the Second and Third Crusades. It was created in the center of France, Burgundy, during the first and second crusades, a place which played a leading role in the history of the crusades themselves. It was a period which gave a fresh impulse to religious feeling and expanded the outlook of medieval thinkers. The Abbey Church at Vèzelay seems to have been pre-destined for the cosmic imagery of its tympanum. The historian of the Abbey stresses the importance of the church, which was “known and shining unto the ends of the earth, glorious and eminent all over the world.” Pentecost is a subject that is extremely appropriate to Vèzelay. It not only fits the iconographical character of the other parts of the entrance but includes the crucial needs of the community there. It embodies the idea for the monastery’s existence and legitimates the endeavor for independence from secular power.
Just as any artist, this unknown sculptor was trying to convey a certain message to us, the viewer. I portrayed this as a religious piece, as it does involve Jesus Christ himself in the center. This particular tympanum is different from its counterparts throughout Europe. It was specifically designed to function as a spiritual defense of the Crusades, and portray a Christian allegory to the Crusaders’ mission. The depiction of Pentecost would also undoubtedly have been understood by its medieval viewers as an image of the founding moment of the Church. The Apostles’ reception of the Pentecostal Spirit was believed to have given them the power and authority to establish the Christian mission on earth, which they immediately began to do. The distinctiveness of Vèzelay becomes obvious. It shows the figure of Christ at the center, investing in his apostles with the power to commerce...
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