At the beginning of the Romanesque period, that is around the year 1000, Catalonia moved away from Carolingian and Mozarabic artistic influences. The entire Catalonian medieval period was influenced by Italy especially during the eleventh century. Thus, while the kingdoms of Castile and Leon experienced the consequences of the cultural exchange with Romanesque France, in Catalonia this artistic and cultural exchange involved Italy. The most important artistic works performed in Catalonia after the year 1000 show features of an artistic style we previously called “Lombard“: smooth walls subdivided by pilasters and decorated with blind arches, and doors with moldings.
The Lombard influence is almost non-existent in the rest of the Iberian Peninsula. In the temples built under this variant of the Romanesque style, walls were built with small carved stones, the walls were smooth and subdivided by reinforcing pilasters slightly projected from the walls and known as Lombard bands*. Their exterior decoration consisted of jagged listellos* and blind arches from which the Lombard bands emerged to run vertically all along the wall until the base of the building; doors had sturdy frames/moldings and lack of sculpted decoration. The only sculpted door in this Lombard style still standing in situ is the famous facade of the church of Santa María de Ripoll from the first quarter of the twelfth century.
The master builders of such buildings were nomadic artists known as Lombardi and were skilled builders of cloisters and bell towers. They began to build in Catalonia in the eleventh century and remained prevalent in this region well into the Gothic period.
These Lombard-style bell towers were cylindrical or had tall and slender prismatic structures, particularly those of the small churches located in mountainous areas; instead, in major monasteries, the bell tower took the appearance of a robust square and crenellated tower, as if it were part of a fortress.
Lombard cloisters had paired columns and arcades interrupted at times by massive pillars. The arcades were semicircular and had few moldings. This Romanesque style is therefore very similar to that seen in the cloisters of Lombardy and Provence.
The sculptors who worked in the monastery of Ripoll carved beautiful capitals, doors and other sculptural elements with lavish style. The old door of the Monastery of Cuixá (now partly reconstructed), its capitals (many of them housed at The Cloisters Museum in New York) and the “Rostrum” or arcade which was part of the monastery of Serrabona, are all brilliant examples of this artistic activity which probably involved a great unknown artist who worked during the first half of the twelfth century and who has been called the “Master of Cabestany” because of the tympanum he carved for the church of this village in Rosellón. This Master of Cabestany also carved the facade of the monastery of San Pedro de Roda from which only survives the magnificent relief now housed in the Marés Museum in Barcelona.
It is possible that this anonymous master was a foreigner nomadic artist. But a true legion of artists coming from Catalonia mastered the carving of limestone during the height of the Romanesque; particularly they focused their activity in the carving of capitals with very specific styles and destined for cloisters.
The Virgin of the cloister of Solsona is a relic and a testimony of the diffusion of the Provencal art in Catalonia, it is a delicate marble statue probably polychrome at its time, and that represents a very young Madonna with long braids of fine hair.
Lombard bands: A decorative blind arcade, generally located on the exterior of a building. It was frequently used during the Romanesque and Gothic periods. During the early 11th century, Lombard bands were the most common architectural decorative motif for facades in Lombardy, Aragon and Catalonia.