Early Romanesque abstraction and the "Unconditionally Two-Dimensional Surface"

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (peer-reviewed)peer-review

Abstract / Description of output

Erwin Panofsky once described the adamant flatness of early Romanesque pictures as ‘the unconditionally two-dimensional surface of a material picture support’. Here, I contend that such flatness was symptomatic of educated interest in mathematical depiction. Contemporary works such as Gerbert of Aurillac’s Isagoge geometriae show us how abrogation of virtual space accorded with geometric precepts of the time; pictured on a page, solids were naturally represented by the surfaces that composed them. They were ‘abstracted’ in the medieval sense, that is,separated from matter. With this in mind, I look afresh at the early Romanesque conventions—flattened forms, unmodelled and patterned surfaces, heavily delineated contours and intermingling of textual and graphic elements—as expressions of superficiality and traces of tenth-century geometric practice.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationAbstraction in Medieval Art
Subtitle of host publicationBeyond the Ornament
EditorsElina Gertsman
Place of PublicationAmsterdam
PublisherAmsterdam University Press
ISBN (Electronic)9789048542673
ISBN (Print)9789462989894
Publication statusPublished - 28 Feb 2021

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • flatness
  • geometry
  • optics
  • Ottonian
  • painting
  • perspective


Dive into the research topics of 'Early Romanesque abstraction and the "Unconditionally Two-Dimensional Surface"'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this