Romanesque architecture and Gothic architecture

By Joakim Silva


What is expressed by Romanesque architecture and Gothic architecture? What is the subject matter of Renaissance paintings?


The National Palace of Pena is a 19th-century Romanticist castle situated in the municipality of Sintra, Portugal. It was founded upon an abandoned Hieronymite monastery that had fallen into disrepair after the Great Lisbon earthquake of 1755 and Portugal’s outlawing of religious orders in 1834. Don Fernando II, king consort to Queen Dona Maria II, bought the defunct monastery in 1838. Don Fernando commissioned a German architect and landscape designer by the name of Wilhelm Ludvig von Eschwege to construct the palace from 1842 to 1854.


The extravagant and imposing structure features an opulence of eclectic styles including neo-gothic, neo-Manueline, neo-Moorish, neo-renaissance and neo-romanesque architectural features. In 1995 the Pena palace was classified by UNESCO as a World Heritage site.



Romanticism expressed itself in romanesque architecture through imitations of medieval architectural styles and is attributed to a Gothic revival in the 19th century. It is an intellectual movement that characterised itself in literature, paintings, music and architecture from the late-eighteenth to mid-nineteenth century and places an emphasis on the transcendental, the irrational, the romantic, the emotional, the imaginative, the impassioned and the impetuous characteristics of humanity.


The architecture of the Pena Palace expresses a general exaltation of emotion over reason and the senses over intellect. It oozes the sentiments of a profoundly creative genius whose creative spirit is more important than adhering to strict rules. This statement is exemplified by the amalgamate of architectural styles throughout the palace and a transition from the vibrant yellow Islamic dome tower to its embellished Moorish façade tiles connected to a pristine red gothic clocktower.



Romanesque architecture is a 10th to a 13th-century architectural style characterised by wide, rounded semi-circular arches decorating the structure and exhibiting thick walls, columns, sturdy piers, groin vaults, large towers, roofs and symmetrical plans. It combines features of Roman and Byzantine buildings and decorates the structure with geometric shapes including squares, chevrons, circles and the half-circles of arches.


Gothic architecture was prevalent in the mid-12th to 16th century and is often characterised by pointed arches, ribbed vaults, flying buttresses and ornate decoration. Rather than the wide rounded arches, gothic arches are usually pointed, tall and thin. The Pena Palace features both gothic and romanesque arches throughout its walls elegantly deviating between the two styles for each level of the façade elevation.



The expression of romanticism was not only exclusive to architecture but also to renaissance art. Shown above is the famous Renaissance painting by Nuno Gonçalves named “Painéis de São Vicente” or “Saint Vincent Panels” 1470AD. Generally, renaissance art is marked by a gradual shift from the abstract forms of the medieval period to the representational forms of the 15th century. Subjects grew from mostly biblical scenes to include portraits, spectacles from


Classical religion, and events from contemporary life. Saint Vincent Panels is indicative of such art placing a religious subject, Saint Vincent, the patron Saint of Lisbon, as the centrepiece in the two middle panels dressed in red, gold and white robes and surrounded by nobility and other important members of Portuguese society. It is understood to be a representation of the Portuguese court and of several social groups of the 15th century. The scene evokes a representational view of the Portuguese nation during the Avis Dynasty when Portugal was expanding overseas and into North Africa.


Gallery of the Pena Palace exhibiting a Romanticist’s vision of Romanesque and Gothic architecture: