Mosan Art
Romanesque school centred on the Meuse River around Liege.

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Photo of the choir in the Basilica
of Our Lady, Maastricht (c.1100)
showing its carved stone capitals.
An important example of stone
carving from the Mosan school.

Mosan Art (c.1050-1250)
Regional Style of Romanesque Culture


What is Mosan art?
Where was it practiced?
What are its characteristics and highlights?
Who were the leading Mosan artists?
Related articles

For a general guide to the development of the arts,
please see: History of Art (2.5 Million BCE -present).

The Stavelot Triptych (1156)
(Central Panel)
Morgan Library & Museum, New York.
A masterpiece of Mosan art.

Shrine of the Three Kings (1180-1225)
Cologne Cathedral.
By Nicholas of Verdun.
It is the largest reliquary in the
western world.

For details of art styles,
see: History of Art Timeline.
For a quick guide to specific
styles, see: Art Movements.

What is Mosan Art?

The term "Mosan art" is normally used to describe a regional style of Romanesque art, which emerged in the valley of the River Meuse, during the 11th, 12th and 13th centuries. (Note: The French name "Meuse" comes from the Latin name "Mosa", hence "Mosan".) To be more specific, it describes the style of medieval Christian art centered on the Meuse River valley in Belgium, especially the area around Liege and the Benedictine monastery of Stavelot. The medieval art produced by the Mosan school include architecture and sculpture - including ivory carving and stone sculpture - as well as illuminated manuscripts and other forms of miniature painting. Most of all, however, Mosan art was renowned for its metalwork: notably, goldsmithing, enamelwork and jewellery art. The most important medieval artists of the Mosan school include the goldsmith Godefroid de Claire (c.1100-73); the goldsmith Nicholas of Verdun (c.1156–1232), who was also one of the leading enamellers of the Middle Ages; Hugo of Oignies (c.1181-1240), the last of the great jewellers of the Mosan school; and the shadowy bronze craftsman Rainer of Huy (active, early 12th century). Famous works of art created by Mosan artists include: the Stavelot Bible (1093–97, British Museum, London); the carved stone capitals of the choir in the Basilica of Our Lady, Maastricht (c.1100); the magnificent baptismal font at St Bartholomew's Church, Liege (1107–18); the Stavelot Triptych (c.1156, Morgan Library and Museum, NYC); the gold and bronze cross from the Abbey of St. Bertain (c.1170, Musee de Saint-Omer).

Where was it Practiced?

The Mosan region is located largely within the Bishopric of Liege, an important commercial centre with political links to Aachen (the seat of Charlemagne) and the rulers of the Holy Roman Empire, as well as to Cologne and its religious leaders. The area's principal artistic centres included the cities of Aachen, Dinant, Liege, Huy, Maastricht, Namur, Roermond and Tongeren, as well as the monasteries of Aldeneik, Aulne, Averbode, Burtscheid, Celles, Flone, Floreffe, Gembloux, Herkenrode, Kornelimunster, Lobbes, Munsterbilzen, Nivelles, Rolduc, Sint Odilienberg, Sint-Truiden, Susteren and Stavelot. During the 11th and 12th centuries, Mosan art was imitated across the Low Countries and throughout the Rhineland region.


What are its Characteristics and Highlights?

Because the Mosan region lies in the heart of King Charlemagne's constituency, its style of medieval culture draws predominantly from the traditions of Carolingian art (c.750-900), with its close association with the art of Classical Antiquity. Thus the Mosan school differs from mainstream Romanesque traditions seen in France, Germany and Italy. The Mosan style is distinguished by the greater naturalism of its human figures - even though they retain the idealized forms seen in Romanesque painting and Romanesque sculpture in other regions of Europe. In the famous font at St Bartholomew's Church in Liege, for instance, the figures are noticeably three-dimensional and well proportioned, while the drapery is visibly true-to-life. Mosan metalwork is particularly celebrated for its masterful technique and sumptuous decoration, retaining as it does all the outstanding qualities of earlier Carolingian art and more contemporary Ottonian Art (c.900-1050). Mosan metalworkers were in high demand across Europe. The great medieval churchman and patron Abbot Suger (1081-1151) employed numerous Mosan goldsmiths and enamellers at the important site of Saint-Denis.

In architecture, the mature Mosan style of the 12th century was a compromise between the earlier Meuse valley styles and those emanating from the Rhineland and Italy. A distinctive contribution of Mosan architecture is the closed west front (westwerk). Sadly, some of the grandest churches, including Liege cathedral, along with the Sint-Truiden and Stavelot abbeys, have been destroyed. Surviving structures of importance include the Basilica of Our Lady in Maastricht; the Collegiate Church of St. Bartholomew, Liege; the Abbey Church, Rolduc; the Basilica of Sint Odilienberg, in the Roer valley; the Collegiate Church of Saint Etienne, Waha; the Collegiate Church of Our Lady, Huy; the Basilica of Saint Servatius, Maastricht; the Abbey Church, Aldeneik; the Munsterkerk, Roermond; and Aachen Cathedral (westwork).

Mosan sculpture reached a highpoint in the twelfth century in Liege, Maastricht and Nivelles. It is known that Mosan 'metsen' (stone carvers) were hired for the carving of reliefs and capitals as far afield as Bonn, Eisenach and Utrecht. Famous works of Mosan stone carving include: the carved capitals in the Basilica of Our Lady, and in the Basilica of Saint Servatius - both in Maastricht (both 12th century); the Samson Portal in the Collegiate Church of Saint Gertrude, Nivelles; the Majestas Domini tympanum (12th century) in the Basilica of Saint Servatius, Maastricht; the Vierge de Dom Rupert (12th century), in the Curtius Museum, Liege.

See also: Medieval Sculpture (c.300-1000).

Metalwork, including enamelling, was the high art of the 12th and early 13th-century Rhenish and Mosan region: indeed, the the Prince-bishopric of Liege witnessed an exceptional flowering of goldsmithery as well as cloisonné and champlevé enamelwork. Inspired by the antique, as well as Byzantine art, Mosan craftsmen produced a wide range of finely wrought objects of Christian art, ornamented with precious stones, gold and coloured enamel, for the monasteries of Stavelot, Florennes, Maastricht and Oignies - all of which constitute a major contribution to the decorative art of the Romanesque period. See for example works by Nicholas of Verdun, such as: the Anno Shrine in Siegburg, the Shrine of the Three Kings at Cologne Cathedral (1180-1225), the altarpiece of Klosterneuburg, and the Shrine of Our Lady in Tournai. Other important metalworkers were Hugo d'Oignies of the school of the Entre-Sambre-et-Meuse, Godefroid de Claire and Rainer (Renier) de Huy. In addition to those works cited, above, important examples of Mosan metalwork include: the Shrine of Saint Servatius (1165) in Maastricht; the Shrines of St Domitian and St Mangold (by Godefroid de Claire, 1172-1189) in Huy; the Shrines of Charlemagne (1215) and Mary (1238), Aachen Cathedral; the Barbarossa Chandelier (1170), also in Aachen Cathedral.

Mosan painting concerned the making of illuminated manuscripts as well as mural painting, although little of the latter has survived. Gospel illumination reached its zenith between 1150 and 1200 in the abbeys of Stavelot and Lobbes, and the monastery of St Laurent in Liege. Famous Mosan illuminations include: the Stavelot Bible (11th century, British Library); the Evangeliary of Averbode (12th century, Liege University Library); the Floreffe Bible (12th century, British Library); and the Evangeliary of Notger (11th century). For a general outline, see: Romanesque Illuminated Manuscripts (800-1150).

Further Reading

- Romanesque Painting in Italy
- Romanesque Painting in France
- Romanesque Painting in Spain

Who were the leading Mosan Artists?

Rainer of Huy (Renier de Huy)
Active in the early 12th century, Rainer is credited with a major masterpiece of Mosan culture: the bronze baptismal font (1107–18) made originally for Notre Dame des Fonts, Liege, and now in St Bartholomew's Church, Liege 1107–18. Almost nothing else is known of him or his workshop.

Godefroid de Claire (Godefroid de Huy) (1100-1173)
Master goldsmith and enameller who enjoyed an active but obscure career (1130-50) in the area of Stavelot and the Meuse valley. Almost no reliquaries or enamels can be attributed to him with any certainty. He is believed to have been a pupil of Rainer of Huy, and the teacher of Nicholas of Verdun.

Nicholas of Verdun (c.1156–1232)
French goldsmith and enamelist who was the leading Mosan artist of his day, and an important figure in the transition from Romanesque to Gothic art (c.1150-1375). Two masterpieces have survived with his signature: the enamelled altarpiece in the Abbey Church at Klosterneuburg (1181), and the Shrine of St Mary for Tournai Cathedral (1205).

Hugo of Oignies (Hugo d'Oignies) (c.1181-1240)
Active in the early 13th century, he was a lay priest at Oignies Priory who trained as a metalworker and painter, and who developed into one of the outstanding jewellers within the Meuse region.

Related Articles

Romanesque Architecture (800-1200)
Characteristics, history, buildings.

History of Illuminated Manuscripts (600-1200)
Design of medieval illustrated gospel texts.

Early Christian Art (c.150-1100).
Architecture, mosaics, sculpture, ivory carving, metalwork, illuminations.

German Medieval Art (c.800-1250)
Carolingian, Ottonian, Salian, Hohenstaufen architecture, sculpture, painting.


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