Famous Medieval Christian Paintings


When studying paintings from the Medieval period, there are a couple of significant themes that reoccur again and again. The most important of which is that of the Christian bible. The stories of the bible influenced many, if not all, of the greatest paintings of this era, either directly or indirectly.

In Classical paintings, a heavy emphasis on deep symbolic meaning is accompanied by a philosophical tone that is present in almost every famous period painting. This emphasis starkly contrasts with the more modern art movements, which focus on portraying a feeling and impression instead of any real significant meaning.

During this time, European society was heavily intertwined with the codes and ethics of the bible. This influence also resided in the realm of art, resulting in some fabulous religious and biblical-themed artwork. The following is an examination of some of the most famous paintings.

Virgin of the Rocks – LEONARDO DA VINCI

Leonardo Da Vinci is definitely one of, if not the most famous painter of all time, not just in the medieval period. But, more than just his fame, he is also regarded as one of the most skillful painters of all time and certainly one of the finest in religious paintings.

During his career, Da Vinci painted numerous paintings dedicated to the themes and stories depicted in the bible. Unfortunately, these famous biblical paintings may have been overshadowed by some of Da Vinci’s more well-known works. However, they are unquestionably some of his finest paintings.

One theme of particular interest to Da Vinci and other artists of this period was the symbolic motif of the Madonna and child. Da Vinci painted many of these paintings, the most encompassing of which is his painting titled Virgin of the Rocks. The painting is a loving showcase of a mother’s care and admiration for her children.

The Adoration of the Magi – GENTILE DA FABRIANO

One thing you will notice right away when viewing a medieval painting is the sheer level of activity going on and attention to detail. There is no better example of this impressive detail feat than in Gentile Da Fabriano’s masterpiece, The Adoration of the Magi.

The painting extravagantly reenacts the miraculous and famous scene of the birth of Jesus Christ. In this vibrant painting, many colorful characters have gathered to witness and pay homage to the son of God. There is so much going on in the painting that it is easy to lose yourself in its magnificence.

It is one of the finest and most famous biblical paintings ever created. Like the Madonna and child paintings and almost all of the other paintings on this list, this is just one rendition out of many dedicated to this particular religious story and is a highly symbolic portrayal of the birth of Jesus.

Lamentation (The Mourning of Christ) – GIOTTO DI BONDONE

Of all the biblically-based artwork, The Mourning of Christ might be the most famous and recreated of them all. These gripping paintings powerfully portray the moments after Jesus has died and is removed from the cross.

Many artists have painted this tragic event time and again throughout the Medieval period, but none is more famous or poignant than Di Bondone’s prolific piece. Tragic events were often the theme in Medieval paintings, which can be seen as a reflection of a time when humanity had undergone many hard struggles and large-scale tragedies.

Instead of focusing on the darkness, though, Di Bondone conveys the sadness of the death of Jesus in such incredible beauty and delicate light. The Virgin Mary holds her son’s lifeless head in her arms while Mary Magdalene tends to Christ’s feet. Above them, the angels weep and mourn for the murder of the son of God.

Christ Pantocrator (Sinai) – ARTIST UNKNOWN

If you only recognized one religious painting from the Medieval period, it would probably be the Christ Pantocrator. Painted around 500 to 600 A.D by an unidentified artist, it is perhaps the most famous and well-known Medieval painting of them all.

It is the first painting of its kind and would inspire a multitude of recreations and Pantocrator dedications in the years that followed. It has become ‘the’ iconic image of Jesus Christ and holds many symbolic idiosyncrasies and spiritual nuisances within it.

Primarily, it represents Jesus’s second coming to rule over the Earth. His right-hand offers a blessing while his left hand holds a book containing all the wisdom and knowledge of heaven. The name has also been translated to mean the ruler of us all and the sustainer of the world, for many believe Jesus to be just that.

Christ Rescuing Peter from Drowning – Lorenzo Veneziano

Many of the most famous Christian paintings feature the life and deeds of Jesus Christ. The story of Jesus’s life is an example for Christians of how to live a good life. In addition, paintings worked as a simpler and more straightforward way to understand Jesus’s message, as most people couldn’t read during this time.

Christ Rescuing Peter from Drowning is another beautifully colorful and incredibly detailed painting from the Medieval period. It lavishly retells the complex biblical story where Christ reaches down and pulls Peter from the water and is said to represent Peter’s doubt causing him to sink.

Jesus represents the removal of doubt and the restoration of faith in God. It is a powerful message for anyone who is struggling in life. When things seem their worst, you can reach out and grab the firm, loving hand of the Lord, who will rescue and save you at any time.

So, there you have five wonderful biblical-based paintings from the Christian faith. These are just some examples of the beautiful religious artwork that has brought joy and renewed faith to millions of believers.