Romanesque art, the pantocrator figure, MNAC Museum, Barcelona

Romanesque art in Barcelona

The splendid museum of MNAC at the Montjuïc Hill in Barcelona

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Barcelona, Spain
Kasper Christiansen
Text & photos: Kasper Christiansen
16. November, 2020 (revised version)

The MNAC museum, built in 1929, was transformed into a museum in 1934. From this period, the museum has had a unique and exceptional - but little known - collection of medieval art.

The jewel in the museum's collection is the collection of mural paintings from several small churches in the northern part of Catalonia.

Behind the thick walls of the palace built in renaissance style, the National Palace (Palacio Nacional), hides what can be described as the best collection of 'primitive mural paintings in Europe. In other words, this fantastic museum in Barcelona for the mural, what Venice and Ravenna is for the mosaic art, according to art historian Robert Hughes.

Romanesque art saint mary
Saint Mary, Joseph and the birth of Christ. Romanesque period, from the museum of MNAC in Barcelona.

The art collection at the MNAC Museum in Barcelona

This incredible collection of frescoes comes from small Romanesque churches in the Pyrenees like Sant Climent de Taüll, Santa Maria de Taüll, Ermita de Sant Quirce, and others. During the first decades of the 20th century the interest in medieval art grew. Using an Italian technique called strappo, the museum managed to get the images off the walls in the churches (where they were getting ruined by moist) and thus moved them to the museum in Barcelona.

The images are probably not painted by local artists, but by artists who traveled throughout the Mediterranean area. The paintings contain motifs and techniques that were developed in Byzantium, but came to Catalonia thanks to travelling artists, probably as far as Sicily and modern Constantinople (modern Istanbul).

Pantocrator, Romanesque art, Barcelona - Spain
Serafines at the MNAC museum

The Pantocrator figure from Sant Climent de Taüll

One of the museum's most famous works is the Pantokrator-figure from the Sant Climent de Taüll Church. This Christian figure sits majestically framed by an almond-shaped rainbow circle (mandorla). His eyes stare at the visitor and he rises the right hand with three fingers out stretched, thus symbolizing trinity. In his left hand is the wholy book that reads "Ego Sum Lux Mundi", meaning "I am the light of the world”. The full site from goes like this:

And Jesus spoke to them: “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life”
John 8:12

 

At his feet we see the world globe and the letters on each side of the figure is alpha (Α) and Omega (Ω). This is one of the favorite symbols in romanesque art and striking example of early Christian art and superb religious communication.

Pantocrator, Romanesque art, Barcelona - Spain
The famous Christ Pantokrator from Sant Client de Taüll from aprox 1123 AC.

Guided tour in Barcelona

This beautiful collection of frescoes created a huge interest in medieval art during the first decades of the 20th century. Today, the works of art can still be visited in the museum of MNAC on the Montjuic Hill in Barcelona.

Details of our guided visit to the MNAC Museum

Duration and Prices
Duration: 2-3 hours.

Other Tours
Are you interested in seeing the best of romanesque architecture in Catalonia? Read more about our romanesque architecture tour.

Details and prices for the Romanesque Art Tour in Barcelona
Prices from
45 €
per person for a private tour to Romanesque Art in Barcelona. The prices go from 350 € for a group of 8 people.

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