Master of Cabestany
Biography of Medieval Romanesque Sculptor.

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Detail of Face on Capital of Daniel
in the Lion's Den (Late-12th century)
(Church of Cabestany, France)
Outstanding stone sculpture of
the late Romanesque period.

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Greatest Sculptures Ever.

For details of the origins and
development of the plastic arts
see: History of Sculpture.

Gothic Sculpture (1150-1280)
Cathedral Art, Ile de France.
German Gothic Sculpture
Strasbourg, Bamberg Cathedrals
English Gothic Sculpture
Wells, Westminster Cathedrals
See also: Gothic Architecture.

Master of Cabestany (c.1130-1180)

The Master of Cabestany is an anonymous Romanesque sculptor who was active during the second half of the 12th century. His particular contribution to medieval sculpture was first encountered and identified in the 1930s after the discovery of several pieces remarkable for their craftsmanship and style. These included sculpted reliefs in the tympanum (semicircular space above a doorway) of the church in Cabestany, a town near Perpignan in the Roussillon.

Note: compare the Master of Cabestany with other medieval artists such as Gislebertus (12th century) and Master Mateo (12th century).

Style of Religious Carving

Working in the idiom of Romanesque architecture - the first international style of architectural sculpture, employed on religious buildings in France, Germany, Italy and Spain - the Master of Cabestany's sculpture is relatively crude when compared to that of classical Greek and Roman sculptors, but notably superior to that of many of his contemporaries in medieval Europe.

His distinctive style of medieval art is visible in his human figures that typically are carved with triangular faces (with large foreheads but no chin); high, intricately carved ears; wide-open almond-shaped eyes with drilled pupils; out-sized hands with long, tapering fingers; clothing drapery with many folds; along with a considerable amount of detailed work on his principal figures. His distortion of proportions may be more normal than it seems. Romanesque sculpture typically had little of the naturalism and human warmth that Gothic sculptors would introduce later.

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Cabestany Church

The exceptional workmanship of the tympanum relief sculpture, together with the originality of the theme attracted the curiosity of medieval art scholars, who compared his work with other examples taken from capitals, sarcophogi, corbels and other tympanum. Meanwhile, they dubbed the artist the "Master of Cabestany". Before long, subsequent research confirmed the existence of work by the same artist in the departments of Aude and Languedoc (France), in Catalonia and Navarre (Spain), and in Tuscany (Italy). In all, some 121 sculptures have been attributed to the Master of Cabestany or to his studio.


In 1993, the municipal authorities of Cabestany established a committee composed of eminent French and European scientists to select important examples of the Master's works, from which moldings were then taken and stone castings made. The same grain and colour were used as in the originals, making them look almost identical to the original sculptures.

Since 2004, these sculptural replicas have been exhibited in a refurbished winemaking cave which now functions as a centre devoted to Romanesque art of the period. It acts as a museum, education centre, and research and study centre into medieval plastic arts. The museum also displays reliefs and statues made by the Master's contemporaries. The museum also explains the historic and artistic contexts of the Master and his work, along with local history of the Cabestany locality and the department of the Pyrenees-Orientales.

Note About Sculpture Appreciation
To learn how to judge artists like the Romanesque sculptor Master of Cabestany, see: How to Appreciate Sculpture.

Sculpture Sites

Romanesque style works by the Master of Cabestany are located at the following sites:

Pyrenees-Orientales (France)

- Cabestany - the tympanum of the parish church of Notre-Dame-des-Anges.
- Monastir del Camp - the capitals of the main door.
- Le Boulou (Roussillon) - Freize on the doorway of Sainte Marie church.

Aude (France)

- Rieux-Minervoi - the capitals of the church of Saint-Marie.
- Abbey of Saint-Hilaire, Limoux - the sarcophagus of Saint Saturnin.
- Abbey of Saint-Papoul - sculpture in the apse of the abbey church.
- Abbey of Sainte-Marie de Lagrasse - the main doorway.

Catalonia (Spain)

- Sant-Pere-de-Rodes - the west doorway of the abbey.
- Sant Pere de Rodes - some fragments of the door of the abbey church.
- Sant Pere de Galligants some capitals in the abbey church.

Navarre (Spain)

- Errondo Parish church tympanum - now in The Cloisters of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Tuscany (Italy)

- St. Antimo's Abbey - a capital in the nave area.

More Articles on 12th Century Romanesque Art

For other influential styles of Romanesque art in Western Europe, please see the school of Mosan Art, centered around Liege in Belgium and exemplified by the glorious metalwork and goldsmithery of Nicholas of Verdun (1156-1232) and Godefroid de Claire (1100-1173).

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