Though the Medieval era has a rather dubious reputation in the history of the humankind due to famine, numerous wars and the plague epidemic, the evolution of art forms over the course of the Medieval period was truly stellar. Because of the expansion of trading relationships between states, art began to evolve by being enriched with the elements of other cultures. Though belonging to entirely different cultures and designed by two different architects, the Palatine Chapel of Charlemagne and the Dome of the Rock share a number of similarities in terms of their form, the materials, the techniques used in the process of their creation and the concept that their design was based on.
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First and most obvious, the octagonal dome must be mentioned. A tradition started since the era of Michelangelo, the octagonal dome is supposed to signify the connection between the earth and the Heaven (Kleiner 314). However, there are a couple of distinct differences between the two works of art in terms of their design. One of the most noticeable differences concerns the decoration of the interior in each building. Unlike the Dome of the Rock, which is decorated mostly with mosaics, the Palatine Chapel of Charlemagne was initially decorated with frescoes, whereas the mosaics were added a touch later (Kleiner 321).
While each of the artistic choices sees quite legitimate for the specified buildings, they still define the difference between the latter. Indeed, while both artistic decisions originate from the Roman culture and architecture traditions, the frescoes belong to a relatively new era of the Roman architecture, whereas the mosaics are considered a traditional Roman architecture decoration. In other words, the Dome of the Rock represents the beauty and harmony of tradition, whereas the decorations of the Palatine Chapel represent the beauty of innovation and progress (Kleiner 322).
While each of the creations was inspired by a different religion, both of them convey practically the same idea of religion being the refuge for all those that seek the source of spirituality. Therefore, thematically, these buildings can be connected as the representations of the same religious concept of sanctuary. In addition, the Dome of the Rock is known for being the homage to the fable of Isra and Mi’raj, i.e., the search and the revelation (Berger 26), whereas the Palatine Chapel of Charlemagne, where the remains of Charlemagne are kept, signifies the end of the journey (Kleiner 322). Thus, the theme of life as a process of a spiritual search and discovery can be traced in the design of both buildings. Moreover, each of the buildings incorporates the concept of the divine vs. the humane in its design; in Palatine Chapel, this idea is represented through the scale of the building compared to the size of a man; the design makes the visitors feel small and insignificant, thus, standing in awe in front of the Divine. In the Dome of the Rock, in its turn, the concept of redemption is conveyed through the color cast, i.e., the clear colors of the sky painted on the ceiling and the down-to-earth color choices of the floor and the walls (Berger 273).
Though the difference between the Palatine Chapel of Charlemagne and the Dome of the Rock is obvious and is predetermined by the specifics of the Islamic and the Christian culture, the two buildings share a range of distinct features due to the experience sharing process, which took place at the time among artists in Europe and Asia. In addition to the structural similarities, the key concepts that the architects of both buildings were trying to convey basically match, which shows that the process of cultural fusion launched in the Medieval era was truly fruitful and inspirational.
Berger, Pamela. The Crescent on the Temple: The Dome of the Rock as Image of the Ancient Jewish Sanctuary. Leiden, NL: Brill.
Kleiner, Fred. Gardner’s Art through the Ages: The Western Perspective. Vol. 1. Stamford, CT: Cengage Learning. 2013. Print.