How to Read the
Rose Windows in Italian Churches
I’m not particularly interested in churches, but I like details with a story to tell like Italy’s circular rose windows.
Circular openings such as the oculus of the Pantheon have been a common trait of Italian church architecture from Roman times. And from the 8th century their popularity increased, either as decorative recesses or as wheel windows. Some of them were glazed with alabaster or stained glass mosaics,some displayed an intricate marble screenwork. As always their design and motifs tell something about their age and history.
Aging Rules of thumb
Being no expert, I can’t tell the difference between “Romanesque”, “Gothic”, “Renaissance” and “Baroque” rose windows, but I know that the simplest wheel windows are generally the oldest with a history dating about a thousand years back in time. They were followed by pierced windows, where linear spokes and mullions were replaced by traceries that gradually developed into more and more flamboyant flower petals with a rich design, multiple parts and kaleidoscopic mosaics.
In the 15th century, simplicity came back in fashion, later to be surrounded by very ornate Baroque carvings in the 17th and early 18th centuries.
As regards the narrative, there’s general consent that circular windows over the west door of a church should depict the Last Judgement with Christ sitting in the centre of light with the symbols of the four Evangelists around him either in stonework or stained glass mosaics. Windows in the transept are commonly associated with the Virgin Mary.
The carved ornamentation, screens and perhaps the rose windows in general are believed to have come to Europe from the Middle East with the crusades. This may also explain the Islamic style patterns you can find in many Puglian church carvings.