Tympanum (architecture)

The late Romanesque tympanum of Vézelay Abbey, Burgundy, France, dating from the 1130s

In architecture, a tympanum (plural, tympana) is the semi-circular or triangular decorative wall surface over an entrance, door or window, bounded by a lintel and arch.[1] It often contains sculpture or other imagery or ornaments.[2] Most architectural styles include this element.[3] In ancient Greek and Roman and in Christian architecture tympana usually contain religious imagery,[4] when on religious buildings. A tympanum over a doorway is very often the most important, or only, location for monumental sculpture on the outside of a building. In classical architecture, and in classicising styles from the Renaissance onwards, major examples are usually triangular; in Romanesque architecture they have a semi-circular shape, or that of a thinner slice from the top of a circle, and in Gothic architecture they have a more vertical shape, coming to a point at the top. These shapes naturally influence the typical compositions of any sculpture within the tympanum.

Bands of molding surrounding the tympanum are referred to as the archivolt.[5] In medieval French architecture the tympanum is often supported by a decorated pillar called a trumeau.

See also


  1. "Glossary - Tympanum". Architecture of the Indian Subcontinent. Retrieved 2007-06-28.
  2. "Glossary of Medieval Art and Architecture - tympanum". University of Pittsburgh. Retrieved 2007-06-23.
  3. "Illustrated Architecture Dictionary - Tympanum". www.buffaloah.com. Retrieved 2014-04-12.
  4. "Tympanum". www.OntarioArchitecture.com. Retrieved 2007-06-25.
  5. "Glossary of Medieval Art and Architecture - archivolt". University of Pittsburgh. Retrieved 2007-06-23.
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