Medieval Art: From Theory to Practice

how to draw medieval art

Medieval painting spans the period from roughly the 5th to the 15th centuries and is characterized by significant regional variations and a transition from early Christian art to the Romanesque and Gothic styles. This period also includes Byzantine art, the art of migratory peoples, and various regional schools within Europe.

Periods of Medieval Art

  • Early Christian art (before 500 AD): The plots were often based on biblical stories, with a strong emphasis on symbolism. Early Christian artists used mosaics and frescoes to decorate churches and tombs. The images did not strive for realism, but rather to convey spiritual ideas.
  • Byzantine art (c. 330 – 1453): Byzantine art developed in the Byzantine Empire, centered in Constantinople. Byzantine artists were famous for their icons and magnificent mosaics, which often had a golden background and gave the impression of a sacred space. Strict symbolism, lack of perspective and bright colors.
  • Romanesque art (c. 1000 – 1200): Romanesque painting is often associated with architecture, with frescoes decorating church interiors. Religious subjects predominated, the images were stylized and symbolic. During this period, more advanced painting techniques began to be used, such as more complex paints and bases.
  • Gothic art (c. 1200 – 1400): Gothic painting features brighter colors and attention to light, especially in stained glass. Gradually, greater realism was introduced into art, especially in the depiction of human figures and landscapes. Included the development of oil painting and improving the quality of pigments.

Features of Medieval Art

  • Religious themes: Most of the works were religious, serving educational and propaganda purposes.
  • Symbolism: Medieval art used an extensive symbolic language that was understandable to contemporaries.
  • Static and hieratic: Figures were often presented as static, with an emphasis on spirituality rather than physical reality.
  • Gold background: Gold background was used to emphasize the sacredness of the scenes or figures depicted.
  • Lack of perspective and shadow: Medieval painting rarely used perspective or shadow techniques to achieve depth and realism.

Practical Drawing Tips

So, above we looked at the main points associated with this type of art. But our site is still dedicated not just to stories about this or that style, but to how to master these styles.

We will try to draw a knight and make this work look like it was created by a medieval artist.

You can create this drawing using standard tools such as paper, brushes and pencils, or you can imitate these tools using digital tools.

How to Draw in Medieval Style

Step 1: Sketch the Head and Torso

In the Middle Ages, drawing a person could begin both with specific details and with outlining basic forms. Let’s use the second option and sketch the head and torso.

start sketching medieval art

Step 3: Add the Limbs

In medieval works we can often see quite incorrect proportions in animals, but nevertheless, human figures were often drawn quite correctly. By outlining the limbs with simple lines, we simplify the work on proportions.

adding limbs to medieval art

Step 2: Start Adding Volume

There was little volume in medieval artworks, but nevertheless, there was some basic understanding of the three-dimensionality of space. By outlining the torso and neck, we simplify the work on the details.

start drawing medieval art

Step 4: Add Some Volume to the Limbs

In the case of the limbs, as in the case of the torso, we need to create the most basic volumes. But let us remind you that you should not try to make the body details too voluminous so as not to go out of style.

medieval art drawing the basic sketch

Step 5: Draw the Face

Faces in medieval works, especially in illustrations for books, were drawn as schematically as possible, almost like in modern children’s cartoons.

drawing the knight face

Step 6: Draw the Garment

In medieval drawings we can often see quite good work with folds that can look quite natural. Try to repeat their shape on this item of garment.

adding clothes

Step 7: Add the Insignia

In the works of medieval artists, various coats of arms, patterns and other insignia were very common. Let’s draw a simple pattern in the form of a cross on clothes and a knight’s shield.

drawing the shield

Step 8: Darken the Limbs

Now take a darker tool, such as a marker or a brush with black paint, and outline the outlines of the limbs, giving the drawing of a medieval knight a more contrasting look.

drawing limbs on medieval knight

Step 9: Add the Spear

The weapons, along with the patterns, will give your drawing a more distinctive medieval look. You can draw a spear like in our example, or any other weapon, such as a bow or mace.

medieval art drawing a spear

Step 10: Draw the Chain Mail

Medieval artists often paid special attention to various details, such as chain mail. Using a large number of evenly spaced transverse lines draw the chain mail pattern.

medieval art drawing chain mail

Step 11: Draw the Sword

The sword is one of the most recognizable elements of a knight’s equipment. Draw this weapon and add cross lines on the chain mail.

medieval art drawing armor

Step 12: Paint the Chain Mail

Let’s now color the knight, trying to give the drawing as medieval a look as possible. Use beige to color the knight’s chain mail as evenly as possible.

medieval art painting armor

Step 13: Paint the Garment and Shield

Now, using shades of beige and ivory, paint the garment and shield, trying to make the tone as uniform as possible over the entire surface.

medieval art adding colors

Step 14: Paint the Insignia

Now let’s add some accent colors. Using red, paint the cross on the shield and garment. Next, use blue to paint the belt and scabbard of the sword.

creating medieval art

Step 15: Paint the Spear

When painting weapons, like the rest of the artwork, try to stick to more muted tones. Due to the peculiarities of creating paints, medieval works are very easily recognized by us in our time.

medieval art drawing

Step 16: Add Shadows

Although medieval works were very flat, artists still tried to add volume using the knowledge available to them. The shadows should be very light and almost invisible in the image.

how to draw medieval art


Medieval painting represents a unique stage in the history of art, emphasizing the spiritual and religious aspects of life at that time. This period lays the foundation for the development of more realistic styles that appear during the Renaissance.

When creating medieval style drawings, it is important to remember that the emphasis is on spiritual and symbolic representation rather than physical realism or accuracy.

To achieve the most convincing result, you need to try to imitate the approach of medieval artists as closely as possible, as we showed in our tutorial.

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