Tympanum (architecture)

A tympanum (plural, tympana; from Greek and Latin words meaning "drum") is the semi-circular or triangular decorative wall surface over an entrance, door or window, which is bounded by a lintel and an arch.[1] It often contains pedimental sculpture or other imagery or ornaments.[2] Many architectural styles include this element.[3]

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

Alternatively, the tympanum may hold an inscription, or in modern times, a clock face.


neo-classical pediment of the Madeleine Church, Paris, with sculpture (1826-1834) by Philippe Joseph Henri Lemaire[4]

In ancient Greek, Roman and Christian architecture, tympana of religious buildings often contain pedimental sculpture or mosaics with religious imagery.[5] 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, tympana more often has 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.

The upper portion of a gable when enclosed with a horizontal belt course, is also termed a tympanum.[6]

Bands of molding surrounding the tympanum are referred to as the archivolt.[7]

In medieval French architecture the tympanum is often supported by a decorated pillar called a trumeau.


See alsoEdit


  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. ^ Luebke, Wilhelm (1 January 1878). History of Sculpture from the Earliest Ages to the Present Time: Tr. by F.E. Bunnètt, Volume 2. Smith. p. 468. Retrieved 11 September 2021.
  5. ^ "Tympanum". www.OntarioArchitecture.com. Retrieved 2007-06-25.
  6. ^   One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Tympanon". Encyclopædia Britannica. Vol. 27 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 498.
  7. ^ "Glossary of Medieval Art and Architecture - archivolt". University of Pittsburgh. Retrieved 2007-06-23.

External linksEdit