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 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


In ancient Greek, Roman and Christian architecture, tympana of religious buildings usually contain religious imagery.[4] 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 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.

The upper portion of a gable when enclosed with a horizontal belt course, is also termed a tympanum.[5]

Bands of molding surrounding the tympanum are referred to as the archivolt.[6]

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.  One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Tympanon". Encyclopædia Britannica. 27 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 498.
  6. "Glossary of Medieval Art and Architecture - archivolt". University of Pittsburgh. Retrieved 2007-06-23.