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

A tympanum (pl.: 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]

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


In ancient Greek, Roman and Christian architecture, tympana of religious buildings often contain pedimental sculpture or mosaics with 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 more often 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. Archived from the original on 2012-03-06. Retrieved 2007-06-28.
  2. ^ "Glossary of Medieval Art and Architecture - tympanum". University of Pittsburgh. Archived from the original on 2018-01-16. Retrieved 2007-06-23.
  3. ^ "Illustrated Architecture Dictionary - Tympanum". Archived from the original on 2014-06-22. Retrieved 2014-04-12.
  4. ^ "Tympanum". Archived from the original on 2018-02-26. Retrieved 2007-06-25.
  5. ^  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.
  6. ^ "Glossary of Medieval Art and Architecture - archivolt". University of Pittsburgh. Archived from the original on 2018-01-13. Retrieved 2007-06-23.
  7. ^ Bresc-Bautier, Geneviève (2008). The Louvre, a Tale of a Palace. Musée du Louvre Éditions. p. 56. ISBN 978-2-7572-0177-0.