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. It often contains pedimental sculpture or other imagery or ornaments. Many architectural styles include this element.
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. 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.
In medieval French architecture the tympanum is often supported by a decorated pillar called a trumeau.
Ex Nihilo (Out of Nothing) by Frederick Hart, tympanum over center doors, Washington National Cathedral.
Tympanum of Kumari-ghar at Basantapur Durbar Square, Kathmandu.
The three tympana on the main façade of Notre-Dame de Paris, France.
Sculpted tympanum in Stralsund, Germany
High-relief bronze tympanum of Writing, Thomas Jefferson Building, Washington, DC, USA.
Romanesque Tympanum in the cathedral of Trier from about 1180
Tympanum of the Manila Cathedral in Intramuros, Philippines.
Lydiard House, Swindon, with heraldic sculpture, 1740s
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