Tympanum (architecture)

In architecture, a tympanum (plural, tympana; from Latin and Greek 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] Most architectural styles include this element.[3]

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.

Bands of molding surrounding the tympanum are referred to as the archivolt.[5]

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