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Humanities LibreTexts

6.7: Gothic (12th C – end of 15th C)

  • Page ID
    31833
  • Gothic architecture in the cathedrals led the movement for Gothic art as it emerged from France and spread throughout Europe with Christian iconography following the Romanesque period in the 12th century. The Gothic style of architecture was the result of a change in how cathedrals were constructed. Romanesque buildings had thick walls with few windows and were short, squat buildings, a vivid comparison to the great heights and stained-glass windows of the Gothic era. Through trial and error (collapse), cathedrals seemed to rise overnight as large structures reaching for the heavens, embracing the newly developed ideas of slim, columnar, and barrel-vaulted ceilings.

    Milan Cathedral
    6.32 Milan Cathedral

    Gothic characteristics included pointed arches, ribbed vaults, and flying buttresses, architecture seen today in many of the familiar churches, cathedrals, old town halls, palaces, castles, and universities throughout Europe. The Milan Cathedral (6.32), based on the designs of Gothic architecture, includes soaring brick walls paneled with white marble, creating the exquisite light-filled interior (6.33). The four-side aisles surround the 45 meters high nave, the tallest vaults in any cathedral. As with other Gothic cathedrals, the flying buttresses added support for the massive stone ceiling; however, they are not visible from the façade or front, which is designed to conceal the buttresses and present a grand entrance.

    Interior of Milan Cathedral
    6.33 Interior of Milan Cathedral

    The primary types of art included panel painting, stained glass, sculpture, illuminated manuscripts, and frescos. Gothic art originally started as sculptures in cathedrals and abbeys used to illustrate biblical and other religious stories. Gothic art grew with the growths of cities, the establishment of universities, and the increase in the bourgeois class to support the arts and commission work. Fostering a new growth in artists and the formation of art guilds, established artists saw a rising occupation. It was also the time when artists begin to sign their names and started a legacy that survived.

    One of the most important and prestigious forms of art was the stained-glass windows (6.x). Gothic churches had vast expanses of windows that worked well as space for exquisite, large stained-glass windows and the religious stories portrayed in the artistry. Initially, they used black paint on clear or colored glass. In the 14th century, artists mixed silver compounds with pigments and a stabilizer of wine or urine to paint on the glass; then, the glass was fired in a kiln to permanently fuse the color and the glass, creating more colors with greater subtlety. In the rose window (6.34) from Chartres Cathedral, artists assembled small pieces of glass held together with lead strips, and lead was a very flexible material. A close up (6.35) of part of a window reveals the excessive number of pieces and colors needed to create the window.

    Chartres south window
    6.34 Chartres south window.
    Blue Virgin window
    6.35 Blue Virgin window.

    Monumental sculptures were a large part of Gothic art and architecture. The sculptures (6.36) decorated the facades of the cathedrals, altars, niches, columns (6.37), and decorations for tombs. These sculptures were sizeable and took numerous artists over time to create. Smaller carvings for the ordinary people grew into its industry, using ivory, wood, and bone to make religious figures, combs, and mirror cases. The wealthier the person, the more ornate and bejeweled the object became.

    Entry sculptures
    6.36 Entry sculptures
    Pillar sculptures
    6.37 Pillar sculptures

    Illustrated manuscripts (6.38) are a book or pamphlet with text complemented with pictures and decorations. In the 13th century, illustrated manuscripts became popular with the church for psalters, bibles, and devotional writings for royalty. The pages were decorated with figures and natural features like trees or flowers. Illustrating manuscripts became an industry of its own. They evolved into woodcut printing as the books became affordable and accessible to the middle class who could purchase a book for the family — generally used for religious education, highly illustrated, or small pamphlets produced for the illiterate peasant class.

    Illuminated manuscript
    6.38 Illuminated manuscript