Art History: Medieval Europe THE GOTHIC PERIOD Miss O Hart

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1 THE GOTHIC PERIOD The purpose of medieval art was to teach. Everything the faithful needed to know about the truths of their religion and the lives of the saints, they learned by looking at the windows in gothic cathedrals and the statues around the church door. The simple peasant and the weary pilgrim of the time found messages they could understand, but later scholars were able to search the imagery in order to uncover the deeper and more symbolic meanings they carried. Background A sacred science: intellectual ideas and the deepest thoughts of learned theologians were all expressed through the medium of art. This was however governed by the fixed laws of the Christian church and its presentation was treated as a sacred science. This could not be broken by any individual imagination of a sculptor or painter. The age of the great cathedral The 13 th century was the age of the great cathedra. There silhouettes were visible for miles around, dwarfing all other buildings in their shadow and drawing numerous visitors. These visitors must surely have been impressed (just as we are today) with the sculptured architecture bringing life to religious scenes (such as the coronation of the Virgin) or the rows of stone figures painted in full colour (as was the practice). Progressing inside the building, their every turn would have been marked by images in stone or wood and brilliantly coloured glass. Small wonder if they thought themselves in heaven. THE BEGINNING OF GOTHIC In the mid-12 th century, France was no more than a small kingdom with the royal city of Paris at its centre. At the Benedictine Abbey of St Denis, Abbot Suger had a dream of restoring his abbey to its former glory. The old church was completely dilapidated, but Suger set about building a new façade with two towers and three doors before moving to the other end to build a new choir. The result was a major event in the history of architecture. Gothic was born. Architecture of light Suger had a very close association with the king of France and a deep love of art, but his work had a profound philosophical basis. For him, art and beauty were ways of honouring God and he argued that one could only come to understand absolute beauty, which is god, through the effect of beautiful things on our senses. He was fascinated by the religious implications of light and his new concept was for an architecture of light. The creator of Gothic This was the beginning of far-reaching developments in architecture, sculpture and stained glass. At St Denis, Abbot Suger took elements of Romanesque architecture-like cross-ribbed vault and the pointed arch-and united them. These had been used in Burgundy and Normandy, but by bringing the features together in a completely new way, he became, in effect, the creator of Gothic.

2 The French style Sugers concept of sacred architecture soon spread around the Île-de-France (the area around Paris) and several great gothic cathedrals were created there in a very short time. They style later spread to other parts of France and as Gothic architecture represented the latest in building technology, in time other countries in Europe adopted the French style. CHARACTERISTICS OF GOTHIC ARCHITECTURE IN COMPARISON TO ROMANESQUE Crosswise or rib vaulting was a far more effective system of supporting stone roofs than Romanesque. The pointed arch was stronger than the rounded Romanesque arch. Pressure from the vaults was now concentrated only in small areas at the end of the ribs, eliminated the problem of outward thrust that had so troubled Romanesque builders. Pressure was easily counteracted by supporting the walls with buttress and external arches on the higher parts of the wall, called flying buttresses. Buildings were of enormous heights as thinner walls replaced the thick walls of Romanesque architecture. Rib Vaulting: Pointed arches: Rib vaulting (Crosswise vaulting) was a far more effective system of supporting stone roofs than either barrel or groin vaulting. Pointed arches were stronger than the rounded Romanesque

3 Buttresses and Flying buttresses Buttresses and external arches on the higher parts of the wall, called flying buttresses, supported the walls and eliminated the problem of outward thrust. Slender pillars were sufficient to support the vaulting system as outward thrust was eliminated. (Pressure from the vaults was now concentrated only in small areas at the end of the ribs). Thinner walls allowed for buildings of much greater height and elegance than the Romanesque style. Solid walls were no longer a structural part of the building, so it instead became a skeletal structure supported by flying buttresses and filled with coloured glass. Large windows let in light, in contrast to the dark Romanesque interiors. Tracery-ornamental stonework was used to support the glass in the round and tall lancet windows, giving them a light and delicate appearance. (the word may have come from the tracing floors on which the complex patterns of gothic windows were laid out) Space for stained glass. A revolution in these above building techniques allowed for more window space. These were filled with stained glass, a technique learned from the East, and so interiors of previously unknown heights were also far brighter and more elegant. Slender pillars divided sections of walls which were at four levels, with the tall lancet windows at the top of a gallery about the side aisle at the lower level of the nave. This light was seen as god s power on high as it filtered through the many stained glass windows.

4 These splendid places of worship were for the faithful, rich and poor alike and small wonder that the cathedral in all its glory must have seemed like heaven itself when you consider the living conditions of many during the Middle Ages who lived out the winter months of darkness in fear of war, fire and disease. Even today as the sun streams through the magnificent stained glass of Chartres cathedral, south-west of Paris, the atmosphere of mystery created by the transparent mosaic of colour on the walls and a carpet of rubies and gems on the floor is just as impressive. GOTHIC CATHEDRALS Chartres Cathedral-Our Lady of Chartres (13 th Century) Chartres Cathedral or Notre-Dame de Chartres is about 50 miles from Paris. It is considered to be one of the finest examples of the high Gothic style and is one of the greatest of all French gothic cathedrals. It is visible from miles away. It is dedicated to Our Lady and regarded as the Seat of the Virgin Mary of Earth, Chartres was a major pilgrimage site and its most sacred relic was the Sancta Camisia, the gown worn by the Virgin during childbirth. In 1134 and 1194 the cathedral was almost completely destroyed by fire. The relic was found amongst the smouldering remains and this was seen as a divine miracle. A new church was immediately begun on the remains of the old one. The resulting building was the largest church ever attempted and is today the best preserved with more of its original stained glass intact than any other medieval cathedral. The Building Chartres Cathedral took over 300 years to build and over the years the style of building changed. Traces of the original Romanesque structure can be seen on the west façade and the north tower was built nearly 300 years after the south tower was finished in the flamboyant late Gothic style.

5 Structure Chartres was one of the first large buildings to utilise the full potential of flying buttresses. There are three levels of them along the nave. At the first level they take the form of a simple arch; the next level is connected by small columns arranges like spokes of a wheel; a third layer of arches stretch from the top of the buttresses to just below the gutter of the upper nave. Inside, the cathedral is built in the shape of a cross with a central aisle and transepts forming the arms of the cross. The effect upon entering the cathedral is one of light and space. The slender pillars soar to join the crossed rib vaulting on the roof, the sheer height of the building adding to the beautiful lighting from the many stained glass windows. Three large rose windows (so called because of their shape) adorn the cathedral, one on each transept, another over the west door facing the altar.

6 Stories in the Glass and Sculpture The three rose windows as well as the tall pointed lancet windows which surrounded the church tell the story of Mary, Jesus and the saints, as does the sculpture around the three doorways. The west front, known as the Royal Portal, is the oldest of these and is so called because of the solemn line of column status that stand on either side Tall and linear, they are almost part of the architecture, but their costume and drapery is treated in a decorative manner, All life is concentrated in the expressions on the faces of theses strange kings and queens whose identity is not fully known, but they appear to represent men and women from the Old Testament. This is one of the first examples of a Gothic doorway in France. The triangular tympanums have sculptures of the Virgin Mary and the Ascension of Christ on either side. The centre is devoted to Christ in Majesty. Statues of kings and queens from the Old Testament stand around the portals. The style of the figures on the sides is inferior to those in the centre, suggesting that the master carved the centre himself and the assistant the sides.

7 NOTRE DAME, PARIS (13 th Century) Notre Dame Cathedral was completed in 1250 when Paris was developing as the main centre of political power and commerce. No expense was spared in creating a cathedral with impressive new architectural features that would surpass those of all the towns nearby and the construction was supported and encouraged by King Louis VII himself. The aim of Paris builders was to push the limits of the new style beyond anything yet attempted. The breadth of the vaults as well as the height at Notre Dame was greater than anything seen thus far. Another important innovation was the combination of triangular ribs with subtle transverse arches. The result of this technique was an impressively wide interior, which can be seen from the doorway through to the altar without interruption from pillars and is as impressive today ait was then. RHEIMS CATHEDRAL Built in 1210 after a fire destroyed the original, Rheims cathedral combined man of the finest gothic architectural features: flying buttresses, very thin walls and tracery windows. The cathedral was badly damaged during WW1 but much of its impressive variety of gothic sculpture survived and the lines of the splendid west façade soar upwards representing the union between Heaven and Earth. The façade has been greatly restored but the statues on the sides of the doorways are original. There were to have been seven towers but only two on the western façade were completed and the spires for these were never completed. It is famous for its association with royalty and all the kings of France from the 9 th century to the 19 th were crowned here.

8 GOTHIC SCULPTURE One of the most important developments during the 12 th century was a change in the ordinary person s attitude to God. A new humanism had come into religious discussion in the universities and these great new opinions filtered down to the level of ordinary people. breaking through the layers of fear and ignorance. Gradually it banished the vivid but terrifying vision of death and its aftermath that had so long obsessed the medieval mind. Transition from the Romanesque Hope was the new message, The Church now preached salvation rather than damnation and nowhere are these changes seen more clearly than in the imagery and art of the new gothic cathedrals. In a typical Romanesque scene, like that found in Saint-Lazare Autun an impassive God sits in judgment with the blessed to his right and the damned to his left who deserve nothing better than eternal torment with devils in Hell. These grotesque scenes are in complete contrast to the new gothic imagery. Mary the mother of God occupies a very prominent position and her story appears in many ways on most of the cathedrals. The emphasis is also more on Christ the saviour of mankind. Final judgement scenes have not disappeared, but they tend to be far less obvious. They still show an awesome and all-powerful God, but hell is smaller and far less gruesome and the inclusion of the Virgin Mary and St John with Christ offers further hope. The Saints Numerous images of saints are found all over in gothic sculpture and stained glass. Medieval people loved their saints and prayed in times of sickness or distress for them to intercede with god for them. Stories of the Saints and their miracles very familiar to the average person so these were easy to read. Traditionally, saints were identified by their symbols, but as the artists of the 13 th century became more skilled, they depended less on symbols to show the sanctity of the saints and concentrated instead on facial expressions. Column Statues Column statues of Kings and Queens were a feature of early gothic imagery. These were originally found around the doorway of the facade at St Denis and may have been associated with the French royal family. These were rapidly followed by the west front of Chartres Cathedral and became common on cathedrals throughout the Ile de France. As Gothic sculpture developed, these groups of carved figures on doorways became more freestanding and adopted more naturalistic poses as they relied less on the supporting architecture. Expressions also tended towards realism, with some even smiling, like those found at Rheims.

9 EXAMPLES OF GOTHIC SCULPTURE Chartres Cathedral Chartres Cathedral is a landmark in the history of sculpture. It had 200 statues featured in 41 different scenes. The Royal Portal (west façade) (12 th Century-early Gothic) The Royal Portal was built between Originally it featured 24 statures but only 19 have survived. The theme is salvation. The tympanum over the centre door presents a peaceful and calm vision of eternity with Christ in Majesty welcoming the visitor. The scenes on either side are that of the Virgin Mary and the Ascension of Christ. The doorway gets its name from the so-called kings and queens on either side. These tall column statues are related in style to the Romanesque, but they also show a clear advancement in that they are no longer a minor addition to a building but an important part of the overall design of the doorway, blending with and enhancing the architecture. They vary in height, but all the heads are the same level and folds in the drapery tend to emphasise their tall, linear quality. Some of the patterns are similar to that used in the sculpture at Autun and Vezelay, but they are much more refined, as is evident in there serene and dignified facial expressions and more accomplished body proportions. Great delight appears to have taking in portraying the finest detail, even in the women s clothing with the plaits, long flowing sleeves and girdles. They are all carved with great attention and detail. Differences in quality can be seen between the figures of the three doors, but this is because the master sculptor is credited with those on the central doorway, while assistants may be responsible for the work on the doors to the right and left.

10 Column statues on the Royal Portal. Kings and Queens The North Portal (High Gothic, 13 th Century) The north portal is dedicated to the Virgin Mary. The figure of St Anne holding her baby daughter, Mary, stands in the central trumeau and in the central tympanum above she is crowned Queen of Heaven. She is the link between the Old and New Testaments. Ranged along both sides of the doorways are the prophets who foretold the coming of Christ, standing beside the apostles.

11

12 The South Portal (high Gothic, 13th The whole of the South Portal is dedicated to the glory of Jesus Christ. His church and apostles are on either side of him in the central doorway. The Teacher Jesus stands on the central trumeau with book in hand, the other lifted in blessing and behind his head is his defining symbol-the cruciform halo. His feet rest on a lion and a dragon, but he is very far from the Romanesque judge of sinners. This is a loving Christ-the teacher of mankind or the shepherd who laid down his life for his flock. The gentle expression on the finely carved face portrays that image. Christ s Apostles: On either side of the door on beautiful twisted columns, the 12 apostles stand barefoot. St. Peter, as head of the Church, stands on Christ s right and is recognisable by his curly hair and beard. He is carrying a key-the symbol of his power on earth. Nearby, St. Andrew has a cross and St John, the beardless youth, carries a book. The other apostles have no special symbol; instead they carry the instruments of their deaths and beneath them are the crowned figures of the Roman Empire who persecuted them.

13 St Peter (South Portal) Last Judgment: in the tympanum about the central doorway a Last Judgement scene is presented, according to the gospel of St Matthew. The familiar images of Michael weighing the souls with devils fighting for the souls are all present. Even though the damned are led to eternal fire by these demons, once again this image is far less grotesque than earlier representation on Romanesque churches. RHEIMS CATHEDRAL Sculpture: Devotion to Mary was very popular in the 13 th century. This was the era of chivalry, with its ideals and virtues of honour and courtly love. The knightly code of behaviour included great respect for women and the honour accorded Mary was highest of all. Many cathedrals were dedicated to her and at Rheims she is seen in the gable above the central doorway with her son, who is crowing her Queen of Heaven. She appears again on the central pier of the main doorway, welcoming the faithful. Among the surrounding statues are some representing the Visitation and the Annunciation and show the variety of styles found at the cathedral. The Annunciation and Visitation: The figures of Mary and Elizabeth are early 13 th century and are clearly inspired by Roman influence. The bodies come alive, no longer resting squarely on two feet, the folds move and the faces have life-like expressions. The Virgin of the Annunciation is later, with gentler movement and quieter folds in her gown. The figure of the Angel Gabriel is of the last school and has a delicate smiling face, a graceful movement and an elegantly draped body.

14 The smiling angle has become the emblem of the city. Humanism in religious thinking found its way into art, making the imagery used in gothic sculptor far gentler than the terrifying visions of the Romanesque era.

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