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A History Of European Art 04 - Gothic Art in France

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A History Of European Art 05 - Gothic Art in Germany and Italy »

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A History Of European Art

Lecture Four

Gothic Art in France

Gothic art and architecture were products of a Medieval art movement that lasted about three hundred years. It began in France, developing from the Romanesque period in the mid-twelfth century. By the late fourteenth century, it had evolved toward a more secular and natural style known as, International Gothic, which continued until the late fifteenth century, when it evolved further, into Renaissance art. The primary Gothic art media were sculpture, panel painting, stained glass, fresco, and illuminated manuscript.

Gothic architecture was born in the middle of the twelfth century in Île-de-France, when Abbot Suger built the abbey at St. Denis, c. 1140, considered the first Gothic building, and soon afterward, the Chartres Cathedral, c. 1145. Prior to this, there had been no sculpture tradition in Ile-de-France—so sculptors were brought in from Burgundy, who created the revolutionary figures acting as columns in the Western (Royal) Portal of Chartres Cathedral (see image) —it was an entirely new invention in French art, and would provide the model for a generation of sculptors. Other notable Gothic churches in France include Bourges Cathedral, Amiens Cathedral, Notre-Dame de Laon, Notre Dame in Paris, Reims Cathedral, the Sainte-Chapelle in Paris, Strasbourg Cathedral.

The designations of styles in French Gothic architecture are as follows: Early Gothic, High Gothic, Rayonnant, and Late Gothic or "Flamboyant". Division into these divisions is effective, but debatable. Because Gothic cathedrals were built over several successive periods, and the artisans of each period not necessarily following the wishes of previous periods, the dominant architectural style often changed during the building of a particular building. Consequently, it is difficult to declare one building as belonging to certain era of Gothic architecture. It is more useful to use the terms as descriptors for specific elements within a structure, rather than applying it to the building as a whole.

The French ideas spread. Gothic sculpture evolved from the early stiff and elongated style, still partly Romanesque, into a spatial and naturalistic treatment in the late twelfth and early thirteenth century. Influences from surviving ancient Greek and Roman sculptures were incorporated into the treatment of drapery, facial expression, and pose of the Dutch-Burgundian sculptor, Claus Sluter, and the taste for naturalism first signaled the end of Gothic sculpture, evolving into the classicistic Renaissance style by the end of the fifteenth century.

Painting in a style that may be called, "Gothic," did not appear until about 1200, nearly fifty years after the start of Gothic architecture and sculpture. The transition from Romanesque to Gothic is very imprecise and by no means clearly delineated, but one may see the beginning of a style that is more somber, dark, and emotional than the previous period. This transition occurs first in England and France around 1200, in Germany around 1220, and in Italy around 1300. Painting, the representation of images on a surface, was practiced during the Gothic period in four primary crafts, frescos, panel paintings, manuscript illumination, and stained glass. Frescoes continued to be used as the main pictorial narrative craft on church walls in southern Europe as a continuation of early Christian and Romanesque traditions. In the north, stained glass remained the dominant art form until the fifteenth century.

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