About us
Movements, Styles, and Tendencies Gothic Art and Architecture
Gothic Art and Architecture Collage

Gothic Art and Architecture

Started: 1120

Ended: 1400

Gothic Art and Architecture Timeline

Quotes

“The dull mind rises to the truth through that which is material/and, in seeing this light, is resurrected from its former submersion.”
Abbot Suger
“…to shine with the wonderful and uninterrupted light of most luminous windows.”
Abbot Suger
“The work/Should brighten the minds, so that they may travel, through the true lights, /To the True Light where Christ is the true door.”
Abbot Suger
“The principle of the Gothic architecture is infinity made imaginable.”
Samuel Taylor Coleridge
“The Gothic cathedral is a blossoming in stone subdued by the insatiable demand of harmony in man.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Every painting is a voyage into a sacred harbor.”

Giotto

Synopsis

With souring vaults and resplendent stained glass windows, Gothic architecture attempted to recreate a heavenly environment on earth. Elaborating on Romanesque styles, Gothic builders, beginning in the 12th century, further developed the use of flying buttresses and decorative tracery between stained glass windows thus creating interior spaces that dwarfed worshippers and dazzled their senses. Additionally, in response to a new interest in humanism, architectural and portable sculpture primarily depicted figures that acquired more naturalistic and sensuous features than had previously existed in the Middle Ages. Wealthy noblemen commissioned sumptuous manuscript illuminations, and toward the end of the Gothic era in the 14th century, elaborate altarpieces and frescoes became more common in churches and chapels.

Renaissance artists and writers in the 16th century coined the term Gothic, and the early art historian Giorgio Vasari infamously reinforced the unfavorable connotations when he referred to Gothic art as “monstrous and barbaric” since it did not conform to classical ideals. It was not until the mid-1700s with the Gothic Revival in England that the style shed its negative associations. Subsequently Gothic architecture in particular inspired new churches in the 19th century, city buildings, and university architecture well into the 20th century.

Key Ideas

The innovations of Gothic architecture were premised on the ideas developed by Abbot Suger that earthly light contained divine light and that the physical edifice of the church needed to make this concept tangible. Revolutionary transformations of flying buttresses and groin vaulting allowed the inclusion of more stained glass windows in the church’s structure, thus transforming the everyday sunlight into a prism of colors that danced over the surfaces of the stone and reminded worshippers of God’s divine presence.
A renewed interest in humanism, which had a slightly different cast than the later humanism of the Renaissance, led to more naturalistic figurative sculpture that decorated the exterior of the churches and housed sacred relics, which were increasingly important to a city’s reputation. In particular, representations of the Virgin Mary and Christ child move away from massive frontal poses to more typical, or everyday, poses that register the tender human emotion one often sees between mother and child.
Combining aspects of Byzantine and Romanesque styles and even borrowing from Islamic architecture, Gothic art and architecture revel in its eclectic roots, growing and morphing to suit regional tastes and tendencies. By the end of the Middle ages, the Gothic style had become “international” in its spread across Europe, and its emphasis on naturalism sparked the revolution in painting that flourished during the Renaissance even if its architecture was replaced with straighter lines and classical proportions.

Most Important Art

Gothic Art and Architecture Famous Art

Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Chartres (1194-1260)

Called “the high point of French Gothic art” by UNESCO, which designated Chartres cathedral a World Heritage Site, two spires dominate the Western façade; the spire on the right was completed about 1160, while the one on the left combines the original, lower tower with a spire in the Flamboyant style from the early 1500s. Together, the two towers create a dynamic vertical movement, echoed by the pointed arches of the openings and the three protruding columns ascending most of the length of the towers.

The cathedral is harmoniously composed of thirds, reflecting the Holy Trinity (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit); the three horizontal levels of the façade are clearly delineated, and three windows above the entrance echo the three portals. As a result, the cathedral powerfully conveys a sense of earthly power that is both grounded and soars upward.

The cathedral, situated on the tallest hill in the city of Chartres, dominates the view of the city, reflecting its importance not only as the center of religious life but also as a hub of economic and social life in its functions as a market place and a site for local fairs and festivals. As earlier buildings were destroyed in fires, the cathedral is the fifth church to be built on the site, a noted place of pilgrimage that was believed to house the Sancta Camisa, a garment that the Virgin Mary wore when she gave birth to Christ.

The rebuilding of this final cathedral that began in 1194, occurred in a relatively short period of time, and, as a result, the building has a remarkably cohesive style. Its innovations, including flying buttresses, three rose windows, many smaller stained glass windows, and the sculptural carvings around the portals, came to exemplify the Gothic style. Importantly, it has retained almost all of its original stained glass, a rarity for many churches. As the noted French author Victor Hugo wrote in the 1800s, cathedrals like Chartres belonged to “poetry and the people.”
Read More ...

Gothic Art and Architecture Artworks in Focus:

Beginnings

The Gothic Era

City-states and feudal kingdoms dotted Europe, and the power of the Catholic church continued to grow during the Gothic era. With increasing prosperity and more stable governments, cultural changes included the early formations of universities, like the University of Paris in 1150, and the proliferation of Catholic orders, like the Franciscan and Dominicans. The monks and theologians ushered in a new humanism that sought to reconcile Platonic ideals and Church theology. The humanism at this time saw man as part of a complex hierarchy, divinely ordered by God whose ultimate nature surpassed reason.

Increasing trade led to the growth of many urban centers, and the local Cathedral became a sign of civic pride. At the same time, noble patronage began to play a primary role in building projects, as stained glass windows and portals emphasized the identification of the king as a kind of earthly representation of divine authority, as seen in the “royal portal” reserved for nobility and high ranking church officials. Some Gothic churches took decades to build, contributing both to the economy of the town and to the expansion of the necessary guilds that represented the various trades involved in construction and design. Most of the Early Gothic architects, sculptors, and designers of stained glass windows were anonymous, and it is only later in the High Gothic period that architects and artists known as “masters” became identified.

The architecture that informed the Gothic period drew upon a number of influences, including Romanesque, Byzantine, and Middle Eastern.

Romanesque

Romanesque churches from the 10th to the 12th centuries are noted for their use of barrel vaults, rounded arches, towers, and their thick walls, pillars and piers. Housing the relics of saints, the churches were part of the pilgrimage routes that extended throughout Europe, as the faithful visited the holy sites to seek forgiveness for their sins and attain the promise of heaven.

Gothic architecture retained the Romanesque western façade as the entrance to the church with its two towers, three portals and sculptural works in the tympanum, a half circle area above the door, as well as its cruciform plan. While Gothic churches continued the religious tradition of the pilgrimage path, their new style reflected a new economic and political reality.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Gothic Art and Architecture Overview Continues

The Pointed Arch and Middle Eastern Architecture

The pointed arch was a noted element of Middle Eastern architecture beginning in the 7th century, as seen in the Al-Aqsa Mosque (780) in Jerusalem. Widely deployed in the building of mosques and palaces like the fortress of Al-Ukhaidir (775), the pointed arch was found throughout the Middle East, North Africa, Andalucia (modern day Spain), and Sicily. As architectural critic Jonathan Meades wrote, these early examples “would in the 12th century become the quintessential architecture of Christendom.” As the Pope and Catholic rulers sought to extend the range of Christianity in the Middle Ages through the Crusades, knowledge of Middle Eastern architecture became more common among Europeans.

The pointed arch made the Gothic style possible, as it could be used for asymmetrical spaces and to intersect columns at a sharp angle thus displacing the weight into the columns and lightening the walls. The structure also became key to a number of subsequent Gothic innovations, including the lancet arch, creating a high, narrow, and steeply pointed opening; the equilateral arch, widening the arch to allow for more circular forms in stained glass; and the Flamboyant arch, primarily used in windows and traceries for decorative effect.

Flying Buttresses and Byzantine Architecture

The flying buttress was used in a few important and influential Byzantine structures. The buttress employed a massive column or pier, situated away from the building’s wall, and a “flyer,” an arch that, extending from the wall to the pier, displaced the weight-bearing load from the wall. The Basilica of San Vitale (547) in Ravenna, Italy, pioneered an early use of the flying buttress. The Basilica was famous for its mosaics and as a powerful symbol of the Byzantine Empire and the Roman Empire before it. As a result, it became a model for later architecture. The Emperor Charlemagne, who established the Holy Roman Empire in 799 and was dubbed “the father of Europe,” designed his Palatine Chapel in Aachen, Germany, after the Basilica of San Vitale.

Early Gothic: Basilica of Saint Denis 1144

The Basilica of Saint-Denis (1135-1144), near Paris, pioneered the Gothic style. Abbot Suger led the rebuilding of the church, a venerated site where Saint Denis was martyred and where almost every French monarch since the 7th century had been buried. A noted scholar, friend, and advisor to King Louis VI and then Louis VII, Suger was influenced by the works of Pseudo-Dionysius the Aeropagite, a 5th-6th century Christian philosopher and mystic. Pseudo-Dionysius believed that any aspect of earthly light was an aspect of divine light, a belief with which Suger concurred. Suger felt that the new Gothic style would lift up the soul to God. His design envisioned a soaring verticality, and key to this was the use of the pointed arch that allowed for a vaulted ceiling and thinner walls that could contain numerous stained glass windows. The Church of Saint-Denis became the model for the Gothic style of architecture, spreading throughout Europe.

Following on and expanding the Romanesque practice, Early Gothic churches also employed sculpture to decorate the building. Religious scenes were carved into the tympanum over the doorways, and the surrounding archivolts and lintels were filled with figures. Secular images were also created, as the Basilica of St. Denis had the signs of the zodiac carved into the sides of the left portal and scenes depicting the agricultural labors of the month on the right. Most noted were the various column statues, depicting Old Testament Kings and Prophets on the portal columns.

High Gothic 1200-1280

Beginning around 1200, the High Gothic period developed toward ever-greater verticality by including pinnacles, spires, and emphasizing both the structural and decorative effect of flying buttresses. The rose window was expanded in size, and the tracery, the intervening metal bars between sections of stained glass, was elaborated for decorative effect. Chartres Cathedral (1194-1420), Amiens Cathedral (1220-1269), and Notre Dame de Paris (1163-1345) were all notable examples of High Gothic. The High Gothic period was also marked by the development of two distinct sub styles: the Rayonnant and the Flamboyant. Most Late Gothic architecture employed the Flamboyant Style, which continued into the 1500s.

High Gothic churches continued to use sculptures, particularly around the portals, but figurative treatments became more naturalistic, as the figures stepped free of the columns that once contained them. Smaller, portable sculptures, like The Virgin and Child from the Sainte-Chappelle (c. 1260-1270), became popular. The small work, though elegant and stylized, is naturalistically sculpted, depicting the s-curve of movement and the realistic flow of draperies.

International Gothic

The International Gothic style is the term used for the courtly decorative style of illuminated manuscripts, tapestries, painting, and sculpture that developed around 1375. The style, associated with European courts, has also been called “the beautiful style,” for its emphasis on elegance, delicate detail, soft facial expressions, and smooth forms. The Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV in Prague, the Valois King of France, and the Visconti of Milan were the most important patrons and competed with each other to create a cultural capital that would attract leading artists. The portability of many of the works created, as well as the system of patronage that led artists to travel to different courts, spread the style’s influence throughout Europe.

Concepts and Trends

The most important developments in later Gothic architecture were the Rayonnant Style followed by the Flamboyant Style. In painting, the most significant singular style was that of the Italian Sienese School, and the illuminated manuscript painting of the International Gothic Style.

Rayonnant Style 1240-1350

Rayonnant is a term used to describe the style of French High Gothic architecture from around 1240-1350. Architects began to emphasize repetitive decorative motifs, a smaller, more human-scaled building, and a plethora of stained glass. The radiating “rays” of light that streamed through the glass gave the movement its name. Gothic architect Hugues Libergier first began developing the style in the Abbey church of St. Nicaise in Reims France around 1231. Little is known about the architect, except his name and that after his death in 1263 he was buried in the church where his tombstone honored him as a master of architecture. His innovations included a façade that used point gables and emphasized tracery, the molding between small sections of color glass, to create a kind of screen-like effect.

A famous early example of the Rayonnant style was Sainte-Chappelle (1242-1248) in Paris. Commissioned by the French King Louis IX to hold his numerous holy relics, most notably the Crown of Thorns, the chapel was also a symbol of royal prestige. Its fifteen large windows created a sense of soaring verticality and lightness, as wall space was almost eliminated and replaced by resplendent images and thin golden ribs. Designed by Pierre de Montreuil, who was dubbed “the Master of Saint-Chappelle,” the chapel became the model for similar royal chapels throughout France and Europe. Louis IX played a noted role in promoting the style, which was employed in various noted cathedrals including Bernard de Soissons’ design of Reims Cathedral (c. 1250), the Church of St. Urbain (1262-1286) in Troyes, France, as well as the high choir of Cologne Cathedral in Germany, which was begun in 1248.

As was characteristic in the Gothic era, the Rayonnant style took on regional variations. In England, the style was called the English Decorated Style and emphasized window tracery, as stained glass windows were subdivided into many small parallel panels, and then at the top of the arch broke into curving and branching trefoil and quatrefoil shapes.

Flamboyant Style 1350-1550

The French Flamboyant style, developing from the Rayonnant style around 1350, emphasized even greater decorative effects by employing more curved shapes. The name comes from the French word “flambé” meaning flame, as the curving ornate lines of edifices were thought to resemble flames. The overall effect was a dynamic and exuberant movement. It’s thought by some scholars that the intricate patterns and motifs from illuminated manuscripts were a noted influence.

Amboise Havel’s design for the western façade of the Church of St. Maclou (1436-1521) in Rouen, France, was a noted example of the style employed in religious architecture; however, it was also used for royal commissions, like Guy de Dammartin’s design for the Palace of the Duc de Berry, Poitiers (1386), and other private residences like the Hôtel de Cluny, Paris (1485-98). In England, the style was known as the Perpendicular Style, where it was championed by William Ramsey and John Sponlee, the royal architects, and in Germany the style was known as Sondergotik, or special Gothic.

The Sienese School 1250-1500

Duccio’s <i>Rucellai Madonna</i> (1285-1286) employs a traditional Byzantine subject as well as an emphasis on gold, exemplifying the soft modeling of the human face and figure that created a sense of elegance and subtle emotion.
Duccio’s Rucellai Madonna (1285-1286) employs a traditional Byzantine subject as well as an emphasis on gold, exemplifying the soft modeling of the human face and figure that created a sense of elegance and subtle emotion.

The Sienese School, influenced by the developing interest in Humanist ideals among Franciscan and Dominican friars, was the primary force in developing an innovative style of Gothic painting. Coppo di Marcovaldo and Guido da Siena started the School around 1250, though the most noted early leader of the school was Duccio di Buoninsegna, known commonly as Duccio. Dubbed “the father of Sienese painting,” he combined Byzantine gold backgrounds and religious iconography with a new interest in modeling the human form. Painted primarily in tempera on wood, his works included delicate details, elements of human emotion, and architectural settings, while also conveying an elegant otherworldly effect, as seen in his Rucellai Madonna (1285). A noted teacher, Duccio trained and influenced Simone Martini, the subsequent leading painter of the Sienese School, as well as the brothers Pietro and Ambrogio Lorenzetti. Martini’s works, employing an elegant sense of line and refined decorative effect, as seen in his Maestà (1315), influenced the International Gothic Style.

Illuminated Manuscripts

Illuminated manuscripts, combining religious texts with painted illustrations, became a noted feature of the International Gothic style, centered around the University of Paris. Influenced by Simone Martini of the Sienese School and by Giotto and Duccio’s work that he had encountered on a trip to Italy, Jean Pucelle’s Belleville Breviary (1326) and his acclaimed Hours of Jeanne d’Evreux (1324-28) exemplified the style. Pucelle’s naturalistic treatment included three-dimensional space, sculptural modeling of the human figure, and precisely observed details.

The royal courts in Bourges and Paris commissioned many small prayer books, called Books of Hours. Though centered in France, many of the artists were from the Netherlands, where they had been trained in the painting of miniatures, and included Jacquemart de Hesdin, Jean Pucelle, the artist known as “The Bourcicaut Master,” and the Limbourg brothers. The Limbourg brothers’ Les Tres Riches Heures du Duc de Berry (1412-1416) became the most famous masterpiece of the International Gothic style. A vivid color palette and realistic scenes of ordinary life marked the Tres Riches Heures, celebrating secular life as much as fulfilling a religious purpose.

Later Developments

The Gothic era in general ended with the rise of the Renaissance, but its end was not uniform, as architecture continued to occasionally use the style, as seen in King Henry VII’s Chapel, built in the early 1500s, and the Gothic Basilica of San Patronino in Bologna, Italy, completed in 1658. In painting, the works of Giotto had a noted influence on both Italian Renaissance painters, including Masaccio and Michelangelo, and Northern European illuminated manuscripts and printmaking. Sculptors like Claus Sluter influenced artists of the Northern European Renaissance including Roger Van der Weyden and Albrecht Durer.

During the Romantic era, artists began to value the medieval arts and picturesque ruins, and the Gothic style saw a revival. Known as the Neo-Gothic, the revival began in England in the mid-1700s, and Horace Walpole’s Strawberry Hill House (1749) near London is a noted early example. The style spread throughout England and its colonies, as well as the United States. As art historian Kenneth Clark wrote of the Gothic Revival, “It changed the face of England, building and restoring churches all over the countryside, and filling our towns with Gothic banks and grocers, Gothic lodging houses and insurance companies, Gothic everything from a town hall to a slum public house.” Subsequently, Gothic art and architecture influenced both the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and the Arts and Crafts movement, as medieval values and craftsmanship were seen as a positive antidote to the industrialism of the 1800s. The ideas of noted architect A.W. N. Pugin, who designed the interior of Westminster Palace (1840-1876) and the art critic John Ruskin made the Gothic Revival style dominant in the Victorian era.

In France the French government commissioned the noted architect Eugène Viollet-le-Duc to evaluate the condition of pre-existent Gothic buildings, which led to his restoring and also completing a number of French Gothic cathedrals in the 1840s. New churches in the Neo-Gothic style were also built like Saint Clotilde Basilica (1857) in Paris.

Ever since the Gothic Revival, contemporary architecture continues to draw upon the Gothic style, as elements of the design are incorporated into modern buildings or their renovations, as in the Hof van Busleyden (2013), the Market Hall in Ghent (2011-2012), both in Belgium, and Drents Archief (2010-2012) in The Netherlands.


If you see an error or typo, please:
tell us
Cite this page

Content compiled and written by Rebecca Seiferle

Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors

" Movement Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by Rebecca Seiferle
Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors
Available from:
[Accessed ]



By submitting the above you agree to The Art Story privacy policy.

Useful Resources on Gothic Art and Architecture

Videos

Books

Articles

A White Garment of Churches: Romanesque and Gothic Art ► 8:09 A White Garment of Churches: Romanesque and Gothic Art

With Michael Wood
23k views

Engineering the Impossible: Chartres Cathedral ► 3:38 Engineering the Impossible: Chartres Cathedral

National Geographic
211k views

Landmarks of Western Art Documentary. Episode 01 The Late Medieval World ► 47:45 Landmarks of Western Art Documentary. Episode 01 The Late Medieval World

ArtandFilm21
63k views

Architects of the Divine: The First Gothic Age ► 14:08 Architects of the Divine: The First Gothic Age

ArtDocumentaries
10k views

More Interesting Videos about Gothic Art and Architecture
The books and articles below constitute a bibliography of the sources used in the writing of this page. These also suggest some accessible resources for further research, especially ones that can be found and purchased via the internet.

artworks

Illuminated Manuscripts. Les Tres Riches Heures du duc de Berry. 15th-Century Manuscript

Translated by David Macrae
Edited by Edmond Pognon

Gothic: Architecture, Sculpture, Painting Recomended resource

By Rolf Roman and Achim Bednorz

Gothic: Visual Art of the Middle Ages 1140-1500

By Bruno Klein, Rolf Tomam, and Achim Bednorz

Giotto

By Francesca Flores d’Arcais

More Interesting Books about Gothic Art and Architecture
Art review: A flowering in Florence is captured at the Getty

By Christopher Knight
Los Angeles Times
November 13, 2012

Stubborn Mysteries of Giotto

By Roderick Conway Morris and International Herald Tribune
New York Times
July 8, 2000

Everyone’s Talking about Giotto

By Bryan C. Keene
The Getty Iris
October 15, 2012

Gothic buildings: pillars of faith Recomended resource

By Jonathan Meades
The Guardian
September 10, 2011

More Interesting Articles about Gothic Art and Architecture
Did we succeed in explaining the art to you?
If Yes, please tell others about us: