Course is Western Art: choose 2 short questions to answer and write 2-3 pages(provide picture examples)


Gothic architecture was developed in the mid-12th century France from where it spread to other parts of Western Europe and became the predominant architectural style by the end of the Middle Ages. It succeeded the so-called Romanesque architecture from which it primarily distinguishes itself by extremely light and skeleton-like structure which was possible due to innovations such flying buttresses and pointed arch. The finest surviving examples of Gothic architecture are religious buildings.

14th Century International Gothic Mary Magdalene in St. John Cathedral in Toruń.

Gothic architecture

Characteristics of gothic architecture

The Western (Royal) Portal at Chartres Cathedral (ca. 1145). These architectural statues are the earliest Gothic sculptures and were a revolution in style and the model for a generation of sculptors.

Later Gothic depiction of the Adoration of the Magi from Strasbourg Cathedral.

Florence Cathedral, Florence, Italy

Also known as the Duomo, the Florence Cathedral is the most imposing building in Florence. The cathedral is famous for having the largest brick dome ever constructed which was designed by the renowned Italian Renaissance architect Fillippo Brunelleschi (1377-1446). However, at the time he won the competition for the construction of the dome, the rest of the cathedral was already completed. The dome was built between 1420 and 1436 but it remains unknown what technique Brunelleschi used to construct the massive dome.

Basilica of St Denis, Paris, France

Basilica of St Denis, located in St Denis (today a suburb of Paris) is considered to be first structure built in Gothic style. It got its present-day appearance in the 1140s when the early Carolingian church dating from the 8th century was rebuilt by Abbot Suger. In addition to being an important place of pilgrimage, the Basilica of St Denis is also the burial place of most French kings from the 10th to the 18th century.

Cologne Cathedral, Cologne, Germany

Cologne Cathedral and the seat of the Archbishop of Cologne took more than six centuries to be completed. Its construction started in 1248 but it was abandoned in 1473. Work resumed only in the 1840s and in 1880, it finally got its present-day appearance. The Cologne Cathedral which was at the time of its completion the tallest building in the world was severely damaged by aerial raids during World War II but it was fully restored by 1956.

Milan Cathedral, Milan, Italy

Just like Cologne Cathedral, Milan Cathedral took almost six centuries to be built. Its construction began in 1386 and was completed only in 1865. The fourth largest cathedral in the world is characterized by its facade which extends into a forest of spires and pinnacles that have both aesthetic and structural purpose. Interestingly, one of the most impressive Gothic buildings ever built arouse mixed feelings when it was finally completed.

Amiens Cathedral, Amiens, France

The tallest (completed) French cathedral was built between 1220 and 1270 according to the plans of architects Robert de Luzarches and Thomas de Cormont who became the chief architect in 1228. Although the cathedral was completed around year 1270, minor works continued and thus the labyrinth was completed only in 1288. The Amiens Cathedral is best known for the early 13th century Gothic sculpture but it is also famous for housing what is believed to be the head of John the Baptist. The relic was brought to Amiens from Constantinople after the Byzantine capital was sacked by the Crusaders in 1204.

Rheims Cathedral, Rheims, France

Rheims Cathedral, also known as Notre-Dame de Reims is one of the most famous and one of the most visited cathedrals in France. The spectacular cathedral was built in Gothic style in the 13th century on the site of an older church which in turn was built on the site of a basilica where Clovis I, the first King of all Franks was baptized in 496. Rheims Cathedral which is since 1991 also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, however, is probably best known for being the coronation site of the French kings.

Canterbury Cathedral, Canterbury, Kent, England

One of the oldest cathedrals in England has a history that dates back to the late 6th century. The original church, however, was completely rebuilt in the 1070s and once again 100 years later, this time in the English Gothic style. Canterbury Cathedral finally got its present-day appearance in the 14th century when the earlier Norman nave and transepts have been demolished. Since 1988, it is a part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Canterbury Cathedral, St Augustine’s Abbey and St Martin’s Church.

Salisbury Cathedral, Salisbury, England

Salisbury Cathedral is one of the finest examples of English Gothic architecture. The cathedral which has the tallest (church) spire in the United Kingdom was built between 1220 and 1258 when it was also consecrated. In addition for its spectacular architecture, Salisbury Cathedral is also famous for housing the world’s oldest working clock and one of the 4 original copies of the Magna Carta (the Great Charter) that was issued by King John of England in 1215.

Chartres Cathedral, Chartres, France

Chartres Cathedral is a splendid example of French Gothic architecture as well as one of the best preserved Gothic buildings in Europe. The cathedral was built from the late 12th century until the mid-13th century and has remained nearly unchanged ever since its completion. It attracts both travelers and Christian pilgrims who come to see its most famous relic – the alleged tunic of the Virgin Mary. The cathedral was inscribed into the UNESCO World Heritage Site list in 1979. It is located in the town of Chartres about 50 miles southwest from Paris.

Gothic art was a style of Medieval art that developed in Northern France out of Romanesque art in the 12th century AD, led by the concurrent development of Gothic architecture. It spread to all of Western Europe, never quite effacing more classical styles in Italy. In the late 14th century, the sophisticated court style of International Gothic developed, which continued to evolve until the late 15th century. In many areas, especially Germany, Late Gothic art continued well into the 16th century, before being subsumed into Renaissance art. Primary media in the Gothic period included sculpture, panel painting, stained glass, fresco and illuminated manuscripts. The easily recognizable shifts in architecture from Romanesque to Gothic, and Gothic to Renaissance styles, are typically used to define the periods in art in all media, although in many ways figurative art developed at a different pace.

The earliest Gothic art was monumental sculpture, on the walls of Cathedrals and abbeys. Christian art was often typological in nature (see Medieval allegory), showing the stories of the New Testament and the Old Testament side by side. Saints' lives were often depicted. Images of the Virgin Mary changed from the Byzantine iconic form to a more human and affectionate mother, cuddling her infant, swaying from her hip, and showing the refined manners of a well-born aristocratic courtly lady.

Secular art came into its own during this period with the rise of cities, foundation of universities, increase in trade, the establishment of a money-based economy and the creation of a bourgeois class who could afford to patronize the arts and commission works resulting in a proliferation of paintings and illuminated manuscripts. Increased literacy and a growing body of secular vernacular literature encouraged the representation of secular themes in art. With the growth of cities, trade guilds were formed and artists were often required to be members of a painters' guild—as a result, because of better record keeping, more artists are known to us by name in this period than any previous; some artists were even so bold as to sign their names.

The term "Gothic style" refers to the style of European architecture, sculpture (and minor arts) which linked medieval Romanesque art with the Early Renaissance. The period is divided into Early Gothic (1150-1250), High Gothic (1250-1375), and International Gothic (1375-1450). Primarily a public form of Christian art, it flourished initially in the Ile de France and surrounding region in the period 1150-1250, and then spread throughout northern Europe.

Its main form of expression was architecture - exemplified by the great Gothic cathedrals of Northern France. For the two main decorative styles, please see Rayonnant Gothic Architecture (c.1200-1350) and the later Flamboyant Gothic Architecture (1375-1500). The finest examples of Gothic design include: Chartres Cathedral (1194-1250); Notre-Dame Cathedral (1163-1345); Sainte Chapelle (1241-48); and Cologne Cathedral (from 1248); as well as the cathedrals of Canterbury, Winchester, Westminster Abbey and Santiago de Compostela. In Gothic design, the planar forms of the previous Romanesque idiom were replaced by a new focus on line. And its soaring arches and buttresses permitted the opening up of walls for unprecedently huge windows of stained glass filled with beautifully inspirational translucent images of Biblical art, far surpassing anything that wall painting or mosaic art had to offer. All this created an evocative humanistic atmosphere quite different from the Romanesque period. (During the late 14th century, a more secular Gothic style emerged, known as International Gothic, which spread across Burgundy, Bohemia and northern Italy.)

Gothic art, being exclusively religious art, lent powerful tangible weight to the growing power of the Church in Rome. This not only inspired the public, as well as its secular leaders but also it firmly established the connection between religion and art, which was one of the foundations of the Italian Renaissance (1400-1530). Among famous medieval artists in the Gothic style were Giovanni Pisano and Simone Martini of the Sienese School of painting.

Gothic Sculptures

Early Gothic Sculpture

As in the Romanesque period, the best Gothic sculptors were employed on architectural decoration. The most important examples of stone sculpture to survive are on portals, as in the church of Saint-Denis whose western portals (constructed 1137-40), combined features that remained common throughout the Gothic period: a carved tympanum; carved figures arranged in the voussoirs, or wedge-shaped pieces, of the arch; and more figurative carvings attached to the sides of the portal. As it survives, Saint-Denis is rather disappointing; the side figures have been lost and the remainder heavily restored.

Grand, Tall Designs, Which Swept Upwards With Height and Grandeur

In the times before gothic architecture, Early Medieval architects struggled to spread the weight of heavy stone walls.

This meant that most towers needed to be short, and buildings thin, otherwise the sheer weight of higher levels (or large rooms and halls) would collapse into themselves.

One of the fundamental characteristics of gothic architecture was its height. New building techniques (such as the flying buttress, detailed below) enabled architects to spread the weight of taller walls and loftier towers.

This all meant that gothic buildings could, quite literally, scale new heights. It allowed them to reach up to the heavens - perfect for cathedrals and churches.

The Flying Buttress

The flying buttress is the defining external characteristic of gothic architecture. These buttresses effectively spread the weight of the new designs, taking the weight off the walls and transferring force directly to the ground.

"The flying buttress was practical and decorative, too"

However, what's particularly notable about the flying buttress is that it's decorative, too.

Rather than just being a simple support, buttresses were often elaborately designed and extremely decorative. They appeared to dart and sweep around each building, giving a sense of movement and of grandeur missing from previous architectural designs.

The Pointed Arch

The innovation of the pointed arch which was the defining internal characteristic of gothic architecture. Its significance was both practical and decorative.

The pointed arch effectively distributed the force of heavier ceilings and bulkier designs, and could support much more weight than previous, simple pillars.

The stronger arches allowed for much more vertical height, too - they literally reached up to the heavens.

The gothic arch wasn't just a workhorse. It had an aesthetic value and beauty which influenced many other features of gothic design - most notably the vaulted ceiling.

The Vaulted Ceiling

The vaulted ceiling was an innovation which lead on from the achievements of the pointed arch.

Irregular, vaulted ceilings utilised the technology of the pointed arch to spread force and weight from upper floors. The arch also provided the impression of height and magnificence, giving the vaulted ceiling a feeling of grandeur and elegance.

The distribution of force within the vaulted ceiling enabled vaults to be built in different shapes and sizes, too. Previously, vaults could only have been circular or rectangular.

The Light and Airy Interior

Before gothic architecture, castles and early Medieval buildings were pretty depressing places to live in or worship in.

Castles, in particular, were places of damp and mould, as most weren't built strong enough to support slate or stone roofing. Although these fortresses could more or less prop up wooden roofs, these let in the rain.

If that wasn't depressing enough, these old environments tended to be dark and dingy. The windows were generally tiny, as the force of the walls would collapse into themselves if they included any larger glassworks.

Gothic architecture strove to be the exact anthesis to this older Medieval style of building.

It emphasised light, bright windows and airy interiors, transforming castles and churches into more pleasant and majestic environments.

The Gargoyles of Gothic Architecture

One of the most notable characteristics of gothic architecture is the gargoyle. Gargoyles are decorative, monstrous little creatures, perched at along the roofs and battlements of gothic buildings and castles.

Gargoyles have a practical purpose: they're spouts, enabling rainwater to drain off the roof and gush through their mouths, before plummeting to the ground (guttering is a relatively recent innovation!).

However, gargoyles had another intended purpose: to strike fear into the hearts of ill-educated Medieval peasants, scaring them into the church or cathedral. Many gargoyles include elements of the grotesque: exaggerated, evil features or threatening poses, which would have leered down from on-high.

In a world marked with fear and superstition, these creepy creatures would undoubtedly have encouraged many to seek solace and safety inside of a church or cathedral- protected from the demons and ghouls which roamed outside. The gargoyle is one of the defining characteristics of gothic architecture, and sticks in the mind even to today.

Alien ???

The Emphasis Upon the Decorative Style and the Ornate

Gothic architecture marked the first time that beauty and aesthetic values had been incorporated into building design. This revolutionized the way that Medieval architects began to think of buildings. Architecture was no longer just functional - it began to have merit and meaning in its own right.

Increasingly ambitious and ornate designs of church, cathedral and castle came to be built. Rivalry and competition drew different groups of builders to conceive and construct grander and more decorative designs, for the glory of the Christian region.