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Gothic Art

5th Century to 16th Century A.D.

Gothic Art - A Stan Klos Website

By Neal McLaughlin

 

 

 

 The moniker, “Gothic Art”, was actually a term used by Italian writers of the Renaissance period to openly insult the style of architecture that they had declared to be “non-classical ugliness” practiced by the barbarian Gothic tribe that had been responsible for the destruction of the Roman Empire and its classic culture during the 5th Century.

 

In truth, Gothic Architecture or Art was in no way associated with Goth Tribe.  However, this negatively attached appendage would follow the Gothic Architecture and Art style into the 19th Century before critics would reevaluate this form of self-expression and remove the stigma by redefining Gothic to a friendlier, more positive connotation.

 

Evolving from Romanesque Art, the Gothic Movement would strongly influence the European artisans from its conception in the Middle Ages until the mid to late 14th Century when the Renaissance Movement would become the dominant trend.

 

The sculptors of the Gothic Art movement had a very close kinship with the architects, designers and mason of this period, as their stone figures, the main theme being the Holy Family and the Biblical Saints, were used to adorn the spectacular cathedrals and associated religious structures throughout Europe.

 

At the onset of this movement, these figures very rarely, if ever, demonstrated any sign of individuality as they bore distinct similarities to the parameters established and practiced by the style of the preceding Romanesque artists.

 

However, by the late 12th and 13th Centuries the rigid, simple, and elongated sculptures would give way to a more relaxed, naturalistic style emphasizing a sense of individualism in the faces and bodies of life-like poses dressed in elegant, draping apparel.

 

This evolution in the techniques demonstrated in the newer monument would eventually replaced the older style and was soon found in large numbers enhancing the many cathedrals of the High and Late Gothic periods.  As the 14th Century brought forth many changes in the art world, Gothic Art would once again undergo a metamorphous by becoming even more refined and elegant with a touch of daintiness in the rendering of its elaborate drapery.

 

This breach in what had become considered acceptable Gothic style apparently riled those of the original movement was as they openly criticized this fresher technique as being “artificial prettiness” in sculpting, painting and manuscript illumination. This new style would be ostracized and discredited throughout the whole of Europe, with the exception of France, where sculpting had taken on a more technical, classic style, and had become known as International Gothic.

 

This new philosophy and technique by the sculptors would eventually lead Gothic artists down the same evolutionary path. They would reject the simple, stiff forms for the more relaxed and natural style of portraying their subject matters.

 

Theses “radical” changes in techniques also brought forth a newer vision that would replace the dominating images of the Holy Families and Saints, with depictions from the New Testament, in particular the passion of Christ and the Virgin Mary.

 

These paintings, with their use of elegantly flowing, curving lines and the inclusion of the minutest of details set against a gold background, were usually found to be decorative, ornamental panels placed behind the altars.

 

As the Gothic Art style evolved, so too, did its complexity.  Unsatisfied with the flat, often one-dimensional renderings, the Gothic painters were striving to achieve techniques that would enhance the use of depth.  As a result of this desire they were to become masters of perspective during the early years of the Italian Renaissance.

 

Gothicism was an ever-evolving movement and would experience yet another transformation during the 14th and 15th Centuries. In a bold and creative move the painter had strayed from the use of secular images that had appeared in almost all of their renderings and instead began to portray scenes of hunting, historical events and heroic overtones.

 

This valiant and courageous move had set the stage for other artists who sought change in the ever evolving traditional Gothic theme.  Next to follow the lead were the artists responsible for the Manuscript Illustrations.

 

By the time it had reached its apex in 14th Century France, Manuscript Illustrations had become the major form of artistic reproduction.  It has been cited that the most notable works are the calendar illustrations created by the Limburg brothers; who had produced the Tres Riches Heures du duc de Berry (c 1416).  Their creations have been quoted as being “the most eloquent statements of the International Gothic style.”

 

The latter half of the 15th Century found the panel and wall paintings beginning to evolve into the style practiced by the Italian Renaissance.  However, it maintained most of its Gothic characteristics until the end of the 15thCentury, (early 16th Century in Germany, Flanders and Northern Europe).

 

Italy, however, refused to be influenced by the developing trends in Northern France and other areas of Europe and thusly stood alone, maintaining her individuality.  Italy continued to use a combination of the Byzantine and classical antiquity style that would be her signature technique until Gothic Art was replaced by the Renaissance movement in the 15th Century.

 

Gothic Art philosophies and techniques would attempt a revival many times over the course of many centuries. However, it would never again gain the momentum to propel it into the light of a major movement that would once again dominate the art world.

 

The Gothic art movement was indeed a very interesting period in art history.  It is suggested, and with much justification, that for anyone to truly understand and enjoy the entire Gothic era one must start by examining the Architecture that was the “prototype” that would launch a new and vigorous movement in the annals of art history.


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