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
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
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
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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