Gothic

Brian Wildeman

Slide I.D. Challenge: Gothic1150 - 1350 and later

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Like the term Romanesque, the term Gothic primarily applies to a European Architectural style but also demarks the era roughly 1150 to 1350 during which this style developed and became prominant. The term Gothic was coined by the Italian artist and art historian Giorgio Vassari in the Sixteenth Century and was intended to be a derogatory description of the last Medeival barberic style prior to the Renaissance. The term Gothic endured despite negative implications and today is understood in art history as an exquisite architectural style and the European art of roughly the late Twelfth and Thirteenth Centuries.

England and France both have a claim to the origins of Gothic archhitecture. England"s claim is Durrow Cathedral, pictured bellow at right and built shortly after William the Conquorer established himself in England. Done in the developing Norman style, Durrow"s tall nave including alternating compound piers, a gallery, celestery and a sexpartetive vault. France"s claim to Gothic architecture is not that the Norman"s were French, but rather stained galss windows and extra large ambulatories called choirs. Abot Suger was a French clergyman who enjoyed unusual prosperity and power because the duke who owened the Abbot"s land bequeathed his land rights to the Abbot. Suger became very important, even acting as regent of France for some time. San Denis, the abbot"s church had been the burrial place of some previous monarchs and Suger believed that since San Denis had become the offficial church of France in practice and location it should take on a more stately and magnificent appearance. Major portions of San Denis were rebuilt including portions of the aisles and the entire East end. The story goes that Abbot Suger envisioned or dreamed of a place where sublime light from God beamed into a space with other-wordly radiance. Achitects and builders strove to realize Suger"s vision by building a massive scalloped choir heavily buttressed on the exterior to allow for many large windows. While Abbot Suger died before San Denis was completely finished, stained glass panes were put into the large windows in time to let Abbot Suger catch a glimpse of an important style his vision helped form.

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Chartres Cathedral has especially nice proportions and is probably the most famous of all Gothic cathedrals perhaps due in part to its long history. It took over a hundred years to build Chartres. A fire during its construction . One can walk around Chartes and see in one building the progressive development from early to high Gothic style architecture and sculpture. Chartres cathedral has a simpler westworks than high Gothic cathedrals but has a nave that is taller that most early Gothic cathedrals. Chartres Cathedral has flying buttresses although in the picture bellow they are small and difficult to see because they are mostly in the shadow. While indeed tall, Chartre"s catherdral nave displays an older trait with its four instead of three divisions in elevation. Compound piers that streatch all the way from the floor to the springing of the vault help to visualy unify the separate sections of the nave. Comparing the pilgramage church San Sernin on the right and the plan of Chartres on the left, notice that with Chartres the transept is less pronounced while the ambulatory is much larger lending the plan a shape akin to a fire hydrant. While san Sernin"s vault is barrelstyle with no ribs, Chartre"s nave, rather than being divided by square sexpartetive (six part) vaults is divided by rectangular four- sectioned vaults. The four-part rectangular sections work like bands and make the vault fell more unified and less segmented than the earlier Romanesque vaults.

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The stained glass windows in Chartres are especially prized because they are among the few that survived through history. Some of the windows, such as the Madona fo the Bellle Vere depicted bellow on the right, even survived Chartres fire. The rosette window depicted bellow on the left is from Chartres second phase and was paid for by Queen Blanche de Castile. Round windows are called rosettes and tall pointy windows are called lancettes.

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Jamb sculptures from Chartres depicted bellow show a great deal of difference between the early West portal and the later East portal. The earlier figures are taller, thinner and more alooof, while the East end figures are more naturalistic and expressive.

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Like Chartres, The cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris also represents a stylistic transition between low and high Gothic styles, but is closer to the High Gothic style. Notre Dam"s elaborately decorative facade with its deep portals is a lot like the fully realized style, but Notre Dam"s nave, which is not super tall and has four levels of elevation is more like early gothic cathedrals. Notre Dam was one of the first ot employ flying buttresses and in this case they are quite pronounced like giant ribs. Butresses are thicker sections of wall usually spanning from top to bottom that streangthen the wall and in the case of Gothic architecture, allow for hieght and for many windows to be cut into the wall. In Notre Dam"s case the flying buttresses spring off of the large butresses of the aisles and arc over the galleries to help support the vault at the celestery.

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Based on Chartre"s, proportions, this illlustrations shows the major architectural components of a Gothic cathedral and some of the construction techniques. Comparing the elevations of the naves of four different French gothic cathedrals, on the left is the Laon cathedral notable for being fairly small and early, and for its constructon having been completed in less time than most other Gothic churches. Notice that the first two on the left, Laon and Notre Dam, each have four rows to their elevation. In the case of Laon on the far left, there is a narrrow row of arches between the clestery and gallery known as the triforium. Instead of a triforiium, Notre Dam sports a row of rosette windows just bellow the celestery. With Chartres depicted at middle right, in the nave rossetes have migrated to the top to become part of an extra large celestery. Amien on the far right is the tallest of all Gothic naves and represents the fully realized High Gothic style.

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The nave of Amien is so tall and massive that when one looks up at the vault the lines of the compound piers and vault ribs apear so thin and fluid as they receed in the distance, that it is hard to remember that the building is made completely out of stone masonry without any steel or concrete reenforcements. The visual effect is somewhat like the thin organic looking style of Art Nuvoe metalwork, rather than the chunky heaviness that one might expect of typical stone block massonry. With the exception of Cologne Cathedral, which wasn"t completed until the late 19th Century Neo Gothic movement, Amien is the tallesGothic vault. Amien"s vault began to exhibit structural problems before its construction was even completed, and it is something of a miracle that it is still standing now. Maintaining perfectly straight and perfectly plumb walls is of crucial importance to acheiving soaring heights with lots of cutouts for windows and light. The walls of Amien"s nave began to bow outward before its roof was complete. It must have been very frightening and nerve wracking for the towns4476mountvernon.com of Amien to realize that all of the money, effort, and generations of sweat equity that they"d put into the cathedral was on the brink of collapse. Amien was saved by a collective effort of blacksmiths working around the clock to forge an iron chain going around the interior of the nave. Because many smiths worked on the chain simutaneously, it was able to be forged all at once and it shrunk as the links cooled effectively consticting the bowed out walls of the nave just enough to save the building.

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While Amien, the plan of which is depicted bellow, is known for its incredible nave, Reims Cathedral begun at roughly the same time as Amien, has the most elaborate and extrordinary exterior. The jamb sculptures of Reims, for example, are particularly realistic. Not only do they have believable anatomy and engaging facial expressions, they are life size, stand way out from the wall, almost have contrapposto in their poses and are clearly relating to each other. Reim"s sculpture foreshadows the what will happen to figurative sculpture during the Renaissance when figures are finally liberated from the walls of churches. A jamb sculpture of Jesus from Amien is much stiffer and more aloof than the jamb sculptures from Ruen. The Amien Jesus is protected by what is known as a Gothic canopy. Such canopies offer sculptures some protection from the elements and also serve to frame them visually setting them off from other aspects of the visually busy exterior. The canopies also help inform viewers of the nature of the figure they protect. In this case the canopy looks like the Amien cathedral itself because it is Jesus" house. In the case of a more secular figure such as a knight, one might see the canopy looking more like the walls of a town or castle to indicate the knight"s secular role.

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While Paris may have been the cultural capital of the Western world at the time, and France is arguably the most important vicinity for the style, Gothic architecture did spread throughout Europe and a variety of local varriations in the style can be found. Depicted bellow on the left is the Gothic Cathedral in the Tuscan town of Oorvieto Italy, and on the right is Salisbury Cathedral in England. Orvietto"s cathedral is comparatively small and has typical Tuscan black and white masonry. It may even have a wooden roof, but one can see the Gothic styling in Orvieto"s unusual mosaic facade. Salisbury Cathedral has a very long sprawling nave, with the transept nearly at the middle of the building. Salisbury"s nave is long but it is not all that tall. The junction of the transept and nave is capped by a huge bell tower overshadowing the facade. In some cses , such as with Salisbury and Chartres, the pointy steeples on top of the bell towers were the last things to be added. I"ve wondered if these later dasy steeples were added to keep ahead of some kind of ongoing claim to height. At the time they were built, cathedrals would have been the tallest buildings around and probably felt much taller both symbolically and actually than skyscrapers feel to us today.

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San Maclou in Rouen, depicted bellow on the left, was built from 1500 to 1514. San Maclau is humble in scale compared to the first High Gothic churches 200 years prior to it, but is a reworking of the Gothic style where scale is not quite as important as overall aesthetic. San Maclau is an example of the Flambouant Gothic style identifiable by the intricate projecting bits bordering the outside edges of decorative peaks and arches. The projecting bits look sort of like flickering flames, which is sort of what flambouyant means; flaming. San Maclau employs a rounded westworks where the portals are all there is to it. It looks like the consecutive arches typically seen between an aisle and nave. It is as if the inside of the church sort of rushed outside to protect and surround itself. Fenced in behind the portals are the taller portions of the facade, which lead the eye centrally rather than bilaterally upward. the Flambouyant style is delicate and intricate. The ubiquitous flickery flame shapes unify the building and have a similar effect to an intricate mosaic where the individual shiny teserae reflect light in various dirctions. It is interesting to consider Flamboyant Gothic Style on the outside of European cathedras relative to the intricately patterned mosaics inside of Islamic Mosques from this era. Built in 13 soething, the tomb of King Edward 2 in Glouchester Cathedral in London is a much earlier example of the Flambouyant style.

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Gothic edures into the sixteenth century. Depicted bellow on the left is the chapel of Henry the 8th. Giant funnel-shaped doilies (the proper term starts with m) appear to drip from this decoratively complicated vault. Baroque in the general visual sense of the word, one could even say over-the-top, the real roof of this chapel is actually a simple barrel vault. Depicted bellow on the right is the cathedral of Cologne in Germany. Its construction was begun in the thirteenth century and potions of it stood incomplete for centuries. In the late 19th century it was completed and is a flagship building of the Gothic Revival. Seen from the air as if tiny, as this photograph shows it, Cologne looks sturdy and prickley like the exoskelatal shell of an insect or some chrystaline mineral growth. Densely spaced buttresses give Cologne unified deeply sculpted look. There are some 19th century Gothic Revival buildings in much closer proximity to many of us reading this, Belfield Hall for example.

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The ducal Palace in Venice built during the Renaissance combines Gothic style parts in an essentially Renaissnce pallace design with a dash of Islamic and South East Asian flavoring for an exotic flair.

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These two samples provide interesting insight into relationship between religion art and science in the Gothic era. The drawings on the left forshadow the Renaissance in the sense that the artist is seaching for mathematical proportions and geometric relationships in nature. In other words it is the search to discover God"s great design or blue print. While these drawings may look like cartoons, they represent an approach to science through careful observation that Leonardo Da Vinci later famously dedicates most of his life and art to. The illumnation bellow features God, looking rather youthful, intensely engaged in designiing the universe. It is amusing to consider that God aparently requires design tools such as the giant golden protractor he is using here. This could be compared in a way to the relief carving of Nike adjusting her sandle strap from the Erecthion. What is pehaps even more interesting to ponder is that while this is an illustration of God designing man, it is just as much an illustration and example of man designing God. Here God appears as a bearded man with intense eyes who employs rational thinking and scientific intruments such as a golden compas in the construction of his master plan. What visual cues tell us that this illustration of Abraham and the three angels is from the Gothic era? Notice the lancette and rosette windows in the background of a story.


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Given that the tale takes place in ancient Mesopotamia, those kind of windows wouldn"t have been in the story.