Nave, Chartres CathedralGothic Art: Our final topic of Gothic art is one of the most breathtaking art forms of all, the richness and aura of the colored light-filled cathedrals has no parallel in history. The term Gothic--a name coined much later by architects who erroneously associated the pointed arch designs to the 'Goths', a Germanic tribe who invaded Italy and Spain in the 400's generally refers to the 12th - 14th centuries. Gothic is the Age of Scholasticism, meaning the age of the great scholars, such as St. Thomas Aquinas, and their methods of combating the massive illiteracy of the previous eras. Scholasticism, a philosophy associated directly with the Gothic style, means also the merging of Christian doctrines and dogma with the Aristotelian methods of rational argument and debate. In other words, it is a merging of faith and intellect. The primary Art form is the Cathedral, it�s rational harmony, clarity, soaring lightness, rising to ever-greater heights, and filled with longer and longer clerestory windows. The Cathedral is an encyclopedia of all the knowledge of the era. The complexities of the iconographic compendium of saints and stories are found within the structure, in stain glass, as well as on the exterior in the architectural sculpture and statuary.

Chartres Cathedral:

View to the Ribbed Vaults, ChartresOne of the most famous cathedrals of the High Gothic era, and one in which all of the original stain glass windows survive, is the Cathedral of Chartres, France. The view on the left shows us the clerestory, the triforium, and the ribbed, groin vaults. These are standard features of the High Gothic cathedral, especially in France, where the Gothic style emerged. One feels the dizzying height and soaring power in this view, an exhilarating feeling that forces the worshipper into a spiritual mode.

Even today, when entering a 'Gothic Revival' church or cathedral, such as St. Patrick's in New York City, seen below, the religious aura and spiritual power is unmistakable. (Remember this is a possible topic for your Final Paper, that is, to visit a Gothic revival church to experience as well as analyze the total aesthetic). In spite of the hustle of Manhattan tourists, one still feels as if they have time-traveled to the 1200's, a phenomenal experience in our high tech age.

The example seen on lower left also shows the rose windows typical of High Gothic style. St. Patrick's Cathedral was finished in 1888, designed by James Renwick and Wm. Bodrigue. Notice the pointed arched niches filled with sculpture. In the Gothic Cathedral There is a total integration between the sculptures, stain glass and vaulting into one aesthetic whole. Stylistically and iconographically they represent a spiritual unity equivalent to the scholastic harmony between knowledge and religion.

Interior, St. Patricks Cathedral, N.Y.
Interior, St. Patricks Cathedral, N.Y.

Question: What is a Cathedral? What does your textbook say regarding the economic benefits of a typical Gothic Cathedral? (Outline them in your notes. We often neglect to consider the economic factors.)

Gothic Sculpture: 

In a survey of Gothic sculpture it is natural to compare the previous styles of Medieval and Romanesque to that of Gothic, to better examine the distinct changes as we move toward a more enlightened age.  What better place to study these changes than on two different portals of Chartres Cathedral. The West portal of Chartres dates from an entirely different time   (c. 1150) than the South portal (13th century). Thus, if we compare the door jamb statues from these two different doors, as seen below, one Is more Romanesque or Early Gothic in style while the other High Gothic. Why does this difference exist? Because in the late 12th century the structure was greatly destroyed by a devastating fire, where the West facade and the south tower survived, and the rest of the building was replaced with the 13th century High Gothic design.

Note: In this era people did not use bulldozers to destroy the rest of the structure, especially since it had such magnificent and revered art works. The end result is that Chartres' facade is highly inconsistent in style, but a great resource for comparing the two styles.

Question: Look at the Fa�ade of Chartres Cathedral and see if you can determine which tower was the earlier style?

Look now at the door jamb sculptures on these two portals shown below:

West Door Jamb Sculptures, Chartres
South Door Jamb Sculptures, Chartres

Question: Describe the stylistic changes you see in these two works above. Also answer how these changes fit the High Gothic era.

This will be related to your final test questions . Work on the topic before then.

Gothic Manuscripts:

The final topic to study is that of manuscript illumination. These are generally tempera paintings done on vellum (calfskin parchment). These paintings carry on the Romanesque style of elaborate initial pages, however, develop much more detail in the full page scenes, as well as much more complex iconography. Look in your text for some terrific examples.

Internet Sources:

For the site of Jeffrey Howe of Boston University - Tips & Tricks to Gothic: Trifoil

High Gothic Architecture

History of Gothic Architecture - Cathedral, Paris

The Plans of Saint-Sernin, Toulouse and Amiens Cathedral:

Late Gothic Art in Italy (Duecento and Trecento)

Paintings of the Madonna by Cimabue - Late Gothic Art in Italy



 Last Published 7/14/16