Article

Gothic Art

Alexandra Gajewski

in Medieval Studies

ISBN: 9780195396584
Published online December 2010 | | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/obo/9780195396584-0040
Gothic Art

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  • Medieval and Renaissance History (500 to 1500)
  • Literary Studies (Early and Medieval)
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Hardly any category of style covers as complex a phenomenon as Gothic. Chronologically, it can be traced from its beginnings in France in the early 12th century to its perpetuation, in some regions, into the 16th century. Geographically, Gothic spread as far as Western Christendom itself. The diverse artistic achievements of the period include illuminated manuscripts, carved and painted altar retables, as well as austere mendicant churches. But among all the works, the Gothic cathedral with its lofty vaults, painted windows, and carved portals is considered most emblematic of Gothic art. Scholarly preoccupation with the cathedral is rooted in the field’s own history. The earliest commentators, 15th- and 16th-century Italian humanists, such as Vasari, compared the Gothic of their immediate past unfavorably with the classical styles of Antiquity, of which they regarded themselves as the direct heirs. This pejorative sense was only shaken off (if it ever was) in the context of late-18th-century romantic admiration for Gothic architecture. The threat of the “death of the cathedral” (Proust) in post-revolutionary Europe galvanized archaeologists, architects, and clergymen to save churches from further destruction and to turn the study of medieval architecture into a serious discipline. By the late 19th century, French scholars and poets had raised Gothic to the position of a national art and the cathedral to a symbol of a harmonious society (see Gothic Reconsidered). The initial contribution of architects and archaeologists helps to explain the predominance of architectural studies. But the origins of the discipline have also shaped the approach to Gothic art in a number of other ways. The need to define empirical guidelines for research generated a fragmentation of the discipline into different areas of expertise. Only recently have scholars explored more integrated approaches aimed at contextualizing buildings and objects; see Interdisciplinary Studies. Moreover, Gothic art is perhaps the only style whose origin historians want to attribute to a specific moment, a specific place, and even a specific person: the Abbey of Saint-Denis, near Paris, under Abbot Suger (c. 1081–1151). Unsurprisingly, this formative event has benefited from a particularly intense scholarly debate; see France and Paris and Selected Sources. The acknowledgment that Gothic has both a beginning and a center, around Paris, has meant that Gothic is traditionally studied chronologically, starting at Saint-Denis and following its diffusion first into northeastern France during the Early Gothic (c. 1140–c. 1190) period and then into the rest of Europe during the High Gothic (c. 1190–c. 1230) period. Regional studies provide an important balance to such a Franco-centric understanding of Gothic, although only recently has regional Gothic shaken off the image of provincialism and has awareness been raised that current borders do not necessarily reflect Gothic reality; see Regional Architecture. Moreover, the later periods of Gothic—for example, in France, Rayonnant (c. 1230–c. 1380) and Flamboyant (c. 1380–c. 1500); and in England, Decorated (c. 1290–c. 1350) and Perpendicular (c. 1330–c. 1500)—are still being discovered by scholars. Most surveys on Gothic art cover only the period up to c. 1300 for architecture, or up to c. 1400 for painting, after which time the spotlight is usually moved onto the Italian Renaissance, especially as the universalizing term “International Style” for the period of c. 1400 is now being rejected as too sweeping. Indeed, for northern Europe, the later chronological limit we give to Gothic art is currently fluctuating. Increasingly, the term “Northern Renaissance” is applied to late Medieval art, after 1400, and a consensus about terminology is not in sight. This select bibliography follows the general emphasis of scholarship and publications by concentrating on the earlier periods but hopes to provide sufficient indications for those readers seeking to work on later aspects of Gothic art. Books on single buildings and objects are usually not included. Moreover, although recently scholars have been calling for a more integrated approach to the study of ecclesiastical and secular architecture, literature has often treated the secular architecture of this period as a separate field of enquiry. So in this short bibliography it has not been included as a category of Gothic art.

Article.  16732 words. 

Subjects: Medieval and Renaissance History (500 to 1500) ; Literary Studies (Early and Medieval) ; Medieval and Renaissance Philosophy ; Byzantine and Medieval Art (500 CE to 1400) ; Anglo-Saxon and Medieval Archaeology

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