Gothic Art and Architecture

Topic 4: Gothic Art and Architecture

  • The cities and royal courts of northwestern Europe continued to increase in wealth and cultural sophistication. The period from the twelfth into the fourteenth century, sometimes known as the High Middle Ages or even the Twelfth Century Renaissance, saw the culmination of this process. The artistic expression of this cultural moment is known as the Gothic style.

  • This was the age in which the great European cathedrals were built. The distinctive feature of Gothic architecture was the use of the pointed arch (often simply known as a "gothic arch") in place of the rounded arch inherited from the Classical world. The pointed arch, probably borrowed from Islamic architecture, relieves some of the pressure exerted on the supporting columns, allowing them to be made lighter and more decorative. The pointed arch also encouraged the development of an aesthetic focused on soaring verticals.

  • Equally important were the development of new systems of roof vaulting and of the flying buttress, which provided external support for thinner, lighter walls. These innovations allowed for the creation of more expansive interiors, and portions of the wall could be replaced by stained-glass windows which filled the same decorative and story-telling functions as sculpture and wall painting, as well as filling the interiors with light and color. The stone walls themselves were often painted and gilded as well.

  • The decorative motifs and brilliant color schemes found in the cathedrals were recreated in paint and gold leaf on the pages of illuminated manuscripts, though this was an art form generally enjoyed only by wealthy and literate elites. A manuscript from fourteenth-century Barcelona, the Golden Haggadah (a version of the Jewish prayer book used during Passover) demonstrates the international and interfaith appeal of the Gothic style.

  • A particularly refined and elegant form of the Gothic style, known as International Gothic, emerged in northern France and the adjoining city-states and principalities of the Low Countries and Central Europe. So-called for its long-lasting appeal across national boundaries, the International Gothic style influenced the courtly art of northern Europe until it was eclipsed by the Renaissance style spreading northward from Italy.

Related Links:
Early Christian, Byzantine, Islamic, Romanesque, and Gothic Quiz
Italian Renaissance and Northern Renaissance Quiz
The Renaissance
AP Art History Quizzes
AP Art History Notes