Laon, Cathédrale Notre-Dame
Despite its intact appearance, the sculpture at Laon has been heavily restored, which led Paul Williamson, in his book on Gothic sculpture, to remark that "the portals at Laon tell us almost as much about the stylistic tendencies of the nineteenth-century restorer as the late twelfth-century workshop." This is especially true in the case of the column figures. Only two column figures remain that can be securely tied to the western frontispiece. These remnants, now in the municipal museum in Laon, were found in the tribunes of the cathedral. A corbel fragment also survives, which depicts a crouching figure in a tunic this element was likely attached to another column figure on the western frontispiece. Based on these fragmentary remains, it seems that these column figures represented Old Testament prophets, which fits with the iconography of the tympana and lintels, and corresponds with contemporary sculptural programs elsewhere that featured prefigurations of Christ and prophets (cf. Chartres transept). Iliana Kasarska has proposed that the extant prophets were originally installed on the right embrasure of the center portal, although this remains conjectural.
The central portal depicts the Coronation of the Virgin, a motif first seen at Senlis in the 1160s, which was subsequently repeated elsewhere and remained common well into the thirteenth century and beyond. In the tympanum, we see the Coronation with flanking angels holding lamps and censers. Although the current pairing of the Dormition and Assumption of the Virgin on the lintel makes sense iconographically in the scheme of a Coronation portal, its former aspect was known, at least to some degree, by the nineteenth-century restorers, but there is no extant documentation that relates to the original program.
In the voussoirs that comprise the first archivolt, a series of angels turn toward the drama enacted in the tympanum. The next two archivolts are filled with a Tree of Jesse, its mandorla-like stems wrapping around the figures. Kasarska makes the astute observation, supported by other scholars, that virga (i.e. scion, from Isaiah 11) and virgo (virgin) were conflated in the Middle Ages, and thus the two were linked based on this misinterpretation. This most likely gave rise to -- or at least bolstered -- the sculptural trope that envisaged the Tree of Jesse as expressing the genealogy of the Virgin.
The column figures in the embrasures of the central portal are the product of the nineteenth-century restoration. The figure of Isaiah, for example, dates to 1846 and was based on the depiction of Isaiah in the central portal of the north arm of the transept at Chartres. Some fragments of column figures remain in the municipal museum in Laon however, the provenance of these statues has been contested. In any event, a drawing from the latter part of the eighteenth century by Tavernier de Jonquières does attest to the presence of column-figures at Laon. Similarly fanciful is the modern trumeau figure. Kasarska has posited that the figure in the trumeau at Laon was, in fact, a Virgin, in line with the theme of the rest of the portal however, no traces of this figure remain.
The north portal seems bound to the theme Incarnation. In the tympanum sit the enthroned Virgin and Child, with the Magi, an attending angel, and a seated figure, probably intended to represent Joseph, flanking the central figures. This is a kind of hybrid, merging a sedes sapientiae with an Adoration scene. A cast made before the restoration of this portal help guide our understanding of its original appearance. From left to right, the scenes depicted in the lintel are the Annunciation, the Nativity, and the Annunciation to the Shepherds. The innermost archivolt features angels, which are symmetrically rendered to either side of the tympanum (lowest voussoirs: censing middle: bearing lamps highest: crowns). A dove appears in the keystone of this archivolt. In the second archivolt, we see the Virtues and Vices (remarkably, the Virtues are seen fighting personifications, not demons). The third and fourth archivolts seem to provide prefigurations of Mary's virginity via Biblical narratives, although the specific scenes are somewhat opaque.
The Adoration of the Magi grouping solidifies the importance of the Virgin as Queen of Heaven (she receives gifts with the Christ child, whereas Joseph is relegated to the corner in this scene). The Annunciation follows numerous Romanesque prototypes. The Nativity relates to the south portal of the western frontispiece of Notre-Dame of Paris. The representation of the Magi fell out of use for the most part in the latter half of the twelfth century, so its appearance here is a "retour en arrière." At Laon, the Visitation is not depicted, separating this program from those at La-Charité-sur-Loire and Chartres, to which this portal at Laon is otherwise closely related. Virtues and Vices in the voussoirs anticipate Notre-Dame of Paris.
The theme of the south portal is the Last Judgment. The tympanum features Christ flanked by apostles, who carry keys, books, and keep their hands clasped in prayer, and angels, who hold Instruments of the Passion. The heads of these figures and the arms of Christ are part of the nineteenth-century restoration, but Sauerländer singled out the remainder of the tympanum for its early date, placing it as early as 1160 based on stylistic evidence. Resurrected bodies can be seen emerging from tombs to either side of Christ's feet. In the lintel below, Saint Michael oversees the separation of the elect from the damned. The inner two archivolts, which, like the tympanum, may date to the middle of the twelfth century, depict apostles, angels with trumpets, angels bearing souls, and Abraham with blessed souls in his bosom. The outer archivolts, which date to the same period as the majority of the western frontispiece (i.e. 1195-1205). These voussoirs feature martyrs, unidentified enthroned figures with nimbuses, angels, Wise and Foolish Virgins, and musicians.
The south portal is linked iconographically to the Last Judgment portal at Saint-Denis. The presence of martyrs in the archivolts from the end of the twelfth century are iconographic pioneers: until this point, martyrs were not part of Last Judgment ensembles (traditionally, this space was reserved for apostles and elders). This arrangement recurs in the cathedrals of Chartres, Paris, and Amiens.
The sculpture of the western frontispiece is not limited to the space of the three portals. The apex of each gable, for instance, is sculpted. In the north gable is a feminine figure wearing a long garment. The original sculpture is in two fragments, one in the depot of the cathedral, and the other in the municipal museum in Laon. The sculpture now in its place on the western frontispiece is a nineteenth-century restoration. The iconography is disputed, but it most likely represents the Virgin surrounded by two angels. The center gable is filled with an enthroned Virgin with flanking angels. The south gable features the archangels Gabriel, Michael, and Raphael. The lateral windows in the upper story, next to the rose window, also feature sculpted bands, with a Creation cycle to the north, and a personifications of philosophy and the liberal arts to the south of the rose. Kasarska interprets the western frontispiece as an ensemble, and thus the gables and upper windows don't necessarily correspond directly to the program below, but instead to the overall themes of the western frontispiece, particularly eschatology and the cult of the Virgin.
Sauerländer takes the cue of the transept portals at Chartres as the terminus ante quem for the portal sculpture on the western frontispiece at Laon, suggesting a date between 1190 and 1204 Williamson places the sculpture ca. 1195-1205. Portions of the tympanum and the two innermost archivolts of the south portal may date to the third quarter of the twelfth century.
Sauerländer has expressed the role of Laon as a touchstone for the ymagiers at Chartres and Reims. He has also pointed to manuscript and metalwork prototypes for the sculptural program at Laon (in particular, he has singled out the Ingeborg Psalter, now in the Musée Condé in Chantilly), although this type of appropriation is difficult to prove and tends to confirm that in this period there were similar modes of rendering figures across media.
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Christe, Y., "Aux origines de l'Hexaéméron des bibles moralisées: le cycle de Création de la cathédrale de Laon," Cahiers Archéologiques, vol. 40, 1992, pp 91-98
----, "La sculpture de la façade de la cathédrale de Laon," Bulletin monumental, vol. 168:1, 2010, pp 116-117
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----, Laon Cathedral. Architecture: The Aesthetics of Space, Plan and Structure, London, 1987
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Congrès Archéologique de France Volume 148(2) 1990 is devoted to the Aisne Méridionale.
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Florival, A. de, Les vitraux de la cathédrale de Laon, Paris, 1882-1891
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---. La sculpture de la façade de la cathédrale de Laon: eschatologie et humanisme. Paris: Picard, 2008.
----, "Sculpture médiévale," Bulletin monumental, vol. 158:2, 200, pp 167-168
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Laon, ville d'art et d'histoire: introduction de Guy Duféy du Taya gravures sur bois de Raymond Enard, France, 1937
Lemaitre, E., Laon-guide. Histoire-monuments-environs, Laon, 1896
Lequeux, J. F. M., Antiquités religieuses du diocèse de Soissons et de Laon, Paris, 1859
Lapeyre, André. Des façades occidentales de Saint-Denis et de Chartres aux portails de Laon études sur la sculpture monumentale dans l'Ile-de-France et les régions voisines au XIIe siècle. Paris: Univ. de Paris, 1960.
Marion, J., Essai historique et archéologique sur l'église cathédrale de Notre-Dame de Laon, Paris, 1843
Martinet, S., La cathédrale de Laon, Paris, ?
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Mourgues, M.-P. F., "Un groupe de sarcophages et de dalles funéraires à décor serpentiforme du Haut Moyen Âge dans le department de l'Aisne." Cahiers Archéologiques, vol. 44, 1996, pp 19-32
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Plouvier, Martine, La cathédrale Notre-Dame de Laon: Aisne, Inventaire général des monuments et des richesses artistiques de la France, Comission régionale Picardie, ed., Amiens : AGIR-Pic, 1997, Itinéraires du patrimoine 140.
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Saint-Denis, A., Laon, la cathédrale, Paris, 2002
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First stop: the Lausanne cathedral
After a good night&rsquos sleep, the city greets us just outside our hotel's breakfast room. The Swiss Wine Hotel by Fassbind offers a stunning view of the cathedral, the Bessières bridge and the old town. A café au lait and a croissant later, we head out for a walking tour of the city.
Hilary, our tour guide, is a British expat who has been living in Lausanne with her husband for decades. She knows the city like the back of her hand. We walk across the bridge from our hotel and up to the cathedral, which dominates the city's skyline.
Like many Swiss cities, Lausanne is a palimpsest for early modern history. Originally ruled by a succession of catholic bishops, Lausanne was invaded and essentially colonized by the protestant Bernese in the 15th century.
The old town has a number of municipal buildings built by the Bernese during this period, and all of them are constructed in their characteristic style, contrasting with the rest of the city&rsquos French influence. But it is the stunning cathedral that bears the most noticeable scars from this occupation.
As happened in many European cities, iconoclasm, the destroying of religious images, resulted in the removal a a great deal of the cathedral&rsquos statues and engravings. What survived, thankfully, were the stained glass windows and one entire portico which had been boarded up when the Bernese invaded, and thus preserved as a time capsule.
During our visit to the cathedral, which is also an important site for pilgrims (and Instagramers), we watch an excited teacher passionately telling her group of kindergarteners about the preserved statues, which still have the remnants of their original colorful paint.
But the cathedral's interior party piece is an absolutely spectacular pipe organ, one of the most unique instruments in the world. It weighs over 40 tons and has 7000 pipes installed throughout the structure of the building.
The organ was designed to look like an angel floating on a cloud, and is truly a breathtaking piece of artful engineering. The cathedral puts on public concerts, and people travel from far and wide to hear and see it.
Germanic Gothic ArtUpper left: The cathedral of Wimpfen im Tal, a painting by Michael Neher (1846). Upper right: St. Elizabeth’s Church in Marburg (Germany) was built by the Order of the Teutonic Knights in honor of St. Elizabeth of Hungary, it was consecrated in 1283. Bottom left: The Freiburg Minster or the cathedral of Freiburg im Breisgau in southwest Germany, begun ca. 1200. Bottom right: The Cathedral of Trier (Trier, Germany), is the oldest cathedral in the country, the first building dates back to ca. 270, it was completed in 1270.
In the last years of the Germanic Romanesque art some Gothic forms begun to be insinuated. The first Germanic monument with ogival forms is the church of the abbey of Wimpfen of Tal, built between 1261 and 1278. Later, several Gothic churches of purely French style were built in German territories, such as that of St. Elizabeth of Marburg, the cathedral of Trier, and many others.
Built in French-style is the cathedral of Freiburg, with three naves and a magnificent tower on the facade above the central nave. It was begun in the year 1253 according to the plans of John of Gmünden. On the outside, the very beautiful apse with ambulatory and chapels has the pinnacles topped with fine points and light buttresses.
In these Gothic churches there is nothing left of the traditional layout of the German Romanesque cathedrals, which we have discussed in an earlier chapter, with two opposite apses, double crossing and lateral entrances. The French Gothic triumphed in Germany, not only imposing constructive and decorative forms, but in the general layout of the buildings: three naves preceded by a facade, with doors, crossing and apse, this last sometimes with ambulatory and chapels.
Different views of the Cologne Cathedral in Cologne, Germany. It is considered the tallest twin-spired church at 159 m (515 ft) tall. It begun in 1248 and was completed, following the original plan, in 1880. This cathedral is the largest Gothic church in Northern Europe. Its choir also has the largest height to width ratio, 3.6:1, of any medieval church.
The most perfect work of Gothic architecture in Germany, the cathedral of Cologne, was probably designed by a French architect or at least by someone who had taken part in the works of the Amiens cathedral. This monumental cathedral of Cologne still retains a very pure French style. In Cologne there was an older cathedral, but after a fire in 1248 the temple was again rebuilt in the midst of the Gothic style. The name of the first architect is unknown. At the end of the XIII century appeared the name of master Gerardo, but later with the passing of time the construction works advanced slowly. To give an idea of how slow the construction of the cathedral progressed, the choir, for example, was not consecrated until 1322 afterwards, construction progressed until the XVI century, when it suffered an almost permanent interruption. After the scrolls with the floor plan of the church were discovered, the construction works began again in 1817 and did not end until 1880. The cathedral is huge it is 132 meters long by 74 meters wide at the transept.
The arrangement of the floor plan is very similar to that of the Amiens cathedral, although Cologne has five naves. On the outside the cathedral shows extraordinary wealth: the apse, on which the nave and chapel’s vaults are supported, is a real forest of pinnacles and buttresses, and above the crossing there is a small spear. However, the most admirable feature of this monument are the two towers, two towering spears which, by effect of the Rhine’s foggy climate, appear often hide among clouds on foggy days. Their height is not the same: one rises up to 159 meters, the other is 146 meters.
The Strasbourg Cathedral (Strasbourg, Alsace, France). At 142 mt (466 ft), it is the highest extant structure built entirely in the Middle Ages. It was constructed between 1015-1439.
Another great religious monument of the Rhenish basin confirms the ease with which the French Gothic found reception in Germanic countries. This monument is the cathedral of Strasbourg (today belonging to France), still with a Romanesque apse and to whose extraordinary beauty not only contributes the purity of lines of its main facade but also its abundant sculptural decoration. Its facade is dominated by a beautiful Gothic spear that Erwin de Steinbach put on place in 1439 on the left side. Its sculptures will be discussed later, when enumerating the most important works of this kind of art in the Germanic lands and central Europe from the XIII century until the middle of the XVth.
Top: German Gothic castles. Top left: The château du Haut-Kœnigsbourg (Orschwiller, Alsace, France). Top right: The Albrechtsburg, the former residence of the House of Wettin, in Meissen (Germany) regarded as being the first castle to be used as a royal residence in the German-speaking world built between 1472 and 1525, it is a fine example of late Gothic style. Bottom right: The Holsten Gate (Lübeck, Germany) built in 1464 and represents one of the relics of the city’s medieval fortifications.
Germany is famous for the still standing medieval castles located on the banks of the Rhine. They all have a fortified enclosure criss-crossed by battlements and forming a terrace over the adjacent valley, usually populated by vineyards. In the center of its nucleus is the building destined for the habitation rooms, with the high square tower and the chapel or small church located to one side. In the same Rhenian basin in Alsace (in now French territory) it is also included in these group of castles the huge château du Haut Königsburg castle, which was bought and restored before 1914 by William II – the Kaiser -. German castles are quite numerous in Saxony, as an example is the one that’s considered the most important, the castle of Meissen (the “Albrechtsburg”) which dominates the city of the same name and that, in the XVIII century, was the place where it was first manufactured in Europe authentic porcelain similar to the Chinese.
In addition to such castles, the Military Order of the Teutonic Knights promoted the construction of their own in East Prussia and across the border with Poland and the Baltic countries in order to house their garrisons. The most formidable of them was that of Marienburg, seat of the governing authority of that Order. At first it was a kind of large castle built of rock, with thick walls and surrounded by a moat and with its additional rooms distributed around a large square courtyard with an almost isolated chapel. Later, new rooms and the great hall for the celebration of the Order’s meetings were built as well as a palace in which his Grand Master resided, all these rooms were organized in three additional wings. Almost totally destroyed in the course of World War II, this huge monument of military architecture still preserves, among the ruins of its vast enclosure, the beautiful chapter house erected during the XIV century, with a large central pillar from which the vault’s ribs radiate adorned with tiercerons, a feature so frequent in the Gothic civil architecture of that period.
In the free cities of the Rhine and in Central Germany there was a lively enthusiasm for the municipal community. Consequently, during these Gothic centuries (XIII and XIV) many of the city’s monumental gates were built, such as that of Saint Severino in Cologne and the Holsten Gate in Lübeck. These gates generally served as a passage between two very pointed towers distinguished from afar and covered with colored tiles. Some of the towers have been encompassed within the cities, which have spread to the neighboring suburbs, and today serve as decorative elements of the new squares.
German Gothic City Halls or “Rathaus”. Top left: The Aachen Rathaus in Aachen (Germany), begun in 1330. Top right: The Lübeck Rathaus in Lübeck. Bottom left: The Bremen Rathaus, begun ca. 1400. Bottom right: The Weinstadel a medieval building in Nuremberg, its name derives from its function as a wine estate, which was established around 1571.
Likewise, the popular guilds* built large town halls (“Rathaus”) for their municipalities. The oldest of these in Germany is believed to be the one in Aachen, which has statues of XIII century princes. All the German cities competed for having the richest town hall of the time. The floor plan of a German town hall included rooms for contracting, public meetings and those for the commercial tribunals. Over time, buildings with a greater number of services were needed, and it was also necessary to build rooms for the board members and for administration and offices, which were installed in new areas of the building that were added to its old core. Worthy of mentioning as models of this type of buildings are the town halls of Lübeck and Bremen, the great commercial cities of the Baltic. Around the town hall were the guild houses, with their gold and polychrome signs, adorned with statues of warriors, Virtues, or the Justice, whose polychrome attributes were the pride of the German bourgeois.
Until they were partially destroyed during World War II, some cities such as Nuremberg and Cologne had whole neighborhoods with wooden houses and their old artisan shops, all survivors of the guild-based life of the Gothic centuries. The layout of a bourgeois house in Cologne, Nuremberg, Lübeck, etc., was more or less as follows: on the ground floor was the shop, a chamber or back room, and the workshop which overlooked the courtyard a small staircase led to the first floor, where there was a kitchen and two rooms: one overlooking the street, for the main person of the family, and another to the patio. The other inhabitants of the house, children, servants, apprentices, occupied the highest floors with skylights. The lower part of the houses was generally built in stone, with the shop’s sign worked in iron some houses with empty wall faces were decorated with frescoes representing scenes from the medieval Germanic repertoire: vices and virtues, saints and prophets, or sometimes scenes of chivalric books. When the houses were built in wood, the decoration of the facades was enriched with friezes, arches and small pilasters crowned with pinnacles, and the window and door bays were also surrounded by excessively accumulated ornamental motifs. Some houses had galleries over the street, decorated with corbels and ledges.
Left and top right: The Basel Minster or reformed cathedral (Basel, Switzerland) built between 1019 and 1500 in Romanesque and Gothic styles. Bottom right: The apse of the Bern Minster seen from outside (Bern, Switzerland), this church was begun in 1421.
A cathedral that could be named “Germanic” is that of Basel, although this city today is a canton of Switzerland. It is very similar to that of Strasbourg, with Romanesque parts in the transept and in the lower parts of the apse. The cathedral of Bern, built somewhat later, completely shows the features of the German Gothic, which was already well characterized at the end of the XIV century. The cathedrals of Geneva and Lausanne are French in style, the latter was restored by Viollet-le-Duc and completed with a lead arrow on top of the crossing. Its interior is very beautiful, today is dedicated to the Protestant cult without altars or superimposed ornaments, which allows to admire its interior and the Gothic structure of the building better than any other cathedral of the French Gothic style. On the outside it is perhaps excessively restored, but includes some important details like the small lateral porch, torn by windows divided by little columns.
The cathedral of Geneva still includes Romanesque features, its style is not as uniform as that of the cathedral of Lausanne and it is disfigured in the front facade by a Calvinist design in pseudo-classical style. Inside, the temple remains intact, the Reformation merely stripped off its altars.
The Cathedral of Notre Dame of Lausanne (Lausanne, Switzerland) consecrated in 1275.
Swiss cities, like German municipalities, also owned their town halls, perhaps something simpler, in the style of solid rural palaces, unadorned and with a large roof. The cities also had towers and decorative fountains, similar to those of the Germanic cities and crowned with attributes and personifications of medieval virtues.
Perhaps the most popular of all European castles is that of Chillon, which stands on a small island located at one extreme of Lake Geneva. The ancient nucleus of the building is of pure Gothic style of the XIII century. The rooms, covered with massive groin vaults, are very famous because they inspired Lord Byron’s lamentations.
Three different views of the Chillon castle, located in an island on Lake Geneva (canton of Vaud, Switzerland). This castle was made popular by Lord Byron, who wrote the poem The Prisoner Of Chillon (1816) and also carved his name on a pillar of the dungeon. Top left: aerial view. Top right: one of the castle’s rooms. Bottom: view of the dungeon.
The German Gothic sculpture seems to have been originated in the sculptural school of Saxony that produced in the XIII century the sculptures for the cathedrals of Magdeburg, Bamberg and Naumburg. These sculptures still show certain signs typical of the Germanic Romanesque art. Such artistic style is notorious in the wise and foolish virgins of the northern gate of the cathedral of Magdeburg who have the same elegant representation of garments and attitudes typical of the German Romanesque. The scene with the Dormition of the Virgin located in the tympanum of the same door was carved around 1240, before the figures of the virgins already mentioned.
The two group of sculptures depicting the five wise and the five foolish virgins in the Cathedral of Magdeburg (Germany) from ca. 1250. To the left are three of the foolish virgins and to the right three of the wise virgins. This is considered the most remarkable sculpture in the cathedral. The sculptures show how the five wise virgins were prepared and ready to bring oil to a wedding, whereas the five foolish virgins were unprepared and bring no oil, as a consequence they had to go find oil, were late, and didn’t join the wedding. The unknown artist masterfully expressed the emotions in their faces and body languages, showing a much more realistic expression uncommon in medieval art. All figures are different, and have ethnic Slavic features. The sculptures are located outside of the north entrance to the transept.
The sculptures of the cathedral of Bamberg show a more energetic realism and originality. The master who, before the middle of the XIII century, sculpted the tympanum of the north door shows a style reminiscent of that of the cathedral of Reims but, a little later, in the southern door of the same temple another sculptor expressed himself with a particularly Germanic style when sculpting the statues covered by canopies that ornate such facade. They include, to the left, the figures of St. Stephen, the emperor Heinrich II and his wife Kunigunde, and, to the right, the figures of naked Adam and Eve with Saint Peter, both groups of sculptures with great artistic expressiveness. But within the statuary of this cathedral the most outstanding figure is the equestrian statue that, according to tradition, represents an unidentified king or emperor: this work is of deep realism and has imprinted very clearly a completely Germanic seal which infuses indomitable energy to that young warrior on horseback.
The doors of “Adamspforte” and “Marienpforte” (or “Gnadenpforte”) of the Bamberg cathedral lead into the eastern towers. The group of sculptures to the left includes figures (replicas) of St. Stephen, Kunigunde and her husband Heinrich II. To the right of the portal are St. Peter and Adam and Eve. Left: The Dormition of the Virgin, carving in the tympana of the south transept portal of the Strasbourg cathedral. Right: The Bamberg Horseman, a life-size stone equestrian statue by an anonymous medieval sculptor in the cathedral of Bamberg (Germany). Dating from around 1237, it is located on a console at the north pillar of the St. George choir. It is considered the first monumental equestrian statue since classical antiquity, and also one of the first to depict a horse shoe. Beneath the horse’s front hooves is one of the many sculptural representations of the Green Man.
The statues of Naumburg Cathedral show a similar realistic strength. They date back to the year 1270 and represent feudal leaders with their wives. Those of Margrave Eckart and his wife, the beautiful and elegant Uta, are examples of absolute originality that do not suggest the existence of any nexus or influence linking them with any contemporary French sculpture. In that same cathedral, the sculpture of Saint John that forms part of the Calvary located in the closing wall of the choir, made before 1278, shows in its sad attitude and in the violent folding of his mantle, expressions that will only be found later in works of the German sculpture of the mid-XV century.
The Stifterfiguren (or donor figures) by the artist called Naumburger Meister (Master of Naumburg) are probably the best-known work of art in the Naumburg cathedral and are often referred to as the best-known work of early Gothic sculpture in Germany. These life-sized sculptures are located in the western choir. Two of them represent Uta von Ballenstedt and her husband Markgraf Ekkehard II of Meissen as a couple. This sculpture is particularly famous because of the way Uta holds her coat and her beautiful facial features.
The various sculptors who worked in the cathedral of Strasbourg from 1230 until the end of the XV century reflected in their works all the trends that characterized the Rhenish school of sculpture of those times. Until 1250 the sculptural types of that cathedral of Alsace followed the models of the statues of the French cathedrals of Chartres and Paris, although some purely Germanic characteristics appeared in the sculptures of the tympana of the south portal particularly visible in the carving of garments and in the characters’ movements within the compositions. On that door stand out the elegant figures of the Church and the Synagogue, two female sculptures whose appearance is completely different from that exhibited by the French sculptures of the time. Another style, more vivacious and picturesquely human, dominates in the sculptures from the end of the XIII century until the first third of the following century located on the west facade of the same cathedral, that is, on the main Gothic facade. On both sides of the right door of the triple portal of such facade are the figures of the wise and foolish virgins from the Gospel’s “parable of the Wedding”, with the figure of the seducer who offers, smiling, the tempting apple to the group of the foolish virgins. On the first floor of the towers of that cathedral there is a great variety of elegant sculptures, but it is in the interior, in one of the great pillars of the southern transept, where is found the most singular sculptural work of that temple: the so-called Pillar of the Angels formed by a bundle of columns adorned by statues from its base to its summit. At the base are the figures of the four Evangelists and distributed along the column shaft, four beautiful figures of angels playing the long trumpets of the Last Judgment, while at the top there is a figure of Christ accompanied by other angels holding the instruments of the Passion as a pledge for human redemption.
Some of the sculptures of the southern portal, (also known as the portal of the Last Judgment) of the Strasbourg cathedral include on the left the representation of the Church (left), a woman crowned and holding a standard in the shape of the cross and the chalice. This figure is complementary to the statue located to its right representing the Synagogue (right), with blindfolded eyes and lowering her face, holding a broken spear in sign of defeat, while her arm drops the Tables of the Law. Her eyes are blindfolded because she was supposed to be blind to the truths of the New Law. The southern portal of the Strasbourg cathedral presents the classic theme of the wise virgins (left) holding a lamp and the tables of the Law next to the ideal husband, and the foolish virgins (right) holding the lamps upside down, with the tables of the Law closed and by the side of a man who holds the apple of temptation and with reptiles on his back. On the pedestals of these statues there are on one side the signs of the zodiac, and on the other the main works of the fields. Located in the south arm of the transept of the Strarsbourg cathedral is the pillar of the Angels, built around 1230. It is the central pillar of the hall and carries twelve beautiful sculptures: the first row represents the four evangelists, surmounted by angels playing the trumpet. The upper group includes Christ, seated, surrounded by angels carrying the instruments of the Passion.
The polychrome sculptures that decorate the exterior of the cathedral of Freiburg, from the early XIV century, are picturesque and no less naturalistic, despite their small size and somewhat popular manufacture. In spite of their Germanic spirit, they reminisce French reliefs.
Later on, the German Gothic sculpture was influenced by the innovative Dutch art. In the early years of the XV century, the sculptures produced in the regions adjacent to the Rhine were also influenced by Rhenish mysticism. These influences are notorious in the wavy or angular forms of the garments’ folds and in the delicate tenderness exhibited by certain feminine figures. The Virgin was always represented as a young girl, both in the images of the Pietà (with the sad young mother holding on her knees the deceased body of her Son), as in the Virgin with the Child in her arms. From about 1400, in southern Germany as well as in Austria and Bohemia, these representations acquired a refined beauty that can be seen in the so-called Beautiful Virgins that spread to Poland and the Baltic regions. But it wouldn’t be until about 1430 when in Germanic sculpture appeared somewhat different schools, especially in the southern part of Germany, and particularly in Bavaria (Nuremberg) and Swabia. Initially it was Hans Multscher, an Austrian artist, sculptor and painter born in Allgaü and established in Ulm around 1427, who started the Swabian school. It was he who carved the images of the altar of Wurzach and who carved the sculptures of profane personages in the town hall of Ulm, as well as the beautiful risen Christ or Man of Sorrows of the mullion of the door of the cathedral of this city (1429). His work would continue until the second half of the XV century.
Left: Virgin and Child, made in sandstone in Nuremberg near 1425-1430 (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York). Middle: Marie Magdalene, carved in wood in Brussels ca. 1480 (Musée national du Moyen Âge, Paris). Right: Bust of the Virgin, made in terracotta with paint, from Prague ca. 1390-1395 (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York). Some works by Hans Multscher: to the left polychrome figures on the facade of the Ulm town hall (Rathaus), to the right the Man of sorrows (Copy) in the mullion of the western portal of the Ulm cathedral (minster).
Another exceptionally gifted artist would eventually impose a stamp of delicate idealism on the Germanic sculpture immediately prior to that characteristic of the late Gothic period. Nikolaus Gerhaert was born in Leyden, Holland, although he worked in Germany and Austria. From 1460 is his recumbent effigy of the archbishop of Trier Jacob von Sierck, and from 1467 his Crucified of the old cemetery of Baden-Baden, a work that reveal the influence of the sculptural styles of Flanders and Burgundy. In Strasbourg, Gerhaert left some of his most delicate creations: the female head (perhaps a portrait of Barbara de Ottenheim) preserved in the Frankfurt Museum, as well as the delicate half-body sculpture depicting a sculptor (probably his self-portrait) which used to be inside of the cathedral of Strasbourg but that is now displayed in its museum. Then, Gerhaert moved to Vienna, where he carved the luxurious red marble tomb of Emperor Frederick III located in St. Stephen’s Cathedral.
Some of Nikolaus Gerhaert works. Top left: the tomb of Archbishop Jakob von Sierck, ca. 1462 (Museum Dom Trier). Bottom left: Reliquary Bust of Saint Barbara, ca. 1465, carved in walnut with paint and gilding (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York). Right: Self portrait (?), ca. 1463 (Musée de l’Oeuvre Notre-Dame, Strasbourg).
Thanks to this sculptor and other talented wood carvers, such as Jörg Syrlin author of the carvings that ornate the choir of the cathedral of Ulm, the maturity of the Germanic sculpture was finally established. Such artistic maturity would be later observed in numerous images and altars made by the great sculptors of the last years of the XV century and the first decades of the XVI century in the glimpses of the German Renaissance.
Top: The tomb of Frederick III, Holy Roman Emperor, built by Nikolaus Gerhaert (St. Stephen’s Cathedral, Vienna), considered one of the most important works of sculptural art of the late Middle Ages. Bottom: “Secundus and Quintilius” some of the numerous carvings of the choir stalls of the Ulm Minster. These XVth century choir stalls by Jörg Syrlin the Elder, made from oak and including hundreds of carved busts, represent the most famous pews of the Gothic period.
Architectural historian/restorer major theorist of the Gothic in 19th-century France responsible for the "over-restoration" of many Gothic churches in France. Viollet-le-Duc's father was Sous-Contrôleur des Services for the Tuileries, a civil servant position, book collector and arts enthusiast. His mother (d. 1832) conducted Friday salons from the family's home where writers such as Stendahl and Prosper Mérimée (1803-1870)--later commissioner of historic monuments, attended. His bachelor uncle, the painter/scholar E. J. Delécluze, lived upstairs and was put in charge of Viollet-le-Duc's education. He attended Fontenay, a school known for its anti-clerical republicanism. He participated in the 1830 revolution. Intent on an architectural career and politically liberal, Viollet-le-Duc decided against study at the conservative École des Beaux-Arts in favor of direct experience in the architect's office of Jean-Jacques-Marie Huvé (1783-1852), and Achille-François-René Leclère (1785-1853). Between 1831 and 1836 he visited the regions of Provence, Normandy, the châteaux of the Loire, as well as the Pyrenees and Languedoc. He married his wife, Elisabeth, in 1834 and secured a professorship of Composition and Ornament at a small independent school, the École de Dessin in Paris. In 1836 he traveled to Italy where he toured Rome, Sicily, Naples and Venice. He returned to Paris in 1837 and studying at the École. Viollet-le-Duc was appointed auditor to the Conseil des Bâtiments Civils in 1838, under his former teacher, Leclère. The Council controlled all buildings belonging to the State, both their construction and renovation. In 1840 Mérimée, as Inspecteur Général des Monuments Historiques, the commission responsible for assigning restoration projects, nominated Viollet-le-Duc for the restoration of the church of the Madeleine, Vézelay. Viollet-le-Duc replaced the later 13th-century pointed vaults with 12th-century semicircular groin vaults in order to give a sense of unity to the nave, but changing the character of the building. He continued to work on other restorations of churches, many of which had been damaged in the French Revolution and needed sculptural replacement to return them to their didactic ambiance. In Sainte-Chapelle and in 1844 Notre-Dame de Paris, a commission with his colleague, Jean-Baptiste Lassus, Viollet-le-Duc substituted new sculpture for the old, often moving the old to museums. Notre-Dame marked the first of Viollet-le-Duc extemist interventions in churches, altering building to fit his romantic vision the middle ages. Notre-Dame's famous gargoyles (grotesques), for example, are wholely his inventions. Even in his careful reconstructions, such as recutting sculptural molding (Rheims), 19th-century qualities of these works are apparent. The "restoration" of these buildings solidified Viollet-le-Duc's stature. He began to publish his theories of the Gothic in Annales archéologiques in 1845. In 1846 he worked on Saint-Denis abbey, Avignon between 1860-68, the cathedrals of Amiens (1849-1875), and Rheims (1861-1873) the churches at Poissy (1852-1865) and Sens. In 1854 he published his influential Dictionnaire raisonné de l'architecture. A second important work appeared four years later. His Entretiens sur l'architecture and Dictionnaire du mobilier of 1858 contained discussion on goldsmiths' work, musical instruments, jewellery and armor in addition to furniture. His own sketches accompanied the text. Although generally hailed in his own time for these restorations, Viollet-le-Duc had his detractors, including the sculptor Auguste Rodin. Viollet-le-Duc assisted on many commissions of the July Monarchy government (1830-1848), and the 1852 imperial court of Napoleon III, introduced by Mérimée. He maintained a personal architectural practice designing houses, churches and chateaux. Student revolts to his teaching of art history and esthetics at the École des Beaux-Arts resulted in his replacement by Hippolyte Taine in 1864. After his death, his likeness was placed as one of the twelve apostles on the bronze roof sculptures at Notre-Dame. John Newenham Summerson called Viollet-le-Duc one of two "supremely eminent theorists in the history of European architecture" along with Leon Battista Alerti. Compared to his contemporaries, Viollet-le-Duc stridently opposed the eclecticism so many historians imagined as Gothic style. In practice, his efforts may appear less than his theory, however. His restoration of the cathedral at Clermont-Ferrand, for example, used the design of rose-window, south transept, of Chartres Cathedral for Clermont-Ferrand's west window, nave aisles configuration of Amiens Cathedral, and Last Judgment tympanum from St. Urbain, Troyes. Yet he was an outspoken critic of eclecticism, particularly in later years when his interests turned to building new village churches. He devoted a great amount of time to plans for rental housing, the gardener's house for the Maison Sabatier and his own villa La Vedette at Lausanne (destroyed). As an architectural historian, Dictionnaire raisonné de l'architecture française made a substantial contribution to contemporary knowledge of medieval buildings.
It’s Home To Several Stunning Museums
Lausanne has always been closely connected to sports and the Olympic Games, so it’s no wonder that the city’s Olympic Museum is one of its top attractions.
The museum is located in Ouchy and faces Lake Geneva. Broad steps leading to several terraces bring you up to it. You’ll walk past gardens and bronze statues of Olympians from the time the Modern Olympics began back in 1896 in Athens.
The interactive museum documents the history of the games from antiquity to our times. There is also a nice cafe that serves very good coffee and cakes, as well as a gift shop.
A unique museum of a very different kind is the Collection de l’Art Brut. Housed in a magnificent mansion, the Chateau de Beaulieu, the museum features a permanent collection of works of art by outsiders — self-taught artists, marginalized people like prisoners, and even the mentally ill. It came into being thanks to a donation by artist and collector Jean Dubuffet, and there are temporary exhibitions, too.
Connected to the home and the work of writer C. F. Ramuz is the rather cozy Pully Museum.
A Visit to the Ancient Cathedral of Lausanne
Lausanne is a small city in Switzerland that sits on the northern shore of Lake Geneva. It’s an old city with a long history, but it feels lively and modern. We were just passing through on our way to Montreux, but we decided to stop and explore a little.
While researching our trip to Europe, I read that Lausanne’s historic district had a great view of the city. We wanted to get some good pictures, so we followed the street signs pointing to La Cité.
The historic district sits on a hill above the rest of the town. Cars are not allowed in the historic district, so we parked at the bottom of the hill and found some steps leading up to the top.
The historic district is much older than the rest of Lausanne. It’s also more quiet and peaceful. The cobblestone streets lead you past homes and shops built in the 1600’s. A few of the houses had Swiss flags hanging from the windows. Once we reached the top of the hill, the first thing that caught our attention was the Cathedral of Lausanne.
We walked around the west side of the cathedral and found a massive wooden door propped open, so we decided to go in.
Once inside, you can walk around and explore pretty much anywhere you want to. The cathedral has beautiful stained glass windows, marble statues, and lots other interesting artifacts from the medieval period.
Like a lot of other European cathedrals, the Cathedral of Lausanne took decades to build. Construction started in the year 1170, but it wasn’t finished until 1275.
When you’re standing in the main hall, look back towards the entrance and you’ll see the church’s massive custom built pipe organ. It took 150,00 hours to build and cost 6 million Swiss Francs.
After looking around the inside of the cathedral, we went to the bookstore and discovered we could climb the bell tower. Still searching for that perfect view, we happily paid the entrance fee (5 Swiss Francs) and made our way up the tower’s staircase.
The path leading to the top wasn’t marked clearly, but after some exploring we found the right way to go. After a short climb, you get to the first level of the bell tower. There’s a walkway that goes all the way around it, so you can see the view from every direction.
Continue up the stairs and you’ll reach the top level, which has one of the best viewpoints in Lausanne. The cathedral and town of Lausanne sit in the foreground, while Lake Geneva and the Swiss Alps provide a scenic background.
Hang around the cathedral between 10:00 pm and 2:00 am and you’ll get to hear the tower lookout shout out the time every hour. Since the year 1405, someone has been stationed at the top of the tower to watch for fires and let residents know what time it is.
The Cathedral of Lausanne has a lot of unique and interesting things to see and it’s definitely something you should explore yourself. The cathedral is open from 9:00 am to 7:00 pm from April to September and from 9:00 am to 5:30 pm from October to March. Free guided tours run from July to September.
Lausanne, Cathédrale Notre-Dame
The porch attached to the south flank of the nave at Lausanne cathedral illustrates the panoramic potential of this type of architectural space, and a recent restoration has revived a portion of the polychromy, which has reanimated the players in the dramas enacted in this cubic zone. In light of the panoramic quality of this space, let us begin our examination of the sculpture facing the doorway and proceeding in a clockwise fashion from there.
Above the doorway is a tympanum with a depiction of Christ in a sharply pointed mandorla, which appears to be supported by two angels. Standing on a shallow pedestal to the right of Christ is a female figure, presumably the Virgin, whose hands are clasped in a gesture of prayer. On the opposite side of the tympanum, an angel presents a crown to Christ, which the latter takes between his fingers. Two standing angels holding censers frame this scene.
The lintel consists of two panels: on the left is the Dormition of the Virgin on the right is the Assumption of the Virgin. An entourage surrounds the Virgin in both panels. These scenes appear as pendant pieces, mirroring one another compositionally. Differences emerge in the details, however. In the Assumption panel, angels with brightly colored wings, shown rousing the Virgin, substitute for the earthly figures of the Dormition.
In the tympanum is the Coronation of the Virgin, but here this theme is taken up differently than it is elsewhere. The Virgin does not appear already crowned (as at Senlis, Mantes, Laon, Braine, Chartres, and Amiens), nor is she crowned by a descending angel (as at Notre-Dame of Paris, Longpont), nor is Christ shown placing the crown on her head (as at Strasbourg and Dijon). Instead, at Lausanne the Virgin stands off to the side, awaiting her Coronation, as an angel offers the crown to Christ. This is the prelude to the Coronation, and this composition is unique among extant depictions of this theme. In his description of the sculpture at Lausanne, Claude Lapaire envisioned the ymagier* of this tympanum at Lausanne as a *metteur-en-scène, who heightened the drama of the Coronation by freezing in time a moment of exchange that led up to the climactic moment. This sense of freedom with the iconography in the tympanum contrasts sharply with the Dormition and Assumption in the lintel below, which have numerous iconographic cognates in sculpture elsewhere. Lapaire believed this porch owed a great deal to the trail blazed by the Coronation portal at Chartres, and yet the former takes liberties with the theme. The iconography of the column figures (the prophets, for example) and the tympanum are unique among extant sculptural programs.
The bottom edge of the lintel bisects the nimbus of the round-faced angel in the trumeau. Scholars have identified this figure as Michael the Archangel and suggested that he originally held the characteristic scales for weighing souls.
Triads of column figures from the Old and New Testaments adorn the embrasures and piers of the porch. In the right jamb, from left to right, are Saint Peter, with a key in each hand Saint Paul, with a closed book in his left hand and John the Evangelist. Continuing our panoramic sweep clockwise, in the pier mirroring the right jamb, left to right, are the remaining three Evangelists: Matthew, with an open book inscribed "Liber generationis Jesu Christi" Luke, with a beard in loose snail curls and Mark, shown unfurling a scroll. Continuing clockwise on to the next pier we find, left to right, a triad of prophets: Isaiah, holding a disc with seven doves David, who is crowned and carrying an open book and Jeremiah, with a flaming cauldron. Finally, returning to the doorway, in the left jamb we find Moses with the tablets of the Law John the Baptist holding a disc emblazoned with the Agnus Dei and Simeon with an infant tugging at his beard. These columns are further enlivened with hybrid creatures and vegetal motifs that appear at the feet of these twelve figures.
The archivolt comprises two arches whose voussoirs feature a variety of figures seated on trilobed bases. The archivolts of the surrounding three bays of the porch also feature similar figures, some holding scrolls, some bearded, some crowned, and others nimbed. Claude Lapaire identified these as Elders of the Apocalypse. Although this is a reasonable interpretation (many of them sport beards some are crowned and several are depicted with musical instruments), we cannot rule out alternatives.
The style of this portal corresponds to the north arm of the transept at Chartres, and it also shares some stylistic markers with Strasbourg and Besançon. As Paul Williamson has pointed out, the handling of the polychromy mirrors contemporary ivory painting, where polychromy was used selectively. On stylistic grounds and based on knowledge of the building campaign to which it belonged, this sculptural ensemble can be dated to the 1220s.
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Winterfeld, D. von, "Die Baukunst im Römischen Reich zur Zeit des Neubaus der Kathedrale von Lausanne," Die Kathedrale von Lausanne und ihr Marienportal im Kontext der europaïschen Gotik, Ed. Peter Kurmann and Martin Rohde, Berlin, 2004, pp 139-159
Wolf, C., "Lausanne VD-Cathédrale, place Nord, Grabungen 1991: Neue Erkenntnisse zur vor- und Frühgeschichtlichen Besiedlung de Cité," Jahrbuch der Schweizerischen Gesellschaft für Ur- und Frühgeschichte: Annuaire de la Société Suisse de préhistoire et d'archéologie: Annuario della Società di preistoria e d'archeologia, vol. 78, 1995, pp 145-153
Angelokastro is a Byzantine castle on the island of Corfu. It is located at the top of the highest peak of the island"s shoreline in the northwest coast near Palaiokastritsa and built on particularly precipitous and rocky terrain. It stands 305 m on a steep cliff above the sea and surveys the City of Corfu and the mountains of mainland Greece to the southeast and a wide area of Corfu toward the northeast and northwest.
Angelokastro is one of the most important fortified complexes of Corfu. It was an acropolis which surveyed the region all the way to the southern Adriatic and presented a formidable strategic vantage point to the occupant of the castle.
Angelokastro formed a defensive triangle with the castles of Gardiki and Kassiopi, which covered Corfu"s defences to the south, northwest and northeast.
The castle never fell, despite frequent sieges and attempts at conquering it through the centuries, and played a decisive role in defending the island against pirate incursions and during three sieges of Corfu by the Ottomans, significantly contributing to their defeat.
During invasions it helped shelter the local peasant population. The villagers also fought against the invaders playing an active role in the defence of the castle.
The exact period of the building of the castle is not known, but it has often been attributed to the reigns of Michael I Komnenos and his son Michael II Komnenos. The first documentary evidence for the fortress dates to 1272, when Giordano di San Felice took possession of it for Charles of Anjou, who had seized Corfu from Manfred, King of Sicily in 1267.
From 1387 to the end of the 16th century, Angelokastro was the official capital of Corfu and the seat of the Provveditore Generale del Levante, governor of the Ionian islands and commander of the Venetian fleet, which was stationed in Corfu.
The governor of the castle (the castellan) was normally appointed by the City council of Corfu and was chosen amongst the noblemen of the island.
Angelokastro is considered one of the most imposing architectural remains in the Ionian Islands.
Gothic Architectural Style (c.1120-1500)
For more about the general evolution of architectural design,
see: History of Architecture (3,000 BCE - present).
For a brief overview of artistic activity during the Middle Ages,
please see: Medieval Art (c.450-1450).
Choir and altar of Cologne Cathedral.
Note the soaring verticality of the
Rayonnant Gothic style.
For a guide, see:
The term "Gothic", applied to the style of the late Middle Ages, was first used by Giorgio Vasari (1511-74), half in jest and half disdainfully, since the Italians considered the Goths had destroyed the beauty of Classical Antiquity. In this word was expressed all the aversion which the Renaissance in general, and Renaissance architecture in particular, felt for Medieval artists, as well as the inability of the southern sense of form to understand and sympathize with the northern achievement. For Gothic architecture was a development of northern Romanesque architecture, and there is no sharp dividing line between them. To call Romanesque the style of round arches, and Gothic that of pointed arches, is superficial.
To understand the nature of Gothic art we must remember the gradual stratification of medieval culture. It began in the cloister, and Latin became the language of the educated classes in the West. For a long while the clergy hesitated to defile their parchment with the speech of the common people, although they wrote down the Strasburg oath of Ludwig of Germany in 842, and, after 1000, the first Italian and Spanish clauses appear in title-deeds.
Romanesque art had represented unity in multiplicity, but it could impose this unity on a heterogeneous culture only while it was supported by the two powers which were intimately related to it namely, the secular power of the Empire, with its spiritual consecration, and the spiritual Papacy, always striving for secular power. In time, the Church became increasingly divided between the monastic orders and the clergy, who had very different aims, while the secular power came into violent conflict with its vassals. While their faith, with its conception of a future life, urged men to fear God and flee the world, in practise they often behaved with the most savage cruelty and unbridled sensuality. In a later century Dante deplored this divergence, which had long been realized by those who renounced the world to enter the cloister, or took refuge in the dream-world of poetry. Heroes, beautiful women, benevolent saints-these were the noble and consoling figures, human in spite of their fantastic trappings, to whom people looked up in admiration. As the world of monkish imaginings became replaced by one of chivalric fancy, the cult of the Virgin Mary, which was constantly increasing, changed too: the homage of courtiers raised the Mother of God to a new position as an adored mistress she now became Domina, Madonna.
The transformation of form which occurred in Gothic art reflected a change in the whole of Western culture the isolated Romanesque monasteries and castles were succeeded by cities, in which evolved a society different from that which had gone before, but which was still held together by the conception of Christendom. In crowded towns the Gothic cathedrals arose, packed with all types of art and built by secular hands. Chronicles and charters tell of the religious impulse that inspired, both nobles and common people in the time of the Crusades.
The fact that the whole people participated in it, explains the secular temper of Gothic art. A cheerful and human realism took the place of the old hieratically stylized forms. Instead of the antique acanthus-leaf, thistles, oaks and vines appear as decorative motifs this is part of the same naturalistic tendency to be found in medieval literature, which presented the legends of the Virgin, and the miracle and mystery plays, in a robust and realistic idiom.
While the greatest achievements of Romanesque art expressed an absolute subjection to authority, Gothic art, at its height, was the synthesis of late medieval thought, the accommodation between spirit and matter, God and the world. When the men of the Age of Enlightenment declared that the scholastic philosophy was nothing but an attempt to drive the camel of faith through the needle's eye of reason, they forgot that the scholastic philosophy flourished, not after mysticism, but at the same time.
The flat-roofed Greek temple, standing serenely content in this world, and the Gothic cathedral, restlessly aspiring to heaven, express two fundamental attitudes of mind, which had quite differing effects on the fine art of the day.
For more, see: Greek Architecture (c.900-27 BCE) for more about medieval arts and crafts, see: Medieval Christian Art (c.600-1200).
Origins of The Gothic Style
The Gothic style, as a pattern for the whole Western world, first originated in France, and only by starting there can we understand it, trace its development, and follow its changes in other countries. In France, the system of chivalry evolved more rapidly and brilliantly than elsewhere language blossomed in poetry, and scholasticism was taught everywhere, not only in Paris France stood on the summit of Western culture. Christian art was no longer confined to the courts and the old, aristocratic monastic orders, but became the common possession of the lesser nobility and the merchant class, and also of the new Orders of Franciscan and Dominican friars, who mixed with the people.
In this beginning of a new age the new Gothic style was born, though no one realized this at the time. When Abbot Suger of Saint-Denis, in 1140, began the chancel of his Abbey, consecrated on the 11 June, 1144, before a select congregation of secular and spiritual princes, he did not suspect that he was present at the birth of a new style. In a very thorough and detailed account he recorded everything from the quarrying of the stone to the inscriptions on the superb stained-glass windows. Yet there is no reference to the new style. For the men of that age Gothic was the natural expression of their essential selves.
When the Gothic style, after long oblivion, was at last rediscovered, it was some time before its development was thoroughly understood. The statement of Lefevre-Pontalis, at the end of the 19th century, that "Gothic art in its entirety has its origin in the ribbed vault, which, like a grain of corn, contains the germ of a rich harvest", expressed the general opinion of scientific positivism, and was repeated as late as 1922. If this is correct, then a technicality was the origin of a style which was to last for centuries and influence sculpture and painting no less than architecture.
One might go further, and mention the Islamic pointed arch which the Crusaders saw in the East to say nothing of the influence which Arabic literature and the Arabic humanities had in France about this time. That, in the matter of decoration, Gothic art owes much to the East cannot be denied but no one who looks at a Gothic cathedral without prejudice will be able to explain it by the ribbed vault, or by the model of Islamic art, which is not functional, but decorative in its intention.
Gothic Architectural Design
It was not until the psychological studies of the present century that a correct approach to the problem of the origin of Gothic architecture became possible. During the last century an enormous wealth of detail was collected, and now, after further research, we have a definite idea of the order of succession of the individual buildings and can to some extent explain the origin of the Gothic style.
There are many churches of the transitional period with groined vaulting or pointed arches, which remain essentially Romanesque in conception while on the other hand there are Gothic churches which incorporate ancient forms. If we are to draw the dividing line between Romanesque and Gothic, knowledge of the individual parts is less important than an understanding of the architectural conception as a whole.
The Church of Saint-Etienne in Caen, consecrated in 1077, shows, in purely Romanesque terms, an intention that would in itself have been enough to start a new style. The huge west front, built about 1080, rises above an inconsiderable base, and the upward-pointing tendency is unmistakable but only in places does the building break away from the cubic mass and begin to move. More interesting than the cathedral of Angers and the Cistercian church of Pontigny, which in Anjou and Burgundy embody the early Gothic, is the cathedral of Laon, begun about 1165. Its facade shows clearly that the transition to Gothic could be carried out quite independently of the pointed arch. Here the architectural tendency of the 12th century, the period of the French Early Gothic, is expressed with wonderful completeness. No line, no surface, exists any longer for its own sake, as in the Romanesque building. If one imagines the towers of Laon bearing tall octagonal steeples, each storey loses its obvious delimitation, and seems to grow on to the next. By means of connecting links a sense of lively movement is instilled into the fabric, which thrusts itself vigorously upwards, not in a single rush, but with repeated efforts, while the diagonal corner-pieces give oblique views that catch the eye from every point of view.
By the 12th century, in Chartres Cathedral (1194-1250), and in Notre-Dame Cathedral, Paris (1163-1345), the next stage of this logical development was reached. The cathedral of Reims, begun in the year 1212, is even freer and bolder in form. (Note: Reims Cathedral was an important influence on American architecture: see, for instance, St. Patrick's Roman Catholic Cathedral NYC (1858-88) designed by James Renwick, 1818-95.) Finally, all the earlier tendencies were brought together in Amiens cathedral, built in 1218-88, and the purest embodiment of the Gothic style, which gave an example of the 'high Gothic' from which the whole of Western Europe had much to learn.
Such pure forms are of great importance to the modern observer, who only too easily forgets that whole generations worked at the building of the medieval churches, most of which are Romanesque churches restored or enlarged by Gothic builders. Thus, at Amiens, we see four-centred window-openings high up in the left-hand tower, and the great rose-window in the centre bears the characteristic fish-bladder pattern of the flamboyant style, as late Gothic was called in France from the beginning of the fifteenth century. A fine example of the high Gothic form of the rose-window is in the transept of Notre-Dame. The classic age of 'High Gothic' in France coincides approximately with the reign of Louis IX (1226-70). In a very short time the country was covered with new cathedrals, built of shining white sandstone. In the volatilization of architectural masses this art reached the limits of the possible. For example, Sainte Chapelle, Palais de la Cite, Paris (1241-48), begun under Louis IX in 1243, is a church with a single nave superimposed on a church with three aisles in its superstructure the wide quadripartite windows have almost entirely replaced the wall. For more information about Sainte-Chapelle in Paris, see: Rayonnant Gothic Architecture (1200-1350) - compare the west facade of Sainte-Chapelle at Vincennes (1379-1480), which exemplifies Flamboyant Gothic Architecture (1375-1500).
By comparison with the magnificent new churches in Normandy and the centre of France, those in the southern part of the country were rather cold and unimpressive. Only in Burgundy did a small group of churches adopt the Gothic style, and pass it on to Geneva, and to Lausanne, where there is the finest Gothic cathedral in Switzerland.
After the Gothic had reached its height in France, and had come to its logical climax, there was a natural pause. In Normandy, the old lucid, but rather sober spirit of the country made itself felt again less in the construction of the great cathedrals, like that at Rouen, than in the new buildings at Coutance and Bayeux, home of the famous Bayeux Tapestry (c.1075). The Bourges cathedral followed the model of Notre-Dame of Paris it goes back to the year 1179, but was finished, after many delays, only in the fourteenth century. It has five aisles, and the two inner aisles, as in the chancel of Le Mans cathedral, are higher than the outer ones. This tends, of course, to break up the spatial unity of the interior, but it does not fully express the essential spirit of the Gothic system. This system must now be briefly described, so that it may be seen how the Gothic style, evolved in France, was adopted in the rest of Europe.
Features of the Gothic Style
Something of the old Romanesque plan, survives in the plan of a simple Gothic church in the classical cathedral it is elaborated and refined to the last degree. Constructional needs brought about the change. The Romanesque round arch required very massive piers to support the weight of the walls, but even so the thrust of the heavy cross-vaulting constantly threatened to push the walls out of plumb. The attempt to relieve them of their load led inevitably to the pointed arch, which made the lines of pressure more nearly vertical. More important was the possibility, given by the pointed arch, of covering spans of unequal size by arches of the same height. This restored the freedom which was lost in the Romanesque 'engaged' system. Now the tyrannical quadrate of the central nave could be divided into two rectangles, each of which harmonized with a square bay of the transept. The difference between the pillars of the arcades and the pillar of the bays was abolished the rhythm was less insistent, but the orchestration was far richer. The heavy vaulting, which dictated the whole structural system of the Romanesque church, was replaced by light fillings which were spread as panels between the intersecting ribs. The ribs alone, instead of the whole of the heavy vault, carried the load.
In order to prevent the walls from being thrust out of plumb, the Gothic building had strong counter-pillars on its outer walls, from which flying buttresses, like supporting arms, reached over the side aisles. The structure was put on the outside of the building, so that the nave could rise freely upwards. In Romanesque churches the ratio of height to width was 2:1, it now became 3:1 and even more, so that the eye could no longer take it in. The nave had three or five aisles, while the transept usually had three. The side-aisles continued round the polygonal chancel, the elaborate plan of which now offered no difficulty, since the most complicated areas could be covered with vaulting. Pillars take the form of clusters of half- and three-quarter-columns (the so-called vaulting-shafts), so that the cylindrical nucleus almost disappears. The ascending portions of this cluster, which support the longitudinal and transversal ribs, are stronger than the others, while the slighter shafts join the diagonal ribs. From these clustering stems the stone seems to stretch upwards, like a plant, so that one is never conscious of the downward impending load. The capital loses its original significance as a support now, sparingly employed, it becomes an accent in the rhythmic scheme.
To avoid any look of weight on the outside of the Gothic cathedral, small pinnacles are placed on the flying buttresses. Above the quadrilateral body of the pillar rises the pyramidal spire. On the corners of the masonry little crockets creep upwards, joining, at the summit of the spire, in a finial. Sometimes the ornaments are shaped like living beings, as when the gargoyles take the form of animals. The greatest concentration of ornament is on the facade. Above the doors, which repeat the motive of the roofs, rise pointed gables with their hood-mouldings, the triangular space being filled with Gothic tracery of the kind that fills and frames the pointed windows. It was on the 'royal galleries' which in French Gothic often appear above the doors, and especially on their jamb-stones or casings, that the Gothic sculptors lavished their greatest skill.
Gothic Architectural Sculpture
To understand Gothic sculpture we must first consider it in France. At that time the South of France was still rich in Roman sculpture (itself entirely dependent on Greek sculpture), which the sculptors of Saint Trophime, in Arles, Saint-Pierre, in Moissac, and the abbey Church of Saint-Gilles, took as models. The Roman practice of making the porch a decorative feature was far better adapted to the Gothic than to the Romanesque, where the self-contained, cubical fabric was entered only by doors with shallow frames. In Gothic architecture it was for the first time possible to see imagination let loose in a wealth of Biblical art - in the form of relief sculpture - around the portals and doors.
The group of the Visitation at Reims, in which Mary seems to move with the light step of youth, while Elizabeth has the more austere bearing of an elderly woman, shows, precisely because these figures are represented in classical costume, what the North had made of antique art. Here the Gothic ideal of the human figure is clearly revealed. Throughout Europe, in France, as in Germany, a wise moderation had become the standard of aristocratic life. In spite of differences of style and costume, the prophets of the Strasbourg Minster and the Krumau Virgin, with calm nobility, make the same restrained and solemn gestures. The human body, for the Greeks the expression of the soul, had now to surrender to the idiom of raiment. The body, which Francis of Assisi had called Brother Ass, was for the Gothic artists a nonentity. Even as it vanished for the mystic, so for the sculptor it disappeared within the muffling garments but the head still rose from it, the eternal expression of the spirit.
From 1250 in France, and from 1300 in Germany, Gothic-style churches were built almost entirely by secular architects and stonemasons. The old corporations of masons were replaced by permanent guilds. Individual masters of stone sculpture, and their pupils, sometimes distinguished their work by their private marks, but they were all inspired by the same ideal, and Gothic sculpture can be regarded as a homogeneous creation. Though the figures on Notre-Dame, in Paris, suffered during the French Revolution, and in the 19th century were restored by Viollet-le-Duc, we can study the comparatively early and austere style, related to the style of these figures, in the statues around the door of Amiens Cathedral, which were made about 1240. The figure of Christ at the main entrance, 'le beau Dieu d'Amiens', bears a suggestive resemblance to the two thousand figures and reliefs, large and small, of Chartres, in most of which the Romanesque stiffness still survives. But it is in the main facade of Reims cathedral, built at the end of the thirteenth century, that French Gothic sculpture reaches its highest level. Compare: Romanesque Sculpture (1000-1200).
German Gothic Design Style
'High' Gothic, as it evolved in France, was always an alien form in Germany there the greatest monument of Gothic art, Cologne Cathedral (1248-1880), whose foundation stone was laid in the year 1248, came to a standstill after the completion of the chancel. The building dragged on into the sixteenth century, but by 1560 both the will and the means to do any more seemed to be exhausted. Work was begun again in 1862 and by 1880 it was finished. Its ground plan was designed in the Middle Ages on the lines of Amiens and Beauvais. The interior, with the light pouring into it, gives a perfect impression of the classical Gothic cathedral.
In 1208, before Cologne cathedral was begun, the chancel of Magdeburg cathedral had been built after the French pattern, and between 1227 and 1243 the Liebfrauenkirche at Trier was built in the form of a circle intersected by a cross, in contrast to the usual French plan. On the Rhine, at Strasbourg or Freiburg, the western influence was still at its strongest, but this was no longer the case farther east, though even there, as the chronicles often record, churches were built by stonemasons brought from France.
By its brick buildings, a material which demanded a simpler form of ornamentation and a different arrangement of the walls, north Germany enriched the Gothic style. The inexpensive material made it possible to plan large buildings, of which the most brilliant example is the Marienburg, which displays in its great banqueting hall the consummmate skill of the late Gothic.
With these, and with such buildings as the Hallenkirchen, or the church of St George, at Dinkelsbuhl, one comes to a point beyond which new architectural forms were created.
In the house-fronts of German medieval cities, in the course of time, the Gothic assurgency gradually - though not without recurrences - settled down into the tranquil rhythm of the Renaissance, while obstinately adhering to Gothic forms. Things were much the same in the Netherlands, where, towards the end of the Gothic period, in the many wealthy commercial centres, richly ornamented town halls and guild halls were erected: long buildings with oriel-windows and high gables. A tall, strongly-built tower, the belfry, rose defiantly above the roofs of Brussels, Bruges, and other cities. The Gothic style had conquered the whole North in Sweden, in 1287, the cathedral of Upsala had been built by a French architect while in Norway the cathedrals of Stavanger and Trondheim were derived from the English Early Gothic.
NOTE: Gothic forms in Germany endured longest in German Gothic sculpture, notably in the sublime wood-carving of Tilman Riemenschneider (1460-1531), who made the famous Holy Blood Altar (1499-1504, Rothenburg), Veit Stoss (1445-1533), best known for the High Altar of St Mary's Church, Krakow (1484) and Michael Pacher (1435-98), noted for the St Wolfgang Altarpiece (1471-81).
English Gothic Design Style
To England the new style of architecture came, by way of Normandy, earlier than to Germany nevertheless, it was in English Gothic architecture that the new style found its widest sphere of expansion. In their comfortable blending of the ecclesiastical buildings with the dwelling houses of the clergy, in their quiet retirement behind protecting walls and gate houses, the English cathedral closes are a charming picture of the Middle Ages. They are not always set down in the middle of the city, like those on the Continent often the green churchyard surrounds the cathedral and leads sometimes to the open country beyond. Following the old Norman fashion, the body of the cathedral, with its various divisions, is of great length, and in order to receive the processions of pilgrims the choir was often expanded at the eastern extremity.
The complete Gothic system was brought to Canterbury in 1175 by William of Sens, who rebuilt the cathedral. In the Early English style (1175-1250) the pointed arch was victorious, but only where the French influence was commpletely predominant was the English trend toward horizontal lines suppressed. Salisbury cathedral, built and completed in the years 1220-58, must be regarded as the finest example of this style. In Wells cathedral the transept and nave, and the facade, with its unusual wealth of decorative figures, are still Early Gothic, while the choir was not added until the 15th century.
The 'High Gothic' or Decorated style, 1250-1375, appeared almost fifty years later than in France. It is rightly regarded as an English style, for it had not the logical character of French Gothic it gave full scope to decorative details, and was the first style to make extensive use of flowing lines in its tracery, as well as the graceful fan-vaulting which was so favoured, from the beginning of the 14th century, by the English, Renaisssance-like, Late Gothic, or Perpendicular style. The cloister of Gloucester Cathedral is one of the most perfect creations of this kind, in which English art seems to anticipate the course of evolution, and provide a starting-point for the French Flamboyant style, which, apart from the isolated example of the star-vaulting of Amiens, did not appear until 1375. France, the original home of the Gothic style, had something to learn from the innovations of the English.
While Exeter Cathedral, of which the principal parts were built in the same style, is the purest example of the English High Gothic of 1327-69, the nave of Winchester Cathedral rebuilt after 1393, with its magnificent vaulting, the effective articulation of its piers, and the blind galleries in the place of the Gothic triforium, represents the transition to a new style. The four-centred arch, which was introduced in England after 1290, and was still the predominant form in Winchester Cathedral, was flattened a little at the point from about 1450, becoming the 'Tudor arch' of the following period, of which the finest and most artistic examples are to be seen in Westminster Abbey. We shall return to this later.
Where sculpture is concerned, while England was closely connected with France, English Gothic sculpture did not differ very greatly from Continental. The smaller doors of the English cathedrals made it necessary to place the larger decorative features on the facades. At Wells more than six hundred figures escaped the iconoclastic fury of the Puritans, and these give one a fair notion of the English sculpture of the period.
The Gothic style reappeared in England during the era of late 18th century architecture, as part of the "Gothick taste" and the later Gothic Revivalist movement, which dominated much of Victorian architecture (c.1840-1900).
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Medieval Sculpture (c.300-1000) Late Antiquity to Romanesque.
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