Gothic Art


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Sculpture and Stained Glass

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Gothic Art

Beauneveu Andre
Nicola Pisano
Giovanni Pisano
Andrea Pisano
Antelami Benedetto
Arnolfo di Camio
Lorenzo Maitani
Giovanni di Balduccio
Agostino di Giovanni
Tino di Camaino
Jacobello and Pierpaolo dalle Masegne
Lorenzo Chiberti
Jacopo della Quercia

Abbot Suger must have attached considerable importance to the sculptural decoration of St.-Denis, although his story of the rebuilding of the church does not deal at length with that aspect of the enterprise. The three portals of his west facade were far larger and more richly carved than those of Norman Romanesque churches. Unhappily, their condition today is so poor that they do not tell us a great deal about Suger's ideas of the role of sculpture within the total context of the structure he had envisioned.



West portal, Chartres Cathedral, с. 1145-70

We may assume, however, that Suger's ideas had prepared the way for the admirable west portals of Chartres Cathedral
, begun about 1145 under the influence of St.-Denis, but even more ambitious. They probably represent the oldest full-fledged example of Early Gothic sculpture. Comparing them with Romanesque portals, we are impressed first of all with a new sense of order, as if all the figures had suddenly come to attention, conscious of their responsibility to the architectural framework. The dense crowding and the frantic movement of Romanesque sculpture have given way to an emphasis on symmetry and clarity. The figures on the lintels, archivolts, and tympanums are no longer entangled with each other but stand out as separate entities, so that the entire design carries much further than that of previous portals.

Particularly striking in this respect is the novel treatment of the jambs, which are lined with tall figures attached to columns. Similarly elongated figures, we recall, had occurred on the jambs or trumeaux of Romanesque portals, but they had been conceived as reliefs carved into or protruding from the masonry of the doorway. The Chartres jamb figures, in contrast, are essentially statues, each with its own axis. They could, in theory at least, be detached from their supports. Here, then, we witness a development of truly revolutionary importance: the first basic step toward the reconquest of monumental sculpture in the round since the end of classical antiquity. Apparently, this step could be taken only by borrowing the rigid cylindrical shape of the column for the human figure, with the result that these statues seem more abstract than their Romanesque predecessors. Yet they will not retain their immobility and unnatural proportions for long. The very fact that they are round endows them with a more emphatic presence than anything in Romanesque sculpture, and their heads show a gentle, human quality that betokens the fundamentally realistic trend of Gothic sculpture.

Chartres Cathedral. The west facade

Realism is, of course, a relative term whose meaning varies greatly according to circumstances. On the Chartres west portals, it appears to spring from a reaction against the fantastic and demoniacal aspects of Romanesque art. This response may be seen not only in the calm, solemn spirit of the figures and their increased physical bulk (compare the Christ of the center tympanum with that at Vezelay) but in the rational discipline of the symbolic program underlying the entire scheme. While the subtler aspects of this program are accessible only to a mind fully conversant with the theology of the Chartres Cathedral School, its main elements can be readily understood.

The jamb statues form a continuous sequence linking all three portals. Together they represent the prophets, kings, and queens of the Bible. Their purpose is both to acclaim the rulers of France as the spiritual descendants of Old Testament royalty and to stress the harmony of secular and spiritual rule, of priests (or bishops) and kingsideals insistently put forward by Abbot Suger. Christ Himself appears enthroned above the main doorway as Judge and Ruler of the Universe, flanked by the symbols of the four evangelists, with the apostles assembled below and the twenty-four elders of the Apocalypse in the archivolts. The right-hand tympanum shows His incarnation: the Birth, the Presentation in the Temple, and the Infant Christ on the lap of the Virgin, who also stands for the Church. In the archivolts above are the personifications and representatives of the liberal arts as human wisdom paying homage to the divine wisdom of Christ. Finally, in the left-hand tympanum, we see the timeless Heavenly Christ (the Christ of the Ascension) framed by the ever-repeating cycle of the year: the signs of the zodiac and their earthly counterparts, the labors of the 12 months.

Figures from Cathedral of Chartres. Jamb statues of Old Testament queen and two kings

Chartres Cathedral. Jamb statues of Saints Martin, Jerome, and Gregory

Jamb statues, south transept portal, Chartres Cathedral, с. 1215-20



When Chartres Cathedral was rebuilt after the fire of 1195, the so-called Royal Portals of the west facade must have seemed rather small and old-fashioned in relation to the rest of the new edifice. Perhaps for that reason, the two transept facades each received three large and lavishly carved portals preceded by deep porches. The jamb statues of these portals, represent an early phase of High Gothic sculpture. By now, the symbiosis of statue and column has begun to dissolve. The columns are quite literally put in the shade by the greater width of the figures, by the strongly projecting canopies above, and by the elaborately caned bases of the statues.

In the three saints on the right, we still find echoes of the rigid cylindrical shape of Early Gothic jamb statues, but even here the heads are no longer strictly in line with the central axis of the body. St. Theodore, the knight on the left, already stands at ease, in a semblance of classical contrapposto. His feet rest on a horizontal platform, rather than on a sloping shell as before, and the axis of his body, instead of being straight, describes a slight but perceptible S-curve. Even more astonishing is the abundance of precisely observed detail in the weapons, the texture of the tunic and chain mail. Above all, there is the organic structure of the body. Not since Imperial Roman times have we seen a figure as thoroughly alive as this. Yet the most impressive quality of the statue is not its realism. It is, rather, the serene, balanced image which this realism conveys. In this ideal portrait of the Christian Soldier, the spirit of the crusades has been cast into its most elevated form.

The style of the St. Theodore could not have evolved directly from the elongated columnar statues of Chartres' west facade. It incorporates another, equally important tradition: the classicism of the Meuse Valley, which we traced in the previous chapter from Renier of Huy to Nicholas of Verdun. At the end of the twelfth century this trend, hitherto confined to metalwork and miniatures, began to appear in monumental stone sculpture as well, transforming it from Early Gothic to Classic High Gothic. The link with Nicholas of Verdun is striking in the Death of the Virgin, a tympanum at Strasbourg Cathedral contemporary with the Chartres transept portals. Here the draperies, the facial types, and the movements and gestures have a classical flavor that immediately recalls the Klosterneuburg Altar. What marks it as Gothic rather than Romanesque, however, is the deeply felt tenderness pervading the entire scene. We sense a bond of shared emotion among the figures, an ability to communicate by glance and gesture that surpasses even the Klostemeuburg Altar. This quality of pathos, too, has classical roots: we recall that it entered Christian art during the Second Golden Age in Byzantium. But how much warmer and more eloquent it is at Strasbourg than at Daphne!

 Death of the Virgin, tympanum of the south transept portal, Strasbourg Cathedral, с. 1220

Depiction of the adoration of the Magi, sculptures of Jacques de Landshut
on the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Strasbourg, work of architect
Jakob von Landshut; executed during the years 1494-1505.

The climax of Gothic classicism is reached in some of the statues at Reims Cathedral. The most famous among them is the Visitation group. To have a pair of jamb figures enact a narrative scene such as this would have been unthinkable in Early Gothic sculpture. The fact that they can do so now shows how far the sustaining column has receded into the background. Now the S-curve resulting from the pronounced contrapposto is much more conspicuous than in the St. Theodore. It dominates the side view as well as the front view, and the physical bulk of the body is further emphasized by horizontal folds pulled across the abdomen. The relationship of the two women shows the same human warmth and sympathy we found in the Strasbourg tympanum, but their classicism is of a far more monumental kind. They remind us so forcibly of ancient Roman matrons that we wonder if the artist could have been inspired directly by large-scale Roman sculpture. The influence of Nicholas of Verdun alone could hardly have produced such firmly rounded, solid volumes.

The vast scale of the sculptural program for Reims Cathedral made it necessary to call upon the services of masters and workshops from various other building sites, and so we encounter several distinct styles among the Reims sculpture. Two of these styles, both clearly different from the classicism of the Visitation, appear in the Annunciation group. The Virgin exhibits a severe manner, with a rigidly vertical body axis and straight, tubular folds meeting at sharp angles, a style probably invented about 1220 by the sculptors of the west portals of Notre-Dame in Paris; from there it traveled to Reims as well as Amiens. The angel, in contrast, is conspicuously graceful. We note the tiny, round face framed by curly locks, the emphatic smile, the strong S-curve of the slender body, the ample, richly accented drapery. This "elegant style," created around 1240 by Parisian masters working for the royal court, was to spread far and wide during the following decades. It soon became, in fact, the standard formula for High Gothic sculpture. We shall feel its effect for many years to come, not only in France but abroad.

Annunciation and Visitation, west portal, Reims Cathedral, с. 1225-45

A characteristic instance of the elegant style is the fine group of Melchizedek and Abraham, carved shortly after the middle of the century for the interior west wall of Reims Cathedral. Abraham, in the costume of a medieval knight, still recalls the vigorous realism of the St. Theodore at Chartres. Melchizedek, however, shows clearly his descent from the angel of the Reims Annunciation. His hair and beard are even more elaborately curled, the draperies more lavishly ample, so that the body almost disappears among the rich play of folds. The deep recesses and sharply projecting ridges betray a new awareness of effects of light and shadow that seem more pictorial than sculptural. The same may be said of the way the figures are placed in their cavernous niches.

Melchizedek and Abraham, interior west wall, Reims Cathedral. After 1251

A half-century later every trace of classicism has disappeared from Gothic sculpture. The human figure itself now becomes strangely abstract. Thus the famous Virgin of Paris in Notre-Dame Cathedral consists largely of hollows, the projections having been reduced to the point where they are seen as lines rather than volumes. The statue is quite literally disembodiedits swaying stance no longer bears any relationship to the classical contrapposto. Compared to such unearthly grace, the angel of the Reims Annunciation seems solid and tangible indeed. Yet it contains the seed of the very qualities so strikingly expressed in The Virgin of Paris.

When we look back over the century and a half that separates The Virgin of Paris from the Chartres west portals, we cannot help wondering what brought about this retreat from the realism of Early and Classic High Gothic sculptures. Despite the fact that the new style was backed by the royal court and thus had special authority, we find it hard to explain why attenuated elegance and calligraphic, smoothly flowing lines came to dominate Gothic art throughout Northern Europe from about 1250 to 1400. It is clear, nevertheless, that The Virgin of Paris represents neither a return to the Romanesque nor a complete repudiation of the earlier realistic trend.

The Virgin of Paris. Early 14th century. Stone. Notre-Dame, Paris

Gothic realism had never been of the all-embracing, systematic sort. Rather, it had been a "realism of particulars," focused on specific details rather than on the over-all structure of the visible world. Its most characteristic products are not the classically oriented jamb statues and tympanum compositions of the early thirteenth century but small-scale carvings, such as the labors of the Months in quatrefoil frames on the facade of Amiens Cathedral, with their delightful

observation of everyday life. This intimate kind of realism survives even within the abstract formal framework of The Virgin of Paris. We see it in the Infant Christ, who appears here not as the Saviour-in-miniature austerely facing the beholder, but as a thoroughly human child playing with his mother's veil. Our statue thus retains an emotional appeal that links it to the Strasbourg Death of the Virgin and to the Reims Visitation. It is this appeal, not realism or classicism as such, that is the essence of Gothic art.

Signs of the Zodiac and labors of the Months (July, August, September), west facade, Amiens Cathedral, с. 1220-30


Beauneveu Andre

(b Valenciennes, c. 1335; d ?Bourges, 1401–3).

South Netherlandish sculptor, painter and illuminator. He possibly trained with, or in the circle of, Jean Pépin de Huy. He is presumably the ‘Master Andrieu the painter’ mentioned in the accounts of Yolande, Duchesse de Bar, as working intermittently between 1359 and 1362 in the chapel of her castle at Nieppe (destr.). In 1361–2 ‘Master Andrieu the carver’ restored the console of a statue (both destr.) in the aldermen’s hall in Valenciennes. By October 1364 and until June 1366 he is recorded in Paris, working with assistants for King Charles V, who spoke of him as ‘our esteemed Andrieu Biauneveu, our sculptor’. The monarch commissioned from him four tombs for Saint-Denis Abbey, for which he paid 4700 gold francs: tombs for his paternal grandparents Philip VI (reg 1328–50) and Joan of Burgundy (1294–1348); for his father, John II; and for himself (first mentioned on 12 December 1364). Of the actual cenotaphs nothing survives except for fragments of that of Charles V (Paris, Mus. A. Déc., AD 12.260), which, for reasons not made clear in the documents, was designed only in 1376, probably by Jean de Liège (i). Of the three extant recumbent figures—that of Joan of Burgundy was destroyed in 1793 but is recorded in a drawing of Roger de Gaignières (Paris, Bib. N., Cab. Est., Pe 11 c, fol. 91)—only that of Charles V is generally considered to be entirely by Beauneveu. The King, 27 at the time, is movingly portrayed ad vivum (the first French royal recumbent figure so depicted), and his coronation garb is fluidly rendered with a soft play of drapery. The other figures, though more schematic, have individualized features that break away from stereotypes of earlier royal monuments—Philip VI’s corpulence is convincingly rendered—and are attributed, perhaps unjustly, to assistants.

Tomb of Charles V, circa 1364


Madonna and child

Apostle's head