Gallery of Gothic Style

Gothic architecture Characteristics

Gothic Sculptures

Early Gothic Sculpture

As in the Romanesque period, the best Gothic sculptors were employed on architectural decoration. The most important examples of stone sculpture to survive are on portals, as in the church of Saint-Denis whose western portals (constructed 1137-40), combined features that remained common throughout the Gothic period: a carved tympanum; carved figures arranged in the voussoirs, or wedge-shaped pieces, of the arch; and more figurative carvings attached to the sides of the portal. As it survives, Saint-Denis is rather disappointing; the side figures have been lost and the remainder heavily restored.

Trend Toward Greater Realism

The general effect is now better appreciated on the west front of Chartres cathedral, whose portals illustrate the development of the Gothic style. If one compares the portals at Chartres (c.1140-50) with those of 13th-century Reims, one can see that the development of sculpture during this early period of Gothic art is toward increased realism, and away from the rather wooden feel of Romanesque sculpture. As it was, this was achieved not by continuous evolution, but in a series of stylistic impulses. The first of these impulses can be seen in the sculpture on the west front of Chartres. The figures, with their stylized gestures and minutely pleated garments, are barely "real", and their forms are closely aligned with the architectural composition. Similar examples can be seen at Angers, Le Mans, Bourges, and Senlis cathedrals. The second creative impulse derived (1181-1210) from the school of Mosan art, in the metalwork of the goldsmith Nicholas of Verdun (and his older contemporary Godefroid de Claire), marked by graceful, curving figures and soft Greek-like ridged-and-troughed drapery (Muldenstil). A restrained version of this style decorated the main portals of the transepts of Chartres (c.1200-10), and can also be seen in Reims cathedral. A third impulse towards realism in Gothic sculpture, based on 10th century Byzantine prototypes, seems to have originated at Notre-Dame Cathedral Paris (c.1200). Instead of swirling drapery and curved figures, this style is characterized by figures with a square, upright appearance, who are quite restrained in their gestures. A good example of this style is the west front of Amiens cathedral (c.1220-30). A fourth style of realism originated at Reims with a craftsman named after his most famous figure, the Joseph Master. Ignoring both the gestural restraint of Amiens and the drapery of the Muldenstil, he produced (c.1240) figures with characteristics that endured for the next 150 years: namely, dainty poses and faces and thick drapery hanging in long V-shaped folds that envelop the figure. Gothic cathedral sculpture had a wide-ranging influence on Late Gothic painters and illuminators including the great Provencal artist Enguerrand de Charenton (Quarton) (c.1410-1466).

In Germany, the story is quite similar, except that German Gothic sculpture tends to be more emotional - see Strasbourg and Magdeburg cathedrals. A dramatic example of this emotiveness is found in the west choir (c.1250) of Naumburg cathedral. See also German Gothic Art (c.1200-1450).

High Gothic Sculpture

In general, this period saw a decline in architectural sculpture. Due to the focus placed on geometric patterning by Rayonnant Gothic architecture, this is not surprising. A few portals, like those on the west front of Bourges cathedral, were completed, but they have a limited interest. In contrast, the type of sculpture that was expanding with great rapidity was the more private one, exemplified by tombs and other funerary monuments. They included the tomb chest, typically decorated with small figures in niches - figures known as weepers, since they usually represented members of the family who were in mourning. Later, in the early 14th century, appeared representations of heavily cloaked professional mourners.

This sculptural trend was initiated by Louis IX in his monuments to his ancestors and next of kin, mostly located in Saint-Denis (1260-70), though severely damaged during the French Revolution. Earlier precedents may be found, Louis IX's efforts did much to popularize the idea of the dynastic mausoleum, and numerous other important people followed suit.

In England, as in France, most of the virtuosity in carving was ploughed into private tombs and monuments. The best surviving Gothic mausoleum is Westminster Abbey, where monuments carved in a variety of mediums (notably purbeck, bronze, alabaster, and freestone) are further enhanced by the floors and tombs executed by Italian mosaic workers employed by Henry III. The tomb of Edward II (c. 1330-35), in Exeter Cathedral, notable for its elaborate medieval canopy, is another fine example of English Gothic.

German High Gothic sculpture is exemplified by the elegant draped figures around the choir of Cologne cathedral (consecrated in 1322), and by the impressive figures on the west front of Strasbourg cathedral (carved after 1277), which appear to be strongly influenced by the Joseph Master of Reims. As usual German sculpture tends to be far more expressive than similar French work.

In Italy, the most important 13th-century sculptors included Nicola Pisano (1206-78) and his son Giovanni Pisano (1250-1314). Both worked mostly in Tuscany, and both executed pulpits that rank as their major completed works: Nicola being noted for sculpture in the Pisa Baptistery (1259-60) and Siena cathedral (1265-68), while Giovanni's pulpit in S. Andrea Pistoia (commpleted 1301), while technically...

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Popular Q&A

What are the major characteristics of Gothic church architecture in the Gothic period

Pointed arches, flying buttresses, stained glass windows
Thin walls, great heights, ribbed vaults

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