Give way to Gothic art

Last Updated 21 September 2013, 14:45 IST

An everlasting effect of structural beauty ensuing from religious beliefs, traditional knowledge and imaginative formulations — the lure of Gothic art in architecture and through the media of sculptures, paintings, frescoes, illuminated manuscripts and panel paintings is entrancing.

This series of Gothic art still survives, and in its depth and breadth enables a true reflection of the cultural fabric of the particular time period, around 1150 - 1400 AD when it flourished in France and England and spread throughout Western Europe. Giorgio Vasari, a great historian, had used the word ‘Gothic’ for this form for the first time. This name-coining, however, came about much later.

Upon surfaces, in varied instances, this amalgamated art extending out of Romanesque art found itself engendering a relationship between religion and an evidence of its influence. Cast in stone, glass and on paper, textile, this linear and beautiful art provided a direct associative thread back to the origins of religion, depictions of important events and images related to aspects of Christianity.

Most of this art was thus made for churches and religious purposes. Cathedrals and churches from this era were witness to the Gothic age when this art found expression in numerous constructions and applications. Abbot Suger of the abbey of St Denis rebuilt his church in one of the finest examples of Gothic style.


Gothic architectural style features, for cathedrals and churches, included large windows and pointed arches as one can see in Bath Abbey and Exeter Cathedral; ribbed and fan vaulting as seen in Canterbury Cathedral, Salisbury Cathedral; buttresses as seen in Notre Dame De Paris and Bath abbey; towers and spires as in Exeter Cathedral, Canterbury Cathedral, London Parliament; gargoyles, Gothic stone and wood carvings in other cathedrals.

Divinity found itself expressed through several media used here. It alluded to the favour of God and his shining presence everywhere. The crux of this art form lay in the placing of symbols that represented God or connected elements and narratives. God’s supremacy and power were represented in the heavenly light and formations created as a result of this art.

Saintly figures and similar sculptures of religious significance enhanced the outer facades of cathedrals, abbeys and other such buildings. Surreal and natural-looking, the effect of these creative pieces was educating and intriguing.

Evolving as episodes taken from the New Testament, paintings grew from simplicity to complexity over time. A sense of abundance and radiance was effectuated in such compositions during the Gothic period instead of a more sombre look from the Dark Ages.

Fluidity and an ease in stance were some of the hallmarks of these paintings, which were also used to decorate ornamental panels inside cathedrals.

Stained glasses made of smaller coloured glasses, joined by lead, formed a mosaic of patterns and designs. These portrayed stories from the Bible and other related pictures on the enlarged spaces resulting out of taller church structures with thinner walls. From a distance, these pieces seemed to be a single formation presenting a colourful and translucent refinement, but they were, in fact, disjointed. These can be seen in St Chapelle Paris, Canterbury, Salisbury Cathedral among other structures.

Text supplements

As supplements to text, initials with aesthetic import, borders and miniature illustrations made up illustrated manuscripts, which were also a part of Gothic art. The life of St Denis, which is an illumination on parchment, contributes to the collection of illuminated manuscripts from the Gothic era. Use of a few predominant colours, intricate detailing of anecdotes and intense decoration on the assigned locations within pages and wherever necessary were the lineaments of this form.

Gothic art is subdivided into time periods within which they began, thrived and were later taken over by the Renaissance arts or overlapped into other international styles. Details of its evolution, influences of creative arts from earlier and any other concurrent aspects of its characteristics are subjects of further discovery and should be explored as such.

(Published 21 September 2013, 14:45 IST)

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