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Gothic Synopsis:

Gothic art emerged in France, near Paris, and from there spread across Europe. "Elegant, soaring, light-filled interiors were adapted to all structures..." (Stokstad, 234). The Abbey Church of Saint Denis is one of the first examples of Gothic architecture, combining the new elements to create an open, flowing space. Emphasis was on height and larger interior space, and the use of colored glass in large window openings. Notre-Dame at Chartres is an example of early and high Gothic styles. The creation of the pointed arch and the groined vault allowed for greater height in these churches. The triforium, an open level between the main floor and the clerestory, was introduced. Tall, pointed arched windows called lancets filled the open spaces in the clerestory.

Notre-Dame at Reims is an example of High Gothic, using bar tracery to maximize the amount of glass. The cathedral is richly decorated with sculpture on all levels of the facade. Sculpture is executed in both Classical (naturalistic) and Gothic (elongated figures, delicate features, restrained gestures) styles. The Rayonnant style, the highest development of bar tracery, is exemplified at Sainte-Chapelle. Castles at this time moved from simple strongholds to "elaborate fortified residential complexes" (Stokstad, 243). Outside of France cathedral builders were less concerned with height, focusing instead on long, broad naves and wall decorations.

Independant sculpture grew in importance as individuals wanted small statues for their homes or to donate to churches. The graceful S-curve pose was a stylistic standard for this period. Private prayer books, called a Book of Hours, were also popular. The Hours of Jeanne d'Evreux, by Jean Pucelle, are executed in grisaille, monochromatic painting in shades of gray with touches of color. The patron was often included in the religious scene. The figures are influenced by sculptural styles, with soft modeling covering elegantly curved figures. Pictorial needlework (Englishwork) was executed as precisely as painting.

Panel painting, especially on altarpieces, was important in Italy. Duccio combined Byzantine and northern Gothic styles for his altarpiece, known as the Maesta, at the Siena Cathedral. In Florence Cimabue executed the Virgin and Child Enthroned, employing Byzantine formulas for the proportions. Giotto, pupil of Cimabue, shared his "concern for spatial volumes, solid forms, and warmly naturalistic human figures" but uses light and shadow to create a sense of spatial depth and modeling. The Arena Chapel at Padua contains a set of frescoes that emplify these sculpturally modeled figures and a sense of depth in the landscape. Sienese painting would eventually lead to developments in Renaissance art.


Gothic Art

Gothic Art 1140 - 1500


Transverse ribs
Jamb Statues
Rose Windows
Flying Buttress
Lancet Windows
Rederos - screen behind the High Altar
Reliquary - ornate box to hold relics
Chancel -


Ambulatory, Abbey Church of Saint Denis, 1140 - 1144 (photo by Leo Masuda)

Chartres Cathedral, France, 1135
West Facade. Royal Portal & Jamb Statues
South Transept portal Jamb Statues

Notre-Dame, Paris, France 1163

Reims Cathedral, Reims, France, 1225 - 1290 (Photo by Leo Masuda)
Annunciation and Visitation, Jamb Statues

Sainte-Chapelle, Paris France, 1243 - 1248 - High Gothic: royal chapel and storehouse for relics, gold embellishment, compound columns, pointed arches, ribbed vaulting, 6400 s.f. stained glass

Psalter of Saint Louis, from Paris, France, Ink, tempera and gold leaf on vellum 1253 - 1270

Salisbury Cathedral, Salisbury / England, 1220 - 1258, west facade completed 1265, Spire 1320-30 - smaller Westworks towers that crossing tower, English trait

Death of the Virgin, tympanum of south transept, Strasbourg Cathedral, Strasbourg, France 1230

Virgin with the Dead Christ, from the Rhineland, Germany, painted wood, ca. 1300- 1325

Milan Cathedral, Milan, Italy, begun 1386.


Gothic glossary (on this site) (online)

by Alison Stones

Online Reference Book for Medieval Studies


DJB Quick Notes:



DJB In-Depth Notes:

In this High Gothic illustration on the right, the gallery has been eliminated in favor of higher nave arcade. (Laon on left; Chartes on right)