The Influence of Art History on Modern Design – Gothic Style

I wanted to write about the history of art, but it’s way to vast and it can’t be compressed into a few articles so I decided to write about some of the most important art styles. Art history was and will always be a source of inspiration for artists all over the world.

This is the first article of a series, presenting some of the most important styles from each period, styles that still offer high inspiration for designers even today.

So here it goes!

Which are the main periods of Art History?

The periods in which art history has been divided are: Pre-historic Art, Antique Art, Medieval Art, Western Art, Modern Art and Contemporary art. If you want to read more about Pre-historic Art, Antique Art or Medieval Art, click here for more information.

I will focus in today’s post on the Gothic Style from the Medieval Period.

When and where appeared the Gothic Style?

The Gothic Style is a Medieval Art movement that was outspreaded in medieval Europe beginning with 1140 until the 1500s’. The actual term of  “Gothic” was introduced in 1500 by Georgio Vasari, who referred to it in comparison to the German tribe of the Goths, as a prototype of an inferior, barbarian culture. He called Gothic art a “monstrous and barbarous disorder”. Nevertheless, late Gothic art continued well into the 16th century, after that being subsumed into Renaissance art.

Which are the most important characteristics of the Gothic style?

The Gothic Art is characterized by weight of forms, ascending lines tendency, balance in stability of the weight, narrow, pointed arches, the buttress, the flying buttress, the pilgrims, ribbed vaulting, towers (usually on the West end) and stained glass windows.

Flying buttresses from the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, France.

Parisian gargoyles from Notre Dame Cathedral.

Gargoyles at Notre Dame, Paris, by Viollet-le-Duc and Eugene Emmanuel (1814-79). Photograph: Bridgeman Art Library

The ribbed vaults in the Reims Cathedral in France.

The largest cathedral in Northern Europe – York Minister in England.


Which are the main styles of Gothic?

Throughout 300 years of the Gothic period, there were created three main styles. These styles are, in the order they were created: the Early, High and Late Gothic styles.

1. The Early Gothic style

The Early Gothic represented a series of experiments. Some of them succeeded and some didn’t and the Gothic builders had to rebuilt many cathedrals which collapsed. This primary Gothic style is categorized with: St. Denis, Laon, Notre Dame (Paris).

The abbey church of Saint Denis.

Notre Dame de Paris Cathedral.

2. The High Gothic style

The High Gothic style began with the construction of the Chartres cathedral. The particularity of this building was that it was the first of its kind that included, from the original plan, a flying buttress. This style also focused on creating an organic feel of light and space, renouncing at the gallery and lengthening of the clerestory.  An example of High Gothic style is the St. Chapelle church.

In the High Gothic Cathedrals category are included: Chartres, Amiens, Bourges, St. Chappelle, Beauvais.

Chartres Cathedral.

Beauvais Cathedral in France.


3. The Late Gothic Style

The Late Gothic Style is quite different from the primary ideas of the High Gothic Style. This style is characterized by flamboyant style, with very lacy ornaments, with multiple buttressing and a lot of small detailed perforations. Although the height and size of the design was entirely lost, the focus remained on the inside unity, the lightness of the stone and the organic forms.

Cambridge – Kings College Chapel.

St. George’s Chapel – Windsor Castle.

Which are the main domains where the Gothic style emerged?

1. Gothic sculpture

The Gothic sculpture evolved from the fix and longed early style with a light influence of Romanesque style, into a naturalistic and spatial feel in the late 12th century and the early years of the 13th century. Some influences from surviving ancient Greek and Roman sculptures had been introduced into the treatment of facial expression, drapery and pose.

The history of Gothic Art began in Ile-de-France, in the middle of the 12th century, when Abbot Suger constructed the abbey from St. Denis, which was considered to be the first Gothic building.

The Gothic art movement in sculpture spread from France to Germany, where in 1225 was built the largest assemblage of 13th century sculpture, the Bamberg Cathedral. Later, in 1240 was built the first equestrian statue in Western art since the 6th century, the Bamberg Rider.

The Bamberg Cathedral in Germany.

In England, the Gothic movement was more confined to tombs and decorations, mostly because of the Cistercian iconoclasm.

In Italy, although there still was a Classical influence, the Gothic style made its way into sculptures of pulpits (the speakers’ stand in a church), like the one from the Pisa Baptistery (1269) or the Siena pulpit. An impressive work of Italian Gothic sculptures are the Scaliger Tombs in Verona from the early-late 14th century.

The Pisa Baptistery – interior.

The Scaliger Tombs in Verona, Italy.



2. Gothic painting

The paintings in the Gothic style appeared nearly 50 years after the beginning of Gothic architecture and sculpture, around the 1200s’. The transition to Gothic in painting is more clearly made when figures become more animated in facial expression and pose, being smaller in relation to the background of the scenes and arranged more freely in the scene. This transition takes place first in England around the 1200s’, around 1220s’ in Germany and in Italy in the 1300s’.

The Gothic style in painting was practiced mostly in the following four crafts: panel paintings, frescoes, manuscript illumination and stained glass.

The frescoes were used as the main pictorial narrative craft on church walls in the south of Europe.

St. George (Sogn Gieri) Church, Rhäzüns.

Stained glass was the preferred art in the north of Europe until the 15th century.

Stained glass from St. Etienne church in Bourges.

The history of panel painting starts in the 13th century in Italy and it spreads throughout Europe, becoming the suppliant of stained glass.

The most complete record of Gothic painting is represented by the Illuminated manuscripts. These manuscripts provide a record of styles in the places where no monumental works have survived.

Illuminated P letter in the Malmesbury Bible. The script is black letter, also known as Gothic script.

3. Religious art

In general, religious art had a better survival rate than some equivalent arts because a large proportion of the art realized in that period was religious, commissioned by the church or by the laity.

The first Gothic art building was built by Abbot Suger in France in the 12th century and it is called Basilica at Saint-Denis. Some monastic orders, like the Cistercians and the Carthusians disseminated distinctive styles of Gothic art in buildings all over Europe.

Even if in the late 14th century evolved an universal style named International Gothic, which continued in the late 15th century, many regional variations of the style remained important.

The nave of the Basilica at Saint-Denis.

Is modern design still influenced by the Gothic Style?

Yes, of course! The Gothic art never really disappeared! Artists still use today some of the features of the Gothic Style in their work.

Elements of the Gothic Style still used by artists today

As elements of the Gothic Style, artists still use as inspiration in their present design work the gargoyles, the architectural and religious features that were found in churches beginning with the 1200s’ (the rose, the stained glass, the ribbed vaulting), Gothic text (typography), Gothic floral elements (like the ‘Fleur de lys” Gothic symbol), the pilgrims, the Gothic cathedrals with pointed arches and high towers, the Gothic religious paintings and much more.

In some design works, the Gothic style is mainly used as inspiration to create masculine, forceful, tough, gloomy, sinister, mysterious, unnatural creatures.

Gothic typography.

Great Gothic art images by artist Anne Stoke.

Saint Mary’s Studley Royal Yorkshire Interior HDR.

Fantasy image with a Gothic inspired cathedral.

Beautiful Gothic Digital woman.

Gothic industrial drawing.

The influence of the Gothic Style in music

The Gothic Style was inspirational even for music artists. Therefore, in the 1970s’ appeared Gothic rock (or Goth rock), a sub-genre of post-punk and alternative rock. The main characteristics of this movement is that it combines dark, sometimes keyboard-heavy music with depressing and introspective lyrics.

The beginning of Gothic rock gave birth to a broader goth subculture, which included fashion, clubs, publications, posters, CD covers and much more. This subculture grew in popularity in the 1980s’ but there are still a lot of followers today.

Some of the most important Gothic rock bands include Bauhaus, The Cure, Virgin Prunes and the Sisters of Mercy.

Bauhaus Poster

The Cure music wallpaper

Cool Digital art – Gothic Guitar.

The influence of the Gothic Style and Gothic Music in fashion

Music is highly influential over people, therefore, the members of the Goth subculture created their own clothing style. The typical Gothic fashion includes black lips and black clothes, black dyed and crimped hair, for both female and male representatives, short or very long skirts, high heels, black corsets for girls.

Even some fashion designers have been inspired by the Gothic Style.

Gothic Dress by designer Robert Panciera

The Gothic fashion has turned into quite an industry. Check out some truly awesome Gothic t-shirt designs. The artists have really outdone themselves with these Gothic prints!

Designious t-shirts with gothic themes.

Affliction Men and Women T-shirts with Gothic themes.

Do you like art work with Gothic influence?

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in July 2011 and has been completely revamped and updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.

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That isn't Saint Denis but Milan's Dome!
could you more accurately identify the 6th list St. Denis but I am ....well...confused..this looks neither French nor early French Gothic (1144)
Hasse Hannu Kaskela
Hyvä gootti sivusto.
Aaron Joray
FYI, the sixth image listed as the "Abbey Church of St. Denis" is actually the Duomo in Milan, Italy.

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