I wanted to write about the history of art, but it’s way too vast to 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 Prehistoric, Antique 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 did the Gothic Style appear?
The Gothic Style is a Medieval Art movement that spread in medieval Europe from 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, being subsumed into Renaissance art thereafter.
Which are the most important characteristics of the Gothic style?
The Gothic Art is characterized by the weight of forms, a tendency for ascendant lines, balance instability of 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.
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, three main styles emerged. 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. As any other experiment some succeeded and some didn’t . Because of this, the Gothic builders had to rebuild many cathedrals which collapsed. This primary Gothic style is categorized is exemplified in the St. Denis, Laon, and Notre Dame (Paris) cathedrals.
Images of the abbey church of Saint Denis and its interiors
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 the gallery and lengthening the clerestory. Cathedrals included in the High Gothic style category are Chartres, Amiens, Bourges, St. Chappelle, Beauvais.
Beauvais Cathedral in France.
3. The Late Gothic Style
The Late Gothic Style is quite different from the ideas of the High Gothic Style. Late Gothic is characterized by flamboyant style, with very lacy ornaments, multiple buttressing and a lot of small detailed perforations. Although the height and size of the design was lost entirely, the focus remained on the inside unity, the lightness of the stone and the organic forms.
Images of Kings College Chapel (Cambridge) and interiors.
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 till the early years of the 13th century. Some influences from surviving ancient Greek and Roman sculptures had been introduced to 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 the largest assemblage of 13th-century sculpture was built in 1225, the Bamberg Cathedral. Later, in 1240, the first equestrian statue in Western art since the 6th century was built. It was named 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 1200’s. The transition to Gothic in painting is more clearly made as figures become more animated in facial expression and pose, being smaller in relation to the background and arranged more freely in the scene. This transition takes place first in England around the year 1200, Germany follows in the year 1220 and then Italy in the 1300’s.
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.
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 Illuminated manuscripts represent the most complete record of Gothic painting. 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 a black letter, also known as Gothic script.
3. Religious art
In general, religious art had a better survival rate than some equivalent arts, and a large proportion of the art realized in that period was 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 a universal style named International Gothic evolved (and 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! Gothic art never really disappeared! Artists still use some of the features of the Gothic Style today.
Artists still gather inspiration from gargoyles, architectural and religious features that were found in churches beginning with the 1200s’ (the rose, stained glass, ribbed vaulting), Gothic text (typography), Gothic floral elements (like the ‘Fleur de lys” Gothic symbol), Gothic cathedrals with pointed arches and high towers, Gothic religious paintings and much more.
In some design works, the Gothic style is mainly used as inspiration to create unnatural creatures with masculine, forceful, tough, gloomy, sinister, and mysterious traits.
Gothic art images in various styles.
Fantasy image with a Gothic inspired cathedral.
Gothic industrial drawing.
The influence of the Gothic Style in music
The Gothic Style was inspirational even for musicians. Therefore, in the 1970s’ Gothic rock appeared (or Goth rock), a sub-genre of post-punk and alternative rock. The main characteristics of this movement is the combination of 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.
The Cure music wallpaper
The influence of the Gothic Style and Gothic Music in fashion
Music is highly influential over people, and 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. Other clothing articles include short or very long skirts, high heels, black corsets for girls.
Even some fashion designers have been inspired by the Gothic Style. Here are some examples of their work:
Goth fashion by Barbara i Cogini
Goth inspired dress by Rachael Cassar
What is your take on artwork with Gothic influences? Tell us in the comment section below.
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in July 2010 and has been completely revamped and updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.