The Gothic style represents a period of sculpture in Spain characterized by sculpture “curved in stone, marble, and alabaster, and often painted,” (Anonymous, 2011). Most of the sculptures from in this style were influenced by the Romanesque style which was widely used at the beginning of the 11th century.
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Romanesque sculpture mainly concerned itself with the decoration of moldings, tympanums and capitals. These sculptures were normally formal and portraying no emotions and were mostly dominated by narrative biblical characters representing religious beliefs of the time.
The Romanesque style had also carried with it some of the Byzanite elements which also formed a basis for the Gothic sculptures. For example, “The Byzantine influenced sculptural decoration of the Romanesque churches became an important source of inspiration for the carved figures adorning both the interior and exterior of the Gothic Cathedrals in the Île de France,” (Anonymous, 1996).
The Mosan goldsmiths also contributed to the Gothic style. this is because they were the first ones to make high quality objects from precious metals such as enamel, gold and silver. Their art with the three-dimensional form, and natural-looking features making them look realistic heavily impacted on the France stone sculptors. From then, most of the stone sculptures aped the naturalistic work of the Mosan style.
Most of the subjects adopted include Jesus Christ probably on the cross, The Virgin Mary, but varied depending on the religious convictions of the particular artist. These subjects are derived from the biblical teachings with the figure of Christ being shown to be consecrated. Other statues include the saints and other biblical figures, the composition of which depicts the Descent from the holy cross to having a special importance.
The sculptures made were to portray both religious themes for example Last Judgment, the coronation of Mary the Virgin, as well as semi-pagan themes including the Zodiac Signs, Virtues and the Vices etc. There were also carvings of grotesque figures mostly the gargoyles and marmosets as well as vegetative or organic motifs which could be inside or outside such buildings. As they continued, the subject opened up and become very clear and complicated but still maintained the biblical perspective.
The sculptors of this age were based on the Etruscans techniques from which they developed the vaulting system which was mainly used in the Romanesque style.
The Gothic Style adjusted from the Romanesque heavier style which was formed from solid stone vault, into a lighter, enhanced style that was a combination of the Romanesque and Islamic habit of using the pointed curve and cross-ribbed vault. Most architects started using the groined vault as opposed to the barrel vault which they reinforced with ribs instead, to support the vault’s weight.
The groin vault reinforced with ribs could be made much thinner unlike the cross-ribbed. This in effect resulted into much lighter and heightened exteriors, as opposed to the massive Romanesque vaults, and which enabled opening up of the internal space of large buildings such as churches.
Social, political and religious influence on Gothic Style
The Gothic sculpture reached its peak of lightness despite social conflicts existing in the times. Several contemporary historians have recently discussed a detail of that period. During the twelfth century, the handicrafts found themselves associating with guilds of craft as a pathway to fighting for their freedom from monarchial oppression to governing of towns.
This they achieved by the conclusion of thirteenth century when delegates of the craft guilds became the governors of most free towns, notwithstanding the events resulting from the Battle of Courtray. The Gothic colorless white-grey interior was inspired by the idea of a temple standing on white marble to represent chastity (William, 1889). Most of the contemporary Gothic architecture has been associated with such great names of traditional artists as Van Eyck and Giotto.
With time, political and economic changes saw the beauty of the Gothic sculptures diminish gradually. The society started changing towards the formation of new social classes to adapt to the new production system.
Politically, bureaucracy was setting in with more concern to nationalism as well as formation of a new religion to fit the newly developed theory of life. In other words, it was the age of commercialization. This new age caused the degradation of the gothic art, though in itself it was necessary for the full birth of commerce and commercial politics, (Applied History Research Group, 1998).
Giotto di Bondone
Giotto di Bondone was one of the most popular artists in this age who happened to be a student of Duccio (Johnson, 2011). He was born in Vespignano somewhere close to Florence, which also became his death place. He was very innovative in his paintings. He is the one who painted the murals in the Arena Chapel which represents scenes adopted from the life of Christ one of the most recent murals showing the Last Judgment. His figures are solid with a simplicity lacking in others and which take on a three-dimension form.
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His point of view was closer to the picture plane allowing an interaction between the picture and the viewer, thus bringing in a feeling of intimacy. Their size is big enough to bring in an element of reality in the figures. His work has always been celebrated both during and after his lifetime.
Anonymous. (2011). Gothic Sculpture in Spain, Retrieved from https://www.wga.hu/tours/spain/s_13_15.html
Anonymous. (1996). Introduction: Flowering of the Gothic, pages 17-20, Vol. 4 No. 2, Athena Review.
Johnson, M. (2011). Learn About Giotto in Art History, View His Art and Famous Paintings, Art History. Famous Artists Paintings.
William, M. (1889). Gothic Architecture, Retrieved from https://www.marxists.org/archive/morris/works/1889/gothic.htm
Applied History Research Group. (1998). The End of Europe’s Middle Ages: Visual Arts, University of Calgary: Applied History Research Group.