Abbot Suger must have attached considerable importance to the
sculptural decoration of St.-Denis, although his story of the rebuilding
of the church does not deal at length with that aspect of the
enterprise. The three portals of his west facade were far larger and
more richly carved than those of Norman Romanesque churches. Unhappily,
their condition today is so poor that they do not tell us a great deal
about Suger's ideas of the role of sculpture within the total context of
the structure he had envisioned.
begun about 1145
under the influence of
St.-Denis, but even more ambitious. They probably represent the oldest
full-fledged example of Early Gothic sculpture. Comparing them with
Romanesque portals, we are impressed first of all with a new sense of
order, as if all the figures had suddenly come to attention, conscious
of their responsibility to the architectural framework. The dense
crowding and the frantic movement of Romanesque sculpture have given way
to an emphasis on symmetry and clarity. The figures on the lintels,
archivolts, and tympanums are no longer entangled with each other but
stand out as separate entities, so that the entire design carries much
further than that of previous portals.
485. West portal, Chartres
Cathedral, ñ. 1145-70
We may assume, however, that Suger's ideas had prepared the way for the
admirable west portals of Chartres Cathedral (fig.
Particularly striking in this respect is the novel treatment of the
486), which are lined with
tall figures attached to columns. Similarly elongated figures, we
recall, had occurred on the jambs or trumeaux of Romanesque portals (see
and 429), but they
had been conceived as reliefs carved into or protruding from the masonry
of the doorway. The Chartres jamb figures, in contrast, are essentially
statues, each with its own axis. They could, in theory at least, be
detached from their supports. Here, then, we witness a development of
truly revolutionary importance: the first basic step toward the
reconquest of monumental sculpture in the round since the end of
classical antiquity. Apparently, this step could be taken only by
borrowing the rigid cylindrical shape of the column for the human
figure, with the result that these statues seem more abstract than their
Romanesque predecessors. Yet they will not retain their immobility and
unnatural proportions for long. The very fact that they are round endows
them with a more emphatic presence than anything in Romanesque
sculpture, and their heads show a gentle, human quality that betokens
the fundamentally realistic trend of Gothic sculpture.
Chartres Cathedral. The west facade
Realism is, of course, a relative term whose meaning varies greatly
according to circumstances. On the Chartres west portals, it appears to
spring from a reaction against the fantastic and demoniacal aspects of
Romanesque art. This response may be seen not only in the calm, solemn
spirit of the figures and their increased physical bulk (compare the
Christ of the center tympanum with that at Vezelay, fig.
427) but in the rational
discipline of the symbolic program underlying the entire scheme. While
the subtler aspects of this program are accessible only to a mind fully
conversant with the theology of the Chartres Cathedral School, its main
elements can be readily understood.
The jamb statues form a continuous sequence linking all three portals
Together they represent the prophets, kings, and queens of the Bible.
Their purpose is both to acclaim the rulers of France as the spiritual
descendants of Old Testament royalty and to stress the harmony of
secular and spiritual rule, of priests (or bishops) and kings—ideals
insistently put forward by Abbot Suger. Christ Himself appears enthroned
above the main doorway as Judge and Ruler of the Universe, flanked by
the symbols of the four evangelists, with the apostles assembled below
and the twenty-four elders of the Apocalypse in the archivolts. The
right-hand tympanum shows His incarnation: the Birth, the Presentation
in the Temple, and the Infant Christ on the lap of the Virgin, who also
stands for the Church. In the archivolts above are the personifications
and representatives of the liberal arts as human wisdom paying homage to
the divine wisdom of Christ. Finally, in the left-hand tympanum, we see
the timeless Heavenly Christ (the Christ of the Ascension) framed by the
ever-repeating cycle of the year: the signs of the zodiac and their
earthly counterparts, the labors of the 12
Figures from Cathedral of Chartres. Jamb statues of Old Testament
queen and two kings
Cathedral. Jamb statues of Saints Martin, Jerome, and Gregory
statues, south transept portal, Chartres Cathedral,
1195, the so-called Royal Portals
of the west facade must have seemed rather small and old-fashioned in
relation to the rest of the new edifice. Perhaps for that reason, the
two transept facades each received three large and lavishly carved
portals preceded by deep porches. The jamb statues of these portals,
such as the group shown in figure 487,
represent an early phase of High Gothic sculpture. By
now, the symbiosis of statue and column has begun to dissolve. The
columns are quite literally put in the shade by the greater width of the
figures, by the strongly projecting canopies above, and by the
elaborately caned bases of the statues.
When Chartres Cathedral was rebuilt after the fire of
In the three saints on the right, we still find echoes of the rigid
cylindrical shape of Early Gothic jamb statues, but even here the heads
are no longer strictly in line with the central axis of the body. St.
Theodore, the knight on the left, already stands at ease, in a semblance
of classical contrapposto. His feet rest on a horizontal platform,
rather than on a sloping shell as before, and the axis of his body,
instead of being straight, describes a slight but perceptible S-curve.
Even more astonishing is the abundance of precisely observed detail in
the weapons, the texture of the tunic and chain mail. Above all, there
is the organic structure of the body. Not since Imperial Roman times
have we seen a figure as thoroughly alive as this. Yet the most
impressive quality of the statue is not its realism. It is, rather, the
serene, balanced image which this realism conveys. In this ideal
portrait of the Christian Soldier, the spirit of the crusades has been
cast into its most elevated form.
The style of the St. Theodore could not have evolved directly
from the elongated columnar statues of Chartres' west facade. It
incorporates another, equally important tradition: the classicism of the
Meuse Valley, which we traced in the previous chapter from Renier of Huy
to Nicholas of Verdun (compare figs.
431, 440, and
441). At the end of the twelfth century
this trend, hitherto confined to metalwork and miniatures, began to
appear in monumental stone sculpture as well, transforming it from Early
Gothic to Classic High Gothic. The link with Nicholas of Verdun is
striking in the Death of the Virgin (fig.
488), a tympanum at
Strasbourg Cathedral contemporary with the Chartres transept
portals. Here the draperies, the facial types, and the movements and
gestures have a classical flavor that immediately recalls the
Klosterneuburg Altar (fig. 440).
What marks it as Gothic rather than Romanesque,
however, is the deeply felt tenderness pervading the entire scene. We
sense a bond of shared emotion among the figures, an ability to
communicate by glance and gesture that surpasses even the Klostemeuburg
Altar. This quality of pathos, too, has classical roots: we recall that
it entered Christian art during the Second Golden Age in Byzantium (see
But how much warmer and more eloquent it is at Strasbourg than at
488. Death of
the Virgin, tympanum of the south transept portal, Strasbourg
Cathedral, ñ. 1220
Depiction of the adoration of the Magi, sculptures of Jacques de
on the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Strasbourg, work of architect
Jakob von Landshut; executed during the years 1494-1505.
The climax of Gothic classicism is reached in some of the statues at
Reims Cathedral. The most famous among them is the Visitation group (fig.
right). To have a pair of jamb figures enact a narrative
scene such as this would have been unthinkable in Early Gothic
sculpture. The fact that they can do so now shows how far the sustaining
column has receded into the background. Now the S-curve resulting from
the pronounced contrapposto is much more conspicuous than in the St.
Theodore. It dominates the side view as well as the front view, and
the physical bulk of the body is further emphasized by horizontal folds
pulled across the abdomen. The relationship of the two women shows the
same human warmth and sympathy we found in the Strasbourg tympanum, but
their classicism is of a far more monumental kind. They remind us so
forcibly of ancient Roman matrons (compare fig.
271) that we wonder if the
artist could have been inspired directly by large-scale Roman sculpture.
The influence of Nicholas of Verdun alone could hardly have produced
such firmly rounded, solid volumes.
The vast scale of the sculptural program for Reims Cathedral made it
necessary to call upon the services of masters and workshops from
various other building sites, and so we encounter several distinct
styles among the Reims sculpture. Two of these styles, both clearly
different from the classicism of the Visitation, appear in
the Annunciation group (fig. 489,
left). The Virgin exhibits a severe manner, with
a rigidly vertical body axis and straight, tubular folds meeting at
sharp angles, a style probably invented about
1220 by the sculptors of the west portals of
Notre-Dame in Paris; from there it traveled to Reims as well as Amiens
(see fig. 492,
top center). The angel, in contrast, is conspicuously
graceful. We note the tiny, round face framed by curly locks, the
emphatic smile, the strong S-curve of the slender body, the ample,
richly accented drapery. This "elegant style," created around 1240 by
Parisian masters working for the royal court, was to spread far and wide
during the following decades. It soon became, in fact, the standard
formula for High Gothic sculpture. We shall feel its effect for many
years to come, not only in France but abroad.
489. Annunciation and
Visitation, west portal, Reims Cathedral, ñ.
A characteristic instance of the elegant style is the fine group of
Melchizedek and Abraham, carved shortly after the middle
of the century for the interior west wall of Reims Cathedral (fig.
in the costume of a medieval knight, still recalls the vigorous realism
of the St. Theodore at Chartres. Melchizedek, however, shows
clearly his descent from the angel of the Reims Annunciation. His
hair and beard are even more elaborately curled, the draperies more
lavishly ample, so that the body almost disappears among the rich play
of folds. The deep recesses and sharply projecting ridges betray a new
awareness of effects of light and shadow that seem more pictorial than
sculptural. The same may be said of the way the figures are placed in
their cavernous niches.
Melchizedek and Abraham, interior west wall, Reims Cathedral. After
A half-century later every trace of classicism has disappeared from
Gothic sculpture. The human figure itself now becomes strangely
abstract. Thus the famous Virgin of Paris (fig.
Notre-Dame Cathedral consists largely of hollows, the projections having
been reduced to the point where they are seen as lines rather than
volumes. The statue is quite literally disembodied—its
swaying stance no longer bears any relationship to the classical
contrapposto. Compared to such unearthly grace, the angel of the Reims
Annunciation seems solid and tangible indeed. Yet it contains the
seed of the very qualities so strikingly expressed in The Virgin of
When we look back over the century and a half that separates
The Virgin of Paris from the Chartres west portals, we cannot
help wondering what brought about this retreat from the realism of Early
and Classic High Gothic sculptures. Despite the fact that the new style
was backed by the royal court and thus had special authority, we find it
hard to explain why attenuated elegance and calligraphic, smoothly
flowing lines came to dominate Gothic art throughout Northern Europe
from about 1250 to
1400. It is clear, nevertheless,
that The Virgin of Paris represents neither a return to the
Romanesque nor a complete repudiation of the earlier realistic trend.
491. The Virgin of Paris. Early
14th century. Stone. Notre-Dame, Paris
Gothic realism had never been of the all-embracing, systematic sort.
Rather, it had been a "realism of particulars," focused on specific
details rather than on the over-all structure of the visible world. Its
most characteristic products are not the classically oriented jamb
statues and tympanum compositions of the early thirteenth century but
small-scale carvings, such as the labors of the Months in
quatrefoil frames on the facade of Amiens Cathedral (fig.
492), with their
observation of everyday life. This intimate kind of realism survives
even within the abstract formal framework of The Virgin of Paris.
We see it in the Infant Christ, who appears here not as the Saviour-in-miniature
austerely facing the beholder, but as a thoroughly human child playing
with his mother's veil. Our statue thus retains an emotional appeal that
links it to the Strasbourg Death of the Virgin and to the Reims
Visitation. It is this appeal, not realism or classicism as such,
that is the essence of Gothic art.
Signs of the Zodiac and labors of the Months
(July, August, September),
west facade, Amiens Cathedral,
(b Valenciennes, c. 1335; d ?Bourges, 1401–3).
South Netherlandish sculptor,
painter and illuminator. He possibly trained with, or in the circle of,
Jean Pépin de Huy. He is presumably the ‘Master Andrieu the painter’
mentioned in the accounts of Yolande, Duchesse de Bar, as working
intermittently between 1359 and 1362 in the chapel of her castle at
Nieppe (destr.). In 1361–2 ‘Master Andrieu the carver’ restored the
console of a statue (both destr.) in the aldermen’s hall in
Valenciennes. By October 1364 and until June 1366 he is recorded in
Paris, working with assistants for King Charles V, who spoke of him as
‘our esteemed Andrieu Biauneveu, our sculptor’. The monarch commissioned
from him four tombs for Saint-Denis Abbey, for which he paid 4700 gold
francs: tombs for his paternal grandparents Philip VI (reg 1328–50) and
Joan of Burgundy (1294–1348); for his father, John II; and for himself
(first mentioned on 12 December 1364). Of the actual cenotaphs nothing
survives except for fragments of that of Charles V (Paris, Mus. A. Déc.,
AD 12.260), which, for reasons not made clear in the documents, was
designed only in 1376, probably by Jean de Liège (i). Of the three
extant recumbent figures—that of Joan of Burgundy was destroyed in 1793
but is recorded in a drawing of Roger de Gaignières (Paris, Bib. N.,
Cab. Est., Pe 11 c, fol. 91)—only that of Charles V is generally
considered to be entirely by Beauneveu. The King, 27 at the time, is
movingly portrayed ad vivum (the first French royal recumbent figure so
depicted), and his coronation garb is fluidly rendered with a soft play
of drapery. The other figures, though more schematic, have
individualized features that break away from stereotypes of earlier
royal monuments—Philip VI’s corpulence is convincingly rendered—and are
attributed, perhaps unjustly, to assistants.
Tomb of Charles V, circa 1364
Madonna and child