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Dictionary of Art and Artists


The Middle Ages

5th - 15th century


The upheaval that accompanied the migration of European peoples of late antiquity shattered the power of the Roman Empire and consequently the entire political order of Europe. Although Germanic kingdoms replaced Rome, the culture of late antiquity, especially Christianity, continued to have an effect and defined the early Middle Ages. Concurrent to the developments in the Christian West, in Arabia the Prophet Muhammad in the seventh century founded Islam, a new religion with immense political and military effectiveness. Within a very short time, great Islamic empires developed from the Iberian Peninsula and the Maghreb to India and Central Asia, with centers such as Cordoba, Cairo, Baghdad, and Samarkand.

The Cathedral Notre Dame de Reims, built in the 1 3th—14th century in the Gothic style; the cathedral served for many centuries as the location for the ceremonial coronation of the French king.

The Cathedral of Reims, by Domenico Quaglio



France in the High and Late Middle Ages



Charles II (the Bald), Charlemagne's grandson, was awarded the western portions of the Frankish Empire—future France—in the Treaty of Verdun in 843. The election of Hugh Capet over the last Carolingians in 987 established the rule of the Capetian dynasty over France, various branches of which ruled into the 19th century. The Capetians gradually built up a centrally governed state despite the resistance of the great princes in their kingdom, particularly in the Hundred Years' War through 1453 against the English kings, who possessed vast estates in France.


The Rise of the Capetians

1 Once the threat from the Carolingians had been eliminated, the Capetians consolidated and expanded their rule in France.

Reims Cathedral where France's kings
were crowned, 13th century

The last 2 Carolingians became enmeshed in struggles with the German Saxons over the possession of Lorraine.

The Capetians, who as dukes of Paris had gained great prestige in repulsing the Normans, made use of this conflict; members of this family had already been elected in 888 and 922 over Carolingian candidates.

When the Carolingian Louis V died without issue in 987, 3 Hugh Capet took the throne with the help of the Saxons.

2 The Carolingian King Charles
lithe Bald, book illustration, ninth ñ

Hugh Capet

3 Coronation of Hugh Capet in Reims in 996,
wood engraving, 19th century

The kings at first possessed only a small realm in the Ile-de-France around Paris out of which they could finance their reign. Many de facto autonomous dukes and counts ruled the rest of France. Unlike the Holy Roman Empire, where the lack of adult heirs to the throne and consequent dying out of imperial dynasties advanced the development of an elective monarchy, the continuous succession of father to son into the 14th century firmly established a hereditary monarchy in France. The kings sought support for their monarchy particularly from the rising cities and high-ranking clergy.

Prominent among these was the 4 Abbot Suger of 5 Saint-Denis, who strengthened the kings' central authority, defended against insubordinate vassals, campaigned with 6 Bernard of Clairvaux for the Second Crusade, and served as Louis VII's regent while the king took part in the Crusade. He also counseled Louis in his divorce from Eleanor of Aquitaine.

4  Louis VII with Eleanor of Aquitaine and Abbot Suger of St. Denis, stained glass window, 19th ñ

5 Tombs of the French kings in the
Abbey of Saint Denis

6 Bernard of Clairvaux preaches in 1146 on
the Second Crusade


see also collection:

Architecture in France



Reims Cathedral
cathedral, Reims, France
also called the Cathedral of Notre-Dame at Reims,

cathedral located in the city of Reims, France, on the Vesle River east-northeast of Paris. Reims was the site of 25 coronations of the kings of France, from Louis VIII in 1223 to Charles X in 1825, including the crowning of Charles VII in 1429 in the presence of Joan of Arc. The cathedral, which was begun in 1211 under the auspices of Archbishop Aubry de Humbert and designer Jean d’Orbais, was modeled on Chartres Cathedral (begun about 1194) and was intended to replace an earlier church destroyed by fire in 1210. The main construction was overseen by four different architects and lasted some 80 years; expansions and decorative work continued on the church for centuries.

Reims Cathedral incorporated several new architectural techniques, notably bar tracery. It has a total finished length of 489 feet (149.2 metres)—about 26 feet (8 metres) longer than Chartres—with an interior length of 455 feet (138.7 metres) and a nave reaching 377 feet (115 metres). The twin towers in the west facade have a height of 266 feet (81 metres). The chevet (eastern end), with its five relatively large chapels, is nearly the same width as the transept (201 feet [61.3 metres]), giving the cathedral an unusually compact, unified appearance. This unity is emphasized by the use of nearly identical window types in the aisle and clerestory stories, as well as the complementary rose windows in the west facade and central portal and those in the transepts’ facades. Reims is richly decorated with elegant masonry sculpture (particularly the exterior) and exceptional stained-glass windows, making it one of the artistic masterpieces of the French High Gothic period.

The cathedral’s historic site, which was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1991, includes the former Abbey of Saint-Rémi (begun about 1170 and containing the remains of the 5th–6th century archbishop St. Remigius) and the archiepiscopal Tau Palace (reconstructed in the 17th century). Restoration was undertaken in the 20th century after the cathedral was seriously damaged by shelling during World War I.

Encyclopaedia Britannica


Cathedral of Notre-Dame, Reims, Champagne-Ardenne, France


Cathedral of Notre-Dame, Reims


Cathedral of Notre-Dame, Reims
Left portal, west facade.

Cathedral of Notre-Dame, Reims
The left portal of the west facade, about 1230-55.



Cathedral of Notre-Dame, Reims
The right wall of the left portal, west facade.

Cathedral of Notre-Dame, Reims
Smailing Angel is the right end.



Cathedral of Notre-Dame, Reims
Smailing Angel (about 1245-55)
is the next of the door.

Cathedral of Notre-Dame, Reims
Upper part of the left portal
of the west facade.


Cathedral of Notre-Dame, Reims


Cathedral of Notre-Dame, Reims


Cathedral of Notre-Dame, Reims
13th Century rose window in the north arm of transept, representing the Creation.


Cathedral of Notre-Dame, Reims
Rose window in the south arm of transept by Jacques Simon (1937),
representing the Resurrection.


Cathedral of Notre-Dame, Reims
13th Century stained-glass windows above the choir, representing Our Lady,
the Christ, the apostles, archbishops et bishops.


Cathedral of Notre-Dame, Reims
Stained-glass windows by Marc Chagall (1974), in the apse



The Normans

A Viking tribe, the Normans not only plundered the coasts of Europe but also in the later half of the ninth century gradually settled the areas they terrorized—for example, Normandy, the region named after them in northern France, which later became the Duchy of Normandy.

It was from here that the Normans led by William the Conqueror occupied England in 1066. The English kings, William's descendents, also maintained their territorial interests in France.

Norman ships, Bayeux Tapestry, late
eleventh century

see also collection:

Bayeux Tapestry 
"Propaganda on cloth"


see also collection:

Jacquemart de Hesdin (1350–1410)

French Miniaturist


The Development of the Estates of the Crown


Philip II Augustus and his successors increased the possessions of the French crown.


The Capetians attempted to enlarge the territories they directly ruled through well-directed marriage diplomacy. In 1137 Louis VII married Eleanor of Aquitaine, the heiress of expansive estates in southwestern France. However, the marriage was not a success and was dissolved in 1152. Eleanor then married Henry II Planta-genet, who was earl of Anjou, duke of Normandv, and from 1154 king of England. Through this union, a dangerous enemy to the French king emerged in his own country. However, the struggle strengthened the French monarchy, which was supported by the popular will and by the Church, at a time when the English king was alleged to have encouraged the murder of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Beckett.

In order to weaken the English, Philip II, the son of Louis VII from a second marriage, stirred up conflict between Henry and his son Richard the Lion-Hearted, and then between Richard and his brother John Lackland. John, as vassal of the French king, later refused to follow summons to the royal court in Paris. A trial in 1204 declared the majority of John's French lands forfeit.

John then allied himself with his cousin, the Welf Otto IV, in a war against France, but 7 Philip was victorious over John and Otto in the Battle of Bouvines in 1214, which earned him the epithet "Augustus."

7 Battle of Philip II Augustus and John Lackland, book illustration, 14th century

At the same time, a war began against the 8 Albigenses in southern France, who were supported by nobility, including the powerful 9 counts of Toulouse and his 10 vassals. After Philip's death in 1223, his son, and then his grandson (Saint) Louis IX, continued the Albigensian wars. Though they were waged as holy crusades, they also had the goal of gaining the prosperous, culturally and linguistically diverse southern France for the crown.

8 A heretic is burnt at the stake while Philip II Augustus'
looks on, book illustration, 15th century

Seal belonging to Count
Raymond VII of Toulouse,
13th century

10 Carcassonne castle, seat of one
of the vassals of the counts of Toulouse,
built in the twelfth century



The Albigensian Wars

The community of Albigenses, or Cathari, the pure ones— whom the popes considered heretical—formed in the region around the town of Albi in southern France. The Cathars believed in a dualistic division of the world into good and evil, wherein the Roman Catholic Church belonged to the fatter.

Crusaders from northern France and the Inquisition, established solely for this purpose, eventually exterminated the Cathars over wyears of brutal persecution.

The fortress cathedral Saint-Cecile of Albi,
built 13th—15th ñ




Eleanor of Aquitaine

The independent Eleanor of Aquitaine was a patron of artists, particularly troubadours. Her lifestyle did not suit her husband King Louis VII of France, who was under the strong influence of his counselor Abbot Suger.

She also had a falling out with her unfaithful second husband, Henry Plantagenet, King of England.

Eleanor was held under house arrest for years in England because she had supported a conspiracy of her son
Richard the Lion-Hearted against his father.

Depiction of Eleanor of Aquitaine on her tomb in Fontevraud Abbey,
sculpture, 13th century




Eleanor of Aquitaine

queen consort of France and England
also called Eleanor of Guyenne, French Éléonore or Aliénor, d’Aquitaine or de Guyenne

born c. 1122
died April 1, 1204, Fontevrault, Anjou, France

queen consort of both Louis VII of France (1137–52) and Henry II of England (1152–1204) and mother of Richard I (the Lion-Heart) and John of England. She was perhaps the most powerful woman in 12th-century Europe.

Eleanor was the daughter and heiress of William X, duke of Aquitaine and count of Poitiers, who possessed one of the largest domains in France—larger, in fact, than those held by the French king. Upon William’s death in 1137 she inherited the duchy of Aquitaine and in July 1137 married the heir to the French throne, who succeeded his father, Louis VI, the following month. Eleanor became queen of France, a title she held for the next 15 years. Beautiful, capricious, and adored by Louis, Eleanor exerted considerable influence over him, often goading him into undertaking perilous ventures.

From 1147 to 1149 Eleanor accompanied Louis on the Second Crusade to protect the fragile Latin kingdom of Jerusalem, founded after the First Crusade only 50 years before, from Turkish assault. Eleanor’s conduct during this expedition, especially at the court of her uncle Raymond of Poitiers at Antioch, aroused Louis’s jealousy and marked the beginning of their estrangement. After their return to France and a short-lived reconciliation, their marriage was annulled in March 1152. According to feudal customs, Eleanor then regained possession of Aquitaine, and two months later she married the grandson of Henry I of England, Henry Plantagenet, count of Anjou and duke of Normandy. In 1154 he became, as Henry II, king of England, with the result that England, Normandy, and the west of France were united under his rule. Eleanor had only two daughters by Louis VII; to her new husband she bore five sons and three daughters. The sons were William, who died at the age of three; Henry; Richard, the Lion-Heart; Geoffrey, duke of Brittany; and John, surnamed Lackland until, having outlived all his brothers, he inherited, in 1199, the crown of England. The daughters were Matilda, who married Henry the Lion, duke of Saxony and Bavaria; Eleanor, who married Alfonso VIII, king of Castile; and Joan, who married successively William II, king of Sicily, and Raymond VI, count of Toulouse. Eleanor would well have deserved to be named the “grandmother of Europe.”

During her childbearing years, she participated actively in the administration of the realm and even more actively in the management of her own domains. She was instrumental in turning the court of Poitiers, then frequented by the most famous troubadours of the time, into a centre of poetry and a model of courtly life and manners. She was the great patron of the two dominant poetic movements of the time: the courtly love tradition, conveyed in the romantic songs of the troubadours, and the historical matière de Bretagne, or “legends of Brittany,” which originated in Celtic traditions and in the Historia regum Britanniae, written by the chronicler Geoffrey of Monmouth sometime between 1135 and 1138.

The revolt of her sons against her husband in 1173 put her cultural activities to a brutal end. Since Eleanor, 11 years her husband’s senior, had long resented his infidelities, the revolt may have been instigated by her; in any case, she gave her sons considerable military support. The revolt failed, and Eleanor was captured while seeking refuge in the kingdom of her first husband, Louis VII. Her semi-imprisonment in England ended only with the death of Henry II in 1189. On her release, Eleanor played a greater political role than ever before. She actively prepared for Richard’s coronation as king, was administrator of the realm during his Crusade to the Holy Land, and, after his capture by the duke of Austria on Richard’s return from the east, collected his ransom and went in person to escort him to England. During Richard’s absence, she succeeded in keeping his kingdom intact and in thwarting the intrigues of his brother John Lackland and Philip II Augustus, king of France, against him.

In 1199 Richard died without leaving an heir to the throne, and John was crowned king. Eleanor, nearly 80 years old, fearing the disintegration of the Plantagenet domain, crossed the Pyrenees in 1200 in order to fetch her granddaughter Blanche from the court of Castile and marry her to the son of the French king. By this marriage she hoped to ensure peace between the Plantagenets of England and the Capetian kings of France. In the same year she helped to defend Anjou and Aquitaine against her grandson Arthur of Brittany, thus securing John’s French possessions. In 1202 John was again in her debt for holding Mirebeau against Arthur, until John, coming to her relief, was able to take him prisoner. John’s only victories on the Continent, therefore, were due to Eleanor.

She died in 1204 at the monastery at Fontevrault, Anjou, where she had retired after the campaign at Mirebeau. Her contribution to England extended beyond her own lifetime; after the loss of Normandy (1204), it was her own ancestral lands and not the old Norman territories that remained loyal to England. She has been misjudged by many French historians who have noted only her youthful frivolity, ignoring the tenacity, political wisdom, and energy that characterized the years of her maturity. “She was beautiful and just, imposing and modest, humble and elegant”; and, as the nuns of Fontevrault wrote in their necrology, a queen “who surpassed almost all the queens of the world.”

Régine Pernoud

Encyclopaedia Britannica



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