Altarpiece of Jacques de Baerze
Gothic is the
term generally used to denote the style of architecture, sculpture, and painting that
developed from the Romanesque during the 12th century and became predominant in Europe by
the middle of the 13th century. The many variations within the style are usually
distinguished by the use of chronological or geographical terms (for example, early, high,
Italian, International, and late Gothic).
One of the moves away from Byzantine
influence took the form of a softer, more realistic style
whose general characteristics survived until the middle of
the 13th century. In France the style is particularly
noticeable in a series of magnificent Bibles Moralisees
(books of excerpts from the Bible accompanied by moral or
allegorical interpretations and illustrated with scenes
arranged in eight paired roundels, resembling stained glass
windows) done probably for the French court c.
1230-40. In England the new style appears in numerous
manuscripts--for instance, the psalter done for Westminster
Abbey (British Museum, London; Royal MS. 2a XXII) and the
Amesbury Psalter (c. 1240; All Souls College,
Oxford). A particularly individual application of it is
found in the manuscripts attributed to the chronicler
Matthew Paris and in a series of illustrated manuscripts of
Germany the graceful pictorial style did not become popular.
Instead the successor to the Byzantine conventions of the
12th century was an extraordinarily twisted and angular
style called the Zackenstil. In the Soest altar (c.
1230-40; now in the Staatliche Museen Preussischer
Kulturbesitz, Berlin), for example, the drapery is shaped
into abrupt angular forms and often falls to a sharp point,
like an icicle.
The Meeting at the Golden Gate
Arena Chapel at Padua, Italy
Certain characteristics of high Gothic
sculpture spread to influence painting about 1250-60. Probably the first place where this
became evident was Paris, where Louis IX (St. Louis) was a leading patron. In an
evangelary (a book containing the four Gospels) prepared for use at the Sainte-Chapelle
(Louis IX's palace chapel), one can see the early Gothic pictorial style superseded quite
abruptly by a drapery style incorporating the large, rather angular folds of the Joseph
Master (Bibliotheque Nationale). Combined with this style was a growing emphasis on
minute detail almost as an end in itself; faces, in particular, became tiny essays in
Although details such as faces and hands
continued to be described chiefly by means of line, in a subsequent development drapery
and other shapes were modeled in terms of light and shade. This "discovery of
light," partial and piecemeal as it was, began around 1270-80 but is particularly
associated with a well-known Parisian royal illuminator called Master Honore, who was
active about 1288-1300 or later.
It is possible that this new use of light
was stimulated by developments in Italian painting. However that may be, Italian influence
emerged quite clearly in the second quarter of the 14th century, in the workshop of the
More than a dozen books have been associated with this artist; most show an
awareness of the recent Italian discovery of perspective in the portrayal of
space and some an awareness of Italian iconography.
The French style was introduced fairly
rapidly into England. Although Henry III apparently was not a bibliophile, various
manuscripts executed for his immediate family contain echoes of the dainty and minute
style of Louis IX's artists. Some large-scale paintings that demonstrate similar stylistic
traits, notably the "Westminster Retable," survive in Westminster Abbey.
Subsequent changes in English painting
involved greater decorative elaboration. A number of large psalters, such as the Queen
Mary Psalter (in the British Museum), survive from the first half of the 14th century,
many of them done for East Anglian patrons and almost all laying heavy emphasis on
marginal decoration. Although some books with elaborate border decorations date from as
early as the 13th century, such decorations became much more lavish in the 14th. There are
occasional indications of Italian influence in figure poses and compositions but nothing
really comparable to that found in books from
Pucelle Jean's Parisian workshop.
Italian influence reached other European
countries. An Italianate style of painting developed in Spain in the 14th century and, to
a lesser extent, parts of German-speaking Europe--in Austria, for instance, paintings in
the Italianate style were added around 1324-29 to make up the present Klosterneuburg
The Hours of Jeanne d'Evreux
The Road to
In the 13th century
both Rome and Tuscany had flourishing pictorial
traditions, and both, until the middle of the century,
were strongly influenced by Byzantine art. The
transitional period 1250-1300 is poorly documented.
Since much of the Roman work was subsequently destroyed,
evidence for what was happening in Rome must be sought
outside the city. The most important location where such
evidence exists is Assisi, where the upper church of St.
Francis was decorated by Roman-trained fresco painters
between about 1280 and 1300. In
the stylistic changes are probably best revealed by
Duccio di Buonisegna's
(1308-11), formerly the high altarpiece of Siena
Duccio di Buoninsegna's
all Gothic decorative art, the changes are in the direction of greater realism. By the end
of the 13th century, painters in Rome, such as
in Tuscany, had discovered, like their contemporaries in
Paris, the use to which light could be put in figure modeling. The Italian painters also
made sudden and unexpected advances in the manipulation of perspective to describe the
space of the scenes they were painting. More than this, the best painters developed an
extraordinary ability to create figures that really look as if they are communicating with
each other by gesture and expression; the work of the Isaac Master in the upper church at
Assisi is an especially good example.
the Italian tradition of painting on a large scale magnified problems such as perspective,
it would be hard to say. The survival of a large-scale mural tradition certainly marks
Italy off from the north. Italian mural paintings were executed with a technique involving
pigment applied to, and absorbed by, lime plaster that was still fresh (hence the name of
this type of painting--fresco).
It was with work in this medium as much as in tempera (a substance binding powdered
pigments, usually made from egg at this date) on panel that artists in Italy won their
reputations. The typical subjects of fresco painting were series of biblical or
hagiographic narratives. The painting of such fresco narratives (in Italian,
hence "history painting") was to be regarded in the 15th century as the most
important part of an artist's work by Leon Battista Alberti, an architect, painter,
sculptor, and the founder of "modern" or "Renaissance" art theory. In
making such claims, Alberti had in mind the work of the painter
Giotto di Bondone, better known as simply
Giotto, of the late 13th to early 14th century.
executed his first important
surviving work for the papal financier Enrico Scrovegni at the latter's family palace in
Padua. The palace chapel, called the Arena Chapel (decorated c. 1305-13;), is a
masterpiece in which all the lessons of Roman mural painting were translated into a
narrative sequence of great economy and expressiveness. In spite of the apparent realism
Giotto's work, however, the Byzantine past makes itself felt in the extremely strong
sense of pattern and design noticeable throughout the compositions.
In Tuscany somewhat similar developments took place.
altarpiece, the "Maesta," contains a large number of small narrative scenes
Giotto's fresco paintings. The
figures, which have firmly modeled faces and expressive gestures, are
arranged in buildings or landscapes that convincingly enclose them.
Duccio's interest in realistic
space, however, was much weaker than
Duccio's scenes feature a variety
of action and wealth of detail that, on the whole, is lacking in
early work, they do not make the same simple but dramatic impact.
conflicts are inherent in all realistic painting. In
Giotto's work a shift in the balance between the
two conflicting elements takes place. He completed two chapels in Santa Croce, Florence (c.
1315-30), of which one, the Bardi Chapel, is smaller but not unlike the Arena Chapel. The
other, the Peruzzi Chapel, tends toward greater detail and less stability in the settings.
Subsequent Florentine and
Sienese painters also moved in this direction. Of the Sienese,
was probably the most famous, since he worked outside Italy at the papal
court in Avignon and was a friend of the great Italian poet Petrarch. His
painting has strong suggestions of northern influence in its elegance and
grace, but his care over detail is reminiscent of
Duccio, and the careful structure
of his setting recalls
and the Roman painters. His major surviving work is now in Siena and Assisi,
but some impressive remains have been recovered at Avignon.
other Tuscan painters were the brothers
Ambrogio Lorenzetti, who worked for
almost their entire lives in that part of Italy. Their major works are in Siena, but,
again, there are important frescoes at Assisi, where, probably, it was
and his workshop who decorated a transept in the lower church (c. 1330).
is especially famous for an enormous landscape, illustrating the effect of good
government, painted in the Palazzo Pubblico Siena (1338-39). Historically, it is the first
large, realistic landscape in which Byzantine conventions were entirely discarded. It had
strangely few imitators, suggesting that the process of discarding convention and using
the evidence of the eye is a slow one.
middle of the 14th century, Italian painters had achieved a unique position in Europe.
They had made discoveries in the art of narrative composition that set them quite apart
from painters anywhere else. Their achievements in capturing reality were not easily
ignored. Many subsequent changes in northern painting consist of the adaptation of Italian
compositional realism to northern purposes.
Life in the City.
The Expulsion from Paradise.
of European painting prevalent during the last half of the 14th century and the early
years of the 15th is frequently called International Gothic. There were certainly at that
time features common to European painting generally. In particular, figures were elegant
and graceful, yet at the same time there was a certain artificiality about such figures,
and a taste grew for realism in detail, general setting, and composition. The degree of
internationalism about this phase of Gothic painting owes something to the fact that much
of the most important work was executed under court patronage, and most European royal
families were closely linked by marriage ties. Local idiosyncracies, however, persisted;
seldom can the art of Paris, for example, be mistaken for that of Lombardy.
European courts were those of the Holy Roman emperors (who had nominal suzerainty over
central Europe and who at this time had their capital at Prague), the Visconti of Milan,
the Valois of France, and the Plantagenets of England. But other sources of patronage
existed--in Florence, for example, where the art of Lorenzo Ghiberti and
merged with that of the early
Renaissance. And an extraordinary number of important painters were associated about
1350-1400 with the linguistic area of Low Germany--the Low Countries and Westphalia
especially--and the Rhineland.
Holy Roman emperor Charles IV and his son Wenceslas, Prague was the seat of
a flourishing and enlightened court for about 60 years. Brought up in Paris,
Charles had also traveled in Italy. Indeed, his main palace chapel at Karlstejn
Castle near Prague, which is the chief monument to Charles's patronage, had
an altarpiece by an Italian painter called
Tomasso da Modena. The chapel
itself was decorated chiefly by a local painter called
whose work is Italianate. A group of his panel paintings, especially the
altar of Vyssi Brod (c. 1350), shows a curiously Sienese
character, though he did not achieve the delicacy associated with paintings
from Siena. The emphasis instead is on heavily modeled faces and thick,
Theodoric's style seems to have initiated the "soft style"
that remained a part of German painting well into the 15th century. He
certainly determined the character of Bohemian panel painting up to the
outbreak of the disastrous Hussite wars (1419).
IV apparently did not collect manuscripts. His ministers and courtiers, however,
stimulated an important school of manuscript painting, influenced by French and Italian
styles but with distinctive decorative characteristics. Two of the more important
manuscripts were a missal (a book containing the office of the mass) done for the
chancellor Jan of Streda (c. 1360; Prague, National Museum Library, MS. XIII. A.
12) and a huge Bible begun for Charles's son Wenceslas (1390s; Vienna, Osterreichische
Nationalbibliothek, Cod. 2759-2764).
similar to this Bohemian painting soon appeared elsewhere--the paintings of Master Bertram
of Minden at Hamburg (c. 1380), for example.
a style appeared that had some of the characteristics of Bohemian work, especially a
strong emphasis on faces and facial expression. An early example, probably executed before
1364, is a portrait of John II (Louvre, Paris), which is firmly modeled in a rather
Italianate manner. More important, however, is the workshop of the master of the
"Parement de Narbonne" (1370s; Louvre), an altar hanging (parement) found
at the Cathedral of St. Justin Narbonne. These artists, who were active c.
1370-1410, worked in a very distinctive style: their figures, while graceful, have
markedly heavy heads and expressive faces. That some interest in settings had developed is
suggested by the care that must have been taken to render them reasonably
three-dimensional. In this respect the works have much in common with earlier Italian
interest in the settings of paintings was shared by panel painters such as
Melchior Broederlam, who executed the Dijon
altar wings (1390s; Museum of Fine Arts, Dijon). The interest quickly spread during the
early 15th century to the manuscript painters, who produced a series of extremely
impressive landscape and architectural settings. Especially fine are the so-called
Brussels Hours (Brussels, The Belgian National Library, MS. 11060-1) and the Hours of
the Marechal de Boucicaut (Jacquemart-André Museum, Paris). The best of the
manuscript painters worked for the royal family, among whom Jean, duc de Berry, the
brother of King Charles V of France, has achieved permanent fame as a patron. The most
notable painters who enjoyed his patronage were
Limburg and Pol's two brothers. Their illuminations are frequently reminiscent of
contemporary Italian painting. The largest and most sumptuous work, the Très Riches
Heures du duc de Berry (left unfinished in 1416, Conde Museum, Chantilly, Fr.),
includes calendar pictures representing each month in terms of the seasonal activities of
nobility and peasants. At least one Italian artist--identified tentatively as Zebo da
Firenze--was painting in Paris at this period (c. 1405).
with him are usually sumptuously, if erratically, decorated. Indeed, in the matter of
erratic decoration they seem to have had a baleful influence. The border decoration of
Parisian manuscripts c. 1410-25, such as those of the artist called the Master of
the Duke of Bedford, often seems to run wild and to lack the restraint characteristic of
Parisian painting up to this date.
eminent Italian artist of this period was perhaps
Gentile da Fabriano. Trained
probably in Venice, he painted there in the Doges' Palace (first decade of the 15th
century) and also at Brescia. Subsequently he moved to Florence and thence to Rome, where
he died. Most of his north Italian work has been destroyed, and his style must be assessed
chiefly by the work done in Tuscany, the "Adoration
of the Magi" altar (1423; Uffizi, Florence). His faces and drapery tend to have a
soft, rounded modeling, somewhat reminiscent of the northern "soft style." The
subject matter of his painting includes detailed studies of birds, animals, and flowers.
Gentile da Fabriano
Presentation of the Child in the Temple.
Musee du Louvre, Paris
forms an interesting contrast to that of
Lorenzo Monaco in Florence, who, though
equally an International Gothic artist, tended to draw figures with finer, more incisive
lines. In many ways
style resembles painting done at the Milanese court during this period. Many illustrated
manuscripts survive, giving an impression of a transition about 1370-1410 from a strongly
traditional Lombard style to something that has much in common with northern work. In
particular, Michelino da Besozzo seems as court artist to have worked in a soft style
similar to that of
da Fabriano. Also
dating from around 1400 is a distinguished group of illuminated manuscripts including the
Book of Hours of Gian Galeazzo Visconti, herbals (manuals containing botanical drawings),
and a famous sketchbook (c. 1395) containing a large number of drawings of animals
(Bergamo, Municipal Library, VII 14) from the workshop of an earlier court artist,
Giovannino de' Grassi.
England the decoration of the royal Chapel of St. Stephen's (c. 1360) was
apparently, for the period, outstandingly Italianate. (Surviving fragments are in the
British Museum, London.) Subsequently, however, in the Chapter House of Westminster Abbey
(probably executed c. 1370) there was strong Germanic influence, which has been
tentatively compared with the work of Master Bertram at Hamburg.
style of the second half of the 14th century is best illustrated by a series of
manuscripts done for members of the Bohun family and by a sumptuous missal given to
Westminster Abbey by its abbot, Nicholas Litlington, in 1383-84. The work is decoratively
lavish, but the figure style conveys only distant reflections of Italian painting.
change in English manuscript painting occurred about 1400 and is associated with an artist
named Herman Scheerre, who seems to have come from the region of Cologne. His figures have
a rather plump softness that brings them into line with stylistic developments elsewhere;
he also had a command of perspective and compositional structure lacking in the work of
most previous artists in England. The style of John Siferwas, another painter active
during this period, is similar, but his page decoration is usually more lavish; he
produced a series of beautiful bird studies reminiscent of Lombard work. It should be
noted, however, that this sort of realistic observation had long been a feature of English
work--in the 14th-century East Anglian manuscripts,
for example, and in English embroidery from about 1300.
of the number of good painters who came from the region of the Low Countries, Westphalia,
and the Rhineland, it is puzzling that these areas should themselves have produced little
important painting from the period about 1350-1410. Judging from the surviving works,
easily the most distinguished of the painters active in this part of Europe was the Duke
of Burgundy's painter,
who lived and worked at Ypres. Other artists, such as Konrad von Soest, who executed the
"Niederwildungen Altar" about 1403, seem to have reflected developments
elsewhere without pioneering anything strikingly new. It was not until the 1420s that the
Low Countries became the centre of intense pictorial development.
The key to much 15th-century painting in
northern Europe lies in the Low Countries. The influence of Paris and Dijon decreased,
partly because of the renewal of the Hundred Years' War between England and France and
partly because of the removal of the Burgundian court, after the mid-1420s, from Dijon to
Brussels, which subsequently became the centre of an extensive court patronage.
The founder of the Flemish school of
painting seems to have been
Robert Campin of
Tournai. The works of
Campin, his pupil
Rogier van der Weyden, and
Jan van Eyck
remained influential for the whole century. One of the most important discoveries of the
period of about 1430--especially in the work of
van Eyck--was the multifarious effects a
painter can achieve by observing the action of light. These early Flemish artists found
that light can define form, shape, and texture and that, when captured in a landscape, it
can help convey a mood.
Rogier van der Weyden also explored the problems of conveying
emotion. A development in the rendering of the drapery--the so-called crumpled style of
hard angular folds--is particularly clear in the paintings of
Campin. Portraiture made
dramatic progress during this period. Portraits were obviously not new; sculptors were
already experimenting in the 14th century with life--and death--masks. But the brilliant
use of lighting gives the portraits of
Jan van Eyck, for instance, a vivid life hitherto
A great deal of later 15th- and
16th-century Flemish painting seems to play variations on these themes. Although there
were painters with distinctly individual styles, such as
Hugo van der Goes, with his highly
accomplished technique and somewhat contemplative depictions,
Hans Memling was more typical (despite having
been born in the Rhineland).
Musee des Beaux-Arts, Dijon
The influence of
van Eyck's paintings was
felt to a limited extent outside the Low Countries--for example, by
Konrad Witz of Basel, Switz., by the Master of the
Aix Annunciation (1442) of Aix-en-Provence, Fr., and by the Neapolitan artist
and his illustrious pupil
Antonello da Messina.
In the course of the century, however, the style of
Rogier van der Weyden and his immediate successors,
Bouts, became more influential,
being felt in Germany, England, Spain, and Portugal. Evidence of Rogier van der
Weyden's influence can be seen in the
works of Hans Pleydenwurff of Nurnberg, in the wall paintings in Eton College Chapel (c.
1480), and in the paintings of Nuno
Gonçalves in Portugal. This new
"international style" also influenced the great German engraver
Martin Schongauer and, ultimately, the
outstanding representative of the German Renaissance school of painting,
Any individualists at this time were
usually painters who chose to go to the extreme of emphasizing the bizarre or the
Hugo van der Goes veered in
A very different sort of extreme
individuality is found in the work of the Tirolean painter and sculptor
His pictorial work is so strongly marked by a concern with the structure of the
composition and with effects of perspective--particularly foreshortening--that it seems
clear he knew the work of
of Padua. Although virtually free of antique motifs,
Pacher's painting demonstrates the growing
fascination of Italian Renaissance art for northern artists.
Rather different were the French painters
of the 15th century. Court art revived, especially during the reign of Louis XI (1461-83),
as exemplified by the illuminated manuscript Le Livre du coeur d'amours espris
(1465; Osterreichische Nationalbibliothek, Vienna). The most interesting painter was
Jean Fouquet, who, apparently early in his
career, visited Italy. Italian details certainly appear in his work, but, as is evident in
the Hours of Etienne Chevalier (Conde Museum, Chantilly) and the "Melun
Diptych" (now divided between the Staatliche Museen Preussischer Kulturbesitz,
Berlin, and the Museum of Fine Arts, Antwerp), he still painted within the northern
tradition. The restrained and somewhat reticent character of much French painting is
interestingly similar to much of the sculpture.
The Dijon Altarpiece
Musee des Beaux-Arts, Dijon