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Art Express

What is Gothic Art?

Les Tres Riches Heures `January' is the month of exchanging gifts

While you would not be blamed for thinking of Gothic as punk rockers with loads of white make up and very, very dark eyes, it would be wise to remember the art movement that evolved in 12th century called Gothic art movement.

Art historian and biographer Giorgio Vasari was the first to classify the movement as Gothic when he wrote, "Then arose new architects who after the manner of their barbarous nations erected buildings in that style which we call Gothic."

Gothic architecture - typified with soaring roofs and exquisite stained glass fought a constant battle with gravity where architects needed to work out how to keep the massive stone structures up. The name Gothic, was taken from the barbarians who brought about the fall of Rome in the sixth century, as Italy at that point of time was harking back to the classical age for inspiration in art, architecture and sculptor.

`November' shows the autumn acorn harvest

While Gothic implies the Nordic races, the movement was started in France and gained ground all over Europe. It was a time when the dark ages had come to an end and the age of reason, the renaissance, was establishing itself.

The church had gained in power and it was also a time of chivalry and the Crusades, which brought a great deal of traffic between the east and the west and commingling of Byzantine and Gothic art. There are three movements within Gothic art - the International art (the fusion of Italian and northern European art leading to a secular style), Innovations (which in the South, in Florence, led to the Renaissance while in the North, in the low countries led to the Northern Renaissance) and Late Gothic (which is considered the bridge between the Middle Ages and the Renaissance).

The art of illumination was a dominant feature of Gothic art - Umberto Eco's medieval murder mystery In the Name of the Rose has a lot to say on that score. Prayer books were illustrated and the Limbourg brothers were masters of this art as the exquisite Les Tres Riches Heures (The book of hours) reveals. Gothic art moved from the idealised to the natural. There was a revival in the 18th and the 19th century heavily influenced by nostalgia for a time gone by.


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