What Is Gothic Art?

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  • Written By: Dan Harkins
  • Edited By: Kaci Lane Hindman
  • Last Modified Date: 20 October 2019
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From the 12th century until well into the Renaissance period, Gothic architecture and artistic expression flourished throughout the Roman Empire of Europe. Born of utilitarian concerns, the forms and innovations bucked classical trends in Roman architecture. This led critics to name the movement after Goth nomads of Germanic lineage who were largely blamed for diluting Roman civilization since the third century.

The pointed entrance or window arch is one marvel of engineering that marks this type of architecture. This advance helped builders create taller structures than previous classical designs. Many of these windows featured stained-glass renderings of saints in the new Gothic art style. Peaked arches also appeared in supports and entry ways throughout the inside of Gothic structures.

Other architectural elements also indicate the Gothic art. Ribbed vaulted ceilings made it possible to construct roofs of lighter materials. Another recognizable feature is the flying buttress — the more the better. These often-ornamental braces also helped structures resist the natural force on the masonry by the weight of the vaulted ceiling, giving builders another way to make their vaulted ceilings taller and more heavenly. It also made projects cheaper by removing the need for extremely thick load-bearing walls.


Examples of Gothic art abound throughout Europe, including many Catholic cathedrals to honor Notre Dame, or "Our Lady." The Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris is perhaps the most famous example in France, but the Salisbury Cathedral in England, the Trondheim Cathedral in Norway and the Domm de Milan in Italy are equally revered by students of architecture. Hundreds of other grand basilicas and castles were constructed in the Gothic style from the 12th century to the 15th century, many still standing in 2011.

The long-prosperous Paris region of France is where early Gothic art was first exhibited. It is also where the first Gothic style of painting emerged. This style is characterized by more flowing, naturalistic depictions than the previous classic style allowed. By virtue of their primary location in cathedrals, most of these early sculptures, paintings and stained-glass windows depicted religious scenes, whether scenes from the New Testament or homages to martyred saints.

In the 14th century, a standard stamp of Gothic art was the circular rose window like the ones on the Cathedral of Notre Dame and Chartres Cathedral in France. These windows include intricate stained-glass depictions meant to symbolize Christ's relationships. They included his relationship with his mother, Mary, with his disciples, with God and with the largely uncharted universe expanding in every direction.


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