What Was the Gothic Period?

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  • Written By: H. Bliss
  • Edited By: W. Everett
  • Last Modified Date: 22 October 2019
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The Gothic period extended from the 12th to the 15th century Anno Domini (AD) in Europe. It was a French-borne artistic movement that sprouted a number of artistic works of many kinds, but is best known for its fashions and its innovative and unique style of architecture. The Gothic period developed out of the Romanesque period, and many historic European churches feature architecture from this movement. This period is the artistic period just preceding the famous art period known as the Renaissance, which began in Italy and occurred in the 15th through the 17th century.

Famous Gothic style buildings are many, but include the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, France, the Cologne Cathedral in Germany and the Basilica of San Francesco d'Assisi in Italy. After construction of the original Gothic period buildings, Gothic style experienced a revival in the 16th century, further spreading the architectural look of the period. This is why some early American churches are built in the Gothic style when settlers were not yet in the Americas during this period.

Gothic architecture is characterized by an affinity for light, tall arches, and vertical structures. Large, colorful, and brightly sunlit stained glass windows gained popularity in churches during this artistic period. Many Gothic buildings have tapestries decorating the inside of the building, and outside, pointy spires that reach high into the sky from the rooftops of these buildings.


The Gothic art style was considered by many to be rough, barbaric and unrefined in comparison with Classical art pieces of the past. Critics spoke harshly against Gothic artists before the style became generally accepted. Famous artists who were active during the Gothic period were many, but included French painter Jacquemart de Hesdin, Polish German painter Jan Polack, and German sculptor Veit Stoss.

Fashionable women during the Gothic period often wore pointy headdresses that looked like a pair of draped horns, with their hair pulled back tightly from their foreheads. Exposed hair was often worn long and flowing, and decorated with a floral headband. Men wore tight hose with undershirts covered by draped, puffy decorative overshirts known as doublets, which were sometimes embroidered.

Europe experienced a great deal of war and suffering during this time. The Gothic period is the artistic period that coincided with the peak of the Bubonic plague, better known as the Black Death, in Europe. It also coincides with the Hundred Years' War.


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