1250-1400: Introduction

Britain Timeline 1250-1400

The key figures were Charles IV and Louis IX with their court style. Paris, London, Avignon and Prague were the important courts.

It is important to be able to distinguish the different styles e.g. Perpendicular versus Decorated, Italian versus Northern European and to learn the general trends, e.g. in the development of tracery.

Consider why didn’t the renaissance happen in 12th century? Religion ruled people’s lives. The period has a bad reputation, the Black Death, the crusades the Peasant Revolt.

Why 1250-1400? It was chosen fairly randomly. The crusades had begun. Gothic art had already started 100 years before. Romanesque to Gothic change has already happened and settled down. It is an interesting period. Scholars have not begun to study the culture. For example,Zoë Opačić has studied the development of cities. The accent used to be only England and France, and it now includes Central Europe and the Holy Roman Empire (Bohemia, Prague (the centre), Germany, Austria and Northern Italy).

Royal power Middle to late Middle Ages secular and ecclesiastical power conflicted (see the “investiture conflict”). The papacy won in the 12thC but rulers created the sanctity of rulers (divine right of kings). French monarchy reaches its apex, Louis IX was canonised. He commissioned St. Chapelle (an early example of the Rayonnant style). The chapel was built to hold a reliquary of the crown of thorns. Earthly power versus divine power.

Is all style development related to royal power? Is it the king only or the queen or the court or the itinerant artist making suggestions.

Consider the importance of royal ceremony which becomes increasingly elaborate. Italy has city states, a quasi-democracy, oligarchy, rule by noblemen. Siena and Florence needed a corporate image for the commune. One of the greatest commissions in Siena was not the church but for the Senate (“Good and Bad Government”). Church Fourth Lateran Council (1215) established the Eucharist, and transubstantiation, it decided it was the actual body and blood. (Lyon council was doctrine of purgatory (1274). Gave a new emphasis to the altar and the need for visual imagery to feed into the drama bigger windows, huge portals, large windows. Some purely for pleasure, some for specific purposes. The beauty of the Middle Ages is that it is multi-faceted. The Benedictine order already existed. At the outset of the 13thC new orders developed, mendicant orders like the Franciscans and Dominicans. Previously the orders had avoided society but the mendicant orders involved themselves with society but had an absolute vow of poverty. They built their churches within city walls. In some ways they challenged the church. Franciscans wanted simple, big buildings (classicizing). Why Italian Gothic is different from Northern Europe’s bravado of bigger and bigger churches. It partly reflects earlier aspects of the church. Each order developed its own style e.g. Cistercians had no stained glass and no bell towers (from Cito, France). Stylistically similar across Europe, e.g. the hall church created by Benedictines. Church rituals and the increase in the number of saints, relics, festivals and so on were all important.

The importance of the confessional was decided by the Lateran council and the need to minimise the number of days spent in purgatory by saying prayers and going on lengthy pilgrimages. For example, by worshipping the Passion relics in Prague you could get 40 days off. This introduced corruption as you were able to buy your way out of purgatory. By the end of our period this led to a counter movement and eventually Luther (1483-1546). In 1311 the general council of Vienna introduced the Feast of Corpus Christi which became a very popular festival. (Read Mary Rubens “Corpus Christi”.) Death and commemoration Italy and Northern Europe Offices for the dead, masses, Last Judgement scenes, beginning 14thC with Dante’s Divine Comedy that gave hell a clearly defined structure. Much more sophisticated. Devotion to the Virgin Becomes an important figure as an intercessor, she has particular compassion. It takes on a momentum of its own. She was a role model of chastity and motherhood. Pilgrimages, relics, sculptures of the Virgin. One of the few cults to survive into the Renaissance but she was changed into an ordinary housewife.

Veronica Sekules “Medieval Art” does not use the term Gothic or Middle Ages as they are pejorative. But you do need the term to describe certain architecture.

We need more precise terms, e.g. Rayonnant, in England Decorated (rich tracery) and Perpendicular (becomes ubiquitous, name from panel tracery used).

Why is it not found in Italy? Iconography In its context and locality, related to architecture and ritual.

Materials generally very shiny and precious. It was considered appropriate to enclose reliquaries of saints in gold and rubies. Beautiful thoughts arise from beautiful objects – rise from the “mire of the earth” as Suger (“Su-jay”, 1081-1151, St. Denis 1137-1144, first Gothic cathedral) put it. Churches become lanterns of glass, driven by the need to “conquer the wall.” Suger talks about the effect of light through the glass. Development of cities – chequerboard planned (Vitruvius). We will look at 14thC Prague.

Lecturers given by Zoe, Ames Lewis and Janet Rockson, a visiting lecturer.

Recommend books

  • Wilson, The Gothic Cathedral. Particularly the diagrams at the back and the terminology.
  • Crossley & Frankel, Gothic Architecture

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