|A gisant may be inlaid in bronze with his features incised, but he may also be carved in the round on his tomb. In either case his Fido, his trusted dog, may be represented at his feet, sorrowing and guarding. Sorry for film photo in dark church!|
Although between the sack of Constantinople by the army of the Fourth Crusade in 1204 and the final conquest of the Byzantine territories by the Turks in 1453 the Byzantine Empire (which, remember, they called Roman) never fully recovered its prosperity and security, it did produce near the end art of breathtaking tenderness and refinement combined with remarkable clarity and strength. It is hard to believe we are looking at the art of such an ancient civilization (the span is nearly equal to that of Egypt). Those who call Late Byzantine art "desiccated" (dried out) usually are thinking only of the provincial Tuscan Byzantine that preceded the Italian Gothic realism (not more real, but more homely and natural) of Cimabue and Giotto; Tuscan Byzantine, however, is quite different from the best art of the 13th and 14th centuries in Greek-speaking centers.
The great figure of Christ in the Deësis mosaic in Hagia Sophia church is usually today dated in the 13th century (earlier on your print). But there can be little doubt that the breathtaking human tenderness and intellectual realism in the figural arts of both Late Byzantine and European Gothic are connected with each other. There are little hints in the design of beards, for example, in Early Gothic sculpture that suggest that the new Gothic art (which Deonna called "the Christian Miracle" corresponding to the "Greek Miracle" of the fifth century B.C. in Athens) availed itself here and there of elements preserved in the Byzantine tradition.
To say that is hardly to detract from the glory of Gothic art. It used everything at its disposal to create one of the great original styles in the history of humankind. Similarly, Gothic architecture, created at St.-Denis under Abbot Suger beginning in 1137, right at the peak of Romanesque everywhere else in Europe, takes something from everywhere to make a wholly new architecture, although all the elements pre-existed: the radiating chapels came from the Pilgrimage churches; the pointed arches (originally from Islamic architecture) and the triforium came from Burgundy; the ribbed groined vaults and the two tower façade (originally from the Carolingian Westwerk) came from Normandy; hints of flying buttresses are seen at Caen in Normandy and at Durham in northern England.
Chartres, the most important portal for Early Gothic sculpture and (after 1197, when it was rebuilt after a fire destroyed all but the portal of the Early Gothic portal) the first truly classic High Gothic cathedral, was one of the centers of humanistic learning in twelfth-century France, just before the birth of the universities. Its importance, therefore, in the history of architecture and sculpture is only one aspect of its stature.
Romanesque had been a movement, taking different forms wherever it burgeoned, but Gothic (the name is derogatory; the Renaissance meant by Gothic that the art was barbaric!)--Gothic is a style. It began in the Ile de France (St.-Denis is just north of Paris and today is the terminus of one of the Métro lines) and spread from there. It is remarkably unified; only, in England, Italy, and Germany we see national taste and feeling changing its character somewhat. It is the first truly urban art of northern and western Europe. It will be very important to analyze the structure and design of the great cathedrals and other Gothic churches, for here again we come to a period when a few architects demand to be considered as representatives of the Liberal Arts rather than artisans, and to appreciate their designs we must understand the thought that went into them. They represent the most perfect union of intellect and engineering raised to a truly spiritual level--not only because they are religious buildings but in their own right as works of art. The same is true of Giotto's paintings, of statues of the Madonna and Child like those by Arnolfo di Cambio and Giovanni Pisano and the French sculptor of the "Vierge de Paris", as well as of the Byzantine fresco of the Anastasis (Resurrection) in Kariye Camii in Constantinople, all of which were created within about a decade of each other.
|This is the same photo as UPrints N54, but someone borrowed my Print.|
Byzantine Imagery after c. 1200
Early Gothic Imagery
Chartres was one of the centers of what is called the Twelfth Century Renascence, a revival of humanistic ancient learning within the framework of Christian theology. The upshot was humanized theology; this is the art that expresses it. The subject of the central tympanum is Christ in Glory surrounded by the evangelists, shown as their symbols from the vision of Ezekiel. The tympanum on our right is devoted to Mary, with the Presentation of the Infant Jesus in the Temple on the lintel below it and below that the Adoration of the Shepherds, so arranged as to spell out Eucharistic theology; some of the voussoirs represent Music, Philosophy, Grammar, etc. The kings and queens on the colonnettes of the jambs are from the Old Testament but are understood as prefiguring the kings and queens of France. No doubt about it, we are in an artistic and spiritual realm rather different from that of Autun and Vézelay. And, by the way, notice that the portal has pointed arches.
The east end, the chevet, of Abbot Suger's Abbey Church of St. Denis, is all that remains in good condition from his time. Chevet designates the Gothic form of an apse with ambulatory and radiating chapels, all integrated, that we shall see later in Chartres (1197- ) and Amiens (1220- ). Of course, it is based on the east end of either Cluny or Pilgrimage Churches, just as the pointed arches come from Cluniac churches. The fine stonework and the use of pre-built ribs and external buttressing for the vaults just as obviously was borrowed from Norman Romanesque, as at Caen. So what's so original? Why is this not just eclectic Romanesque in a region that heretofore had not developed a strong Romanesque style? First, it's a new vision. Second, it caught everyone's imagination and spread like wildfire from this single center, in the Ile de France, in one generation altering the future course of both architecture and sculpture. Abbot Suger's vision for his new abbey church is connected with the legend of St. Denis, the patron saint of France. Denis is the French form of Dionysios, and, putting aside chronological difficulties (of which they may have been unaware), the French identified the Dionysios who had been missionary to the Franks with Dionysios the Areopagite (Acts 17: 16-34) and him, furthermore, with the Dionysios, probably a monk in 6th-century Christian Syria, who had written mystic visionary theology, much admired by Thomas Aquinas. No one knew what a common name Dionysios had been in the Greek world in those centuries! Abbot Suger greatly admired the mystic writings, full of images of light and symbolic color, and weren't they an apt inspiration for St. Denis's new abbey church? To obtain such an architecture he called on builders who understood how Norman ribbed vaulting and external buttressing could render walls, as such, unnecessary--they were not needed to take thrust and bear weight--and, as the photos show, he filled the areas that formerly would have been heavy wall (with small windows) with stained glass, flooding the interior with colors and creating an architecture that seemed to embody a Dionysian vision. This is the birth of Gothic architectural style. Nowhere else in the history of architecture is advanced engineering more integral to a new vision. Nowhere in the whole history of art has fervent imagination feeding on compound ignorance of historical fact been so fruitful as in this event.
Most Early Gothic cathedrals still have sexpartite ribbed vaults (we shall study Paris Cathedral), but after the new Chartres we shall see quadripartite ribbed vaults, one of the hallmarks of High Gothic architecture. All these ribbed vaults are also groin vaults; by now that is implicit. When pointed arches are combined with the sexpartite vault of Caen, St. Etienne, it is no longer necessary to make the diagonal ribs depressed arches nor the transverse ribs stilted in order to make them the same height. One of the great advantages of the double-centered (pointed) arch is that longer and shorter spans can easily be made the same height. Thus, looking down the nave vaults of a Gothic church, the effect is rather of a continuous rhythm than of separate bays.
[G 330] and [G 331] each must be used with the other prints for both Paris and Amiens and, for the plan, also with the other prints of Chartres. In this course, we shall not study Bourges, the third section and elevation on [G 331].
There is more than one kind of Gothic plan; Paris Cathedral is the kind with double aisles all around and a transept that hardly extends beyond the aisles (it extends only as far out as the buttresses). (Notice that we do not call the cathedral by its dedication, to Our Lady, Notre Dame; this is the great period of devotion to Mary, and almost every Gothic cathedral in France, such as Chartres and Amiens, is also a "Notre Dame", which, therefore, is not an identifying name.) The plan shows, like those of Chartres and Amiens beside it on [G 330], that supporting wall is practically eliminated; the ribbed vaults distribute the thrusts which are contained ultimately by the great buttresses (invisible from the interior; hence the miraculous-seeming lightness; remember the dome of Hagia Sophia), and the structural system may be called skeletal. At the upper levels, thrust is transferred to the external buttresses by the half-arch structures called flying buttresses. Before you compare it with something skeletal in modern architecture, like a bridge or a skyscraper, remember (this is essential) that it is pure masonry, mortared cut stone, including even the tracery of the stained glass windows. Metal has great tensile strength, and it is held in tension with rivets and welding. Stone has compressive strength; proper management of inertia, and thrusts containing each other, is all that makes a Gothic church stand. The "soaring" feeling of a cathedral is purest art, enabled by purest engineering skill. The façade of Paris Cathedral, like that of St. Etienne, is later as you go higher, but here they never finished the spires on the façade towers. It is a development from the Norman Romanesque façade, but the rose window with tracery and the sculptured portals (like those of the Royal Portal of Chartres a generation earlier) are innovations of Early Gothic. These Paris portals were much restored in the 19th century. The transepts that seem insignificant on the plan, in a view of the exterior of the south flank show their true character; they show just as strongly as a transept that sticks out on the plan (as at Chartres and Amiens) because, unlike the aisles, they are as high as the nave. (The rose window and turrets of this south transept are later than the west façade.) Paris Cathedral affords a wonderful array of flying buttresses visually making a cage around the cathedral. The nave is Early Gothic, begun in 1163; at first it was to have an Early Gothic four-part elevation of the nave wall: (1) arcade (with colonnettes here beginning only at the capitals of the cylindrical columns), (2) gallery (as in Norman Romanesque at St. Etienne), (3) an unique "triforium", blind but designed with tracery rosettes instead of little arches, and (4) the clerestory windows at the top. Before they had built very far, they wanted larger windows, the new lancet windows to be filled with stained glass, with tracery making arches and a rosette at the top; they changed, and only one bay survives with the four-part elevation. Thus, Paris Cathedral is unique, because it still has the gallery but has sacrificed the triforium to have large lancets. The whole nave, however, is vaulted with Early Gothic sexpartite vaults, higher than Caen's, higher even than Durham's vaults. Because they were built at a time when ideas were developing very rapidly, and every bishop was eager to keep up with every other (so was every architect!), almost every Early Gothic cathedral exhibits changes in the progress of building.
Chartres Cathedral, after 1197, and Amiens and Reims
David McCauley's children's book, Cathedral, is excellent on Gothic building. It is not "too good for children" (who deserve only the best and love his books), but it is better than practically any book in print destined for college students or older readers. The video based on the book is not quite as detailed and is somewhat vulgarized.
The plan of Chartres, with double aisles in the choir, single aisles in the nave, with apsidal radiating chapels (as at St. Denis) in the chevet, with great transepts whose façades are almost as important as the west façade, sets the style that Amiens and Reims will follow. The plan also shows the rectangular quadripartite bays, two of which take the same space as one sexpartite-vaulted bay, while the rib vaulting of the chevet is much more elegant and daring (with a half century of experience) than at St. Denis. Above all, the whole is an amazingly integrated design. By drawing the plan at the window level rather than at the ground level, we obtain a plan that shows the structural elimination of the wall (needless to say, Gothic cathedrals don't have glass all the way to the ground!). The air view from the SE shows the nave-choir and transept roofs crossing at the same height; the roof is to shed rain and snow and is built of timber covered with copper (the vaults are inside). At Chartres, the east end was constructed after the half west of the transept and has more evolved flying buttresses; they are double, because Chartres has a double ambulatory. From the interior, in the view looking east, they are invisible. The north and south porches have rose windows contemporary with the main building campaign, earlier than the south rose at Paris. The doorways on the north and south transepts at Chartres are of the new hooded design that we shall see at Amiens and Reims; you look into a recess at ground level, but, as the air view shows clearly, its depth is created by building out the porch enclosures. Chartres' west façade, of course, incorporates the very Early Gothic Royal Portal, not hooded. It, too, like Paris Cathedral, has (now it will be standard) the two-tower façade design that we first saw at St. Etienne, which goes all the way back to the Carolingian Westwerk. Guess which tower's spire was finished only in the 16th century, and consider how different their attitude then was from ours, which is more concerned with authenticity and consistency than with being up to date (partly because, at the moment, we aren't sure what "up to date" is). The west façade's rose window, with its sturdy spoked pattern in stone, matches the flying buttresses of the nave (the earliest flying buttresses, much sturdier than later) and the tracery of the rosettes at the top of the nave's lancet windows: study and compare [G 269] and [MG 183]. A sheet of drawings like [MG 183], with interior elevation (left), exterior elevation (center), and cross section (right), together with the plan, contain all the information a competent 13th-century contractor and master masons would need to build the cathedral. Because it is modular, built bay by bay, it is enough to show just one or two, and only half the cross section. That wouldn't be true of most other great buildings; that it is of Gothic cathedrals is one of the most important keys to understanding them: this is how the architect thinks. The drawings of Chartres or Amiens or Reims are like poems by architect/engineers (they didn't hire separate engineering firms in the 13th century). Most laymen, however, need to visit the actual space and feel the effect of the patches of colored light playing on the pale gray stone as the sun moves overhead as well as the awesome height (main vaults 127' from the floor, for the first time exceeding the tallest Romanesque of Cluny and Speyer) and the perfect proportions, neither squat nor extremely tall (the comparative elevations in [G 331] show the difference between Chartres and, in the next generation, Reims and Amiens), and the perspective of the lovely, simple quadripartite rib vaults. A photograph of the nave can give some idea of its beauty.
[G 271] [K 76] [K 162] The porch of the South Transept of Chartres contains two of the cathedral's most famous statues, the jamb statue of St. Theodore on the far left jamb of the center door, and the statue of Christ blessing on the trumeau in the center door. These are no longer so insistently columnar as the jamb statues of the Early Gothic Royal Portal; the statue has its own life and stands in accord with its own "laws" of statics (in the case of St. Theodore in almost perfect contrapposto, for the first time since Antiquity). On the other hand, they don't yet "forget" their function in architectural design, as part of the succession of columnar elements in the jambs. St. Theodore, with the belt for his sword affecting the fall of folds in his over-garment and his knuckles shown through the chain mail, reminds us of the comparable breakthroughs in relating drapery to body and making empirical observation part of sculptural form that we saw in 5th-century Greece. All of the inherited formulas, on which the great (but different) drapery patterns of Romanesque sculpture were built, have been abandoned, with much greater confidence and freedom than in the Old Testament kings and queens of the Royal Portal. This statue is based on primary study of real drapery on real bodies. That is what is perfectly analogous to what the Greeks had done. His stance and his thoughtful, noble face with slightly downcast eyes make him a new, humane image of the soldier saint--no longer just an icon of militancy; we look at him and can imagine his thoughts as he contemplates dying for his faith. The Christ Blessing on the trumeau has a very French physiognomy; we have compared him at the beginning of this section with the Christ of the Hagia Sophia Deësis not because they look alike (they don't) but because both are new in expressing strength and divinity in terms of gentle compassion and inward qualities (hard to define, but really there). There may be some real connection between Byzantine and Gothic, to judge from a few details, such as Christ's beard in two spiral curls, curling in opposite directions. Awareness of Byzantium, however, is by no means an "explanation" of the creation of Gothic sculpture. That it breaks with formula and brilliantly struggles anew with primary observation, just as the Greeks had done, however, is very important. Sixty years ago a Swiss art historian, W. Deonna, grasped its significance and wrote a three-volume book called Du miracle grec au miracle chrétien ("From the Greek Miracle to the Christian Miracle"); the sculptures that we are studying, beginning with these, are the "Christian miracle" of his title. The union of empiricism with form is the rarest thing in human art, worldwide. It isn't "better", but it is extremely difficult and special. We are its heirs; we find the Chartres Christ more worshipful than earlier ones.
High Gothic Imagery
The full-page illustrations in the Psalter of St. Louis (the king of France who went to the Holy Land and returned with a relic purported to be a thorn from the Crown of Thorns used in the Passion of Christ) at almost exactly the same date as the Reims Abraham and Melchizedek look like a translation of the interior west wall of Reims into manuscript illustration, affording a new way of structuring the page, organizing the page decoratively without recourse to abstract patterns. Or was it the other way around? Did the designer of the niches on the west wall look at the latest thing in book design? After all, this beautiful Psalter was a royal commission, not just any illustrated book, and sculptors had previously turned to book art for ideas. One idea suggests itself: the treatment of a full-page picture as action taking place within two niches is intrinsically architectural; both the Reims niches and the Psalter's design are very like the design of lancet windows as we have studied them in elevation drawings (and we have Gothic architects' own drawings of cathedrals in terms of elevations like the modern drawings). It looks as if the orderly coordination/subordination of structural design elements is fundamentally architectural and the design principles of Gothic architecture have pervaded all the arts. The colors in the St. Louis Psalter are muted tints of reds and blues, plus neutrals (on the white-to-black scale) and gold, but the very clear delineation and distribution of the hues reminds one of some of the best stained glass of the same period. Some of the other full-page pictures in the St. Louis Psalter are even more similar to the Reims west wall niches. On the other hand, note that the representation of the walls of Jericho is just as schematic as the Romanesque Tower of Babel on the ceiling of St. Savin sur Gartempe, only much more elegant. Among other things, this Gothic style is the court art of the king of France.
The architect who drew interior and exterior elevations of Reims Cathedral when its nave was brand new, ca. 1235, side by side, proving that he understood them in the same way as I have advised you to study this architecture (as they did), was Villard de Honnecourt; we have his manuscript Sketchbook, recording all that engaged his interest as he travelled from one cathedral center to another (and as far as Bohemia, in the present Czech Republic). It is most instructive to see how he draws his own art. Columns and piers are marked by larger and smaller circles, the external buttresses are drawn rectangularly, and, like modern draftsmen, he draws lines from support to support for the ribs of the ribbed groin vaulting. He draws a square-ended Cistercian church on a modular grid. He uses hooked lines to render the little pockets in the folds of soft drapery in the figure of Christ falling as he bears his own cross to Golgotha. If he drew the wrestlers from life at some town fair, as he may have done, he interprets their medieval equivalent to boxers' shorts in the same terms. In one annotated drawing, he says that he drew the lion from life, but we wouldn't think so without his annotation, because the drawing is a lion in terms of 13th-century art (and by an artist who hasn't seen many living lions).
Two of Germany's most beloved statues are part of a group of couples addorsed to colonnettes around the inside of the apse of Naumburg Cathedral. The couples are donors, members of the regional nobility who contributed to the building of the cathedral. They look as if they were surely done from life, but in fact Count Ekkehardt and Countess Uta were deceased before the time of the sculptures. Therefore, the sculptor himself has created these characterizations, just as the Bamberg sculptor did in realizing in stone his concept of Elizabeth and Mary. These are a little later than Bamberg, and it is clear that the sculptor of Uta has learned the lesson, of what hands and drapery can do, that the Bamberg Elizabeth teaches. But he has complemented it by her arm within her cloak making as if to shield her face, and not only do we have drapery all the more powerful for his restraint in using complicated folds only where they tell us something but in her face, too, we have the image of a withdrawn, perhaps complicated person. By contrast, Ekkehardt is foursquare and bluff. One would think that the sculptor had deliberately contrasted man and wife, even male and female. Their color being preserved gives us an excellent idea of how Gothic sculpture was meant to be seen.
[MG 324] St. Elizabeth's, Marburg, designed only a little later than Amiens and Reims, shows us that in architecture, too, Germans both fully grasped what the French were doing and preferred their own version of what could be done with those principles. Remember the Romanesque Hall Church, St. Savin sur Gartempe? The apotheosis of the Hall Church is in German Gothic. Here it lets the architect achieve the maximum and most uniform emphasis on vertical lines, since there is no horizontal series of triforium arches, and because the tall aisles of the hall church are combined with the large windows that skeletal construction permits the whole church is quite bright. Thus we see very clearly the use of darker stone not only for the ribs and transverse arches in the vaults but for all of the colonnettes that respond specifically to them. It is an extremely lucid interpretation of Gothic principles.
|(yes, Salisbury does have a Chapter House, just as Lincoln has, but it is omitted from the drawing)|
|The exterior, above, and the interior, below, of the Salisbury Chapter House|
It is easy to forget that not all medieval architecture was ecclesiastical. In the independent city-states of Italy, in particular, there is famous civic architecture. Arnolfo di Cambio, the architect of Florence's Palazzo Vecchio, was also the architect of Santa Croce and of the Cathedral (see below) and a famous sculptor as well as architect. Doubtless, you will feel that the Palazzo Vecchio does not look very Gothic, being square and battlemented, but look at its windows. Those are Italian Gothic windows. Like Giotto, Arnolfo knew Florence's greatest poet, Dante, whose Divine Comedy is contemporary with these Italian Gothic churches and sculptures and paintings.
For Italian 13th-century sculpture, we turn to the carved Pulpit in the Baptistery at Pisa, by Niccolò Pisano. When I refer to him as "Niccolò", I am not being fashionably familiar; in the Middle Ages, most ordinary people did not use, or even legally possess, family names. For example, in the early Renaissance, we have Masaccio, a nickname meaning, apparently, "clumsy Tom", and Piero di Cosimo, so called because he was the Piero who was a pupil of Cosimo Roselli. "Pisano" means, from Pisa. We know the names of many more Italian artists, because in the free city states individual artisans (who also were members of Guilds) had more personal status. At first glance, you may be more inclined to accept the design of Niccolò's columns and cusped arches as Gothic than the style of his wonderful reliefs. But think again. Of course, this doesn't look French and courtly, but didn't we see the French sculptors both looking at real people and real drapery and also, some of them, looking afresh at ancient Roman sculpture? That is just what Niccolò too has done, but he has done it in Italy, where hundreds of ancient Roman sarcophagi were on view, some supporting altars in churches, some used as catch basins for public fountains, some actually exhibited in the churchyard (Campo Santo) at Pisa Cathedral. Once again (as the Visitation Master of Reims surpassed his ancient models), he has surpassed those mass-produced old sarcophagi, being a sculptor of real genius and trying more earnestly to make something fine.
Finally, we shall consider the most remarkable cross-fertilization of Late Byzantine and Italian Gothic art (the latter will prevail) in the decades just before and just after 1300 A.D.
A masterpiece of Late Byzantine true fresco painting of ca. 1310 is the Anastasis in Kariye Camii (alternative spelling on print; I use the Turkish spelling) or Our Savior in Chora in Constantinople (Istanbul). This the the Greek church's image of the Resurrection; Anastasis is Greek for Resurrection. Christ is shown as the New Adam by main force freeing the Old Adam, and Eve, from Hell, and, by implication, all of us. The image means that such is the meaning of his resurrection. The white highlights and the pale mandorla around his body give the figure of Christ a feeling of great spiritual radiance, and the energy with which he (literally) yanks out Adam and Eve powerfully conveys their inability of their own nature to save themselves. Adam's and Eve's garments are whipped around them by the force of extraction. Notice how the grace and elegance of the figures at the left are akin to (only in a different mode) the grace of Gothic figures. Notice, too, the strangely stylized rocks (here for the cave-like mouth of hell), which actually go back to conventional mountains such as we saw in the painting of the Laestrygonians in the Odyssey Landscapes of the 1st century B.C.; Duccio and Giotto use such rocks (Giotto softens them, so that, once again, they look more like the Roman ones), but they didn't go all the way to Constantinople to see Byzantine paintings.
In the second half of the 13th century, some Greek immigrant artists had taught Tuscan painters (and mosaicists) their tradition. The resultant Tuscan-Byzantine style was the prevalent style when Duccio, in Siena, and Giotto, in Florence, were growing up. The wonderful gold-ground mosaics by Coppo di Marcovaldo in the Dome of Florence Baptistery (we don't know whether the dome was otherwise decorated before these mosaics were done, or not) show what Italian pupils made of Byzantine style. The National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., has an excellent Tuscan-Byzantine icon, which, regrettably, is sometimes used as an example of "Byzantine" art; like Coppo's mosaics, it actually is flatter and stiffer than real Late Byzantine, such as we have seen in the Anastasis of Kariye Camii.
Although, as we have seen, Late Byzantine art in Constantinople also is sensitive and refined, closer study of the baby and angels, not to mention the curtains of the throne, reveals that these qualities in Duccio come from Gothic art, a taste for which now begins to be noticeable even in Italy. Not only the angels' drapery and their pale colors but also the lyrical line of the gold hem of her robe that defines subtly the Virgin's knees come from Gothic art, and the baby Jesus wears western baby clothes. On the other hand, the type of the image (notice, for example, the spherical dome of the Virgin's head) is from Byzantine art. Duccio's later work is more strongly Gothic than the Rucellai Madonna.
Older than Duccio, the Florentine Cimabue, Giotto's teacher, also inherited the Tuscan-Byzantine tradition, but his Madonna Enthroned with Saints and Angels, also ca. 1285, while tempering Tuscan-Byzantine with Gothic as much as Duccio did, is less affected by the lyrical side of Gothic, more by its realism. It is the same generic type of Byzantine Madonna image (and 12´ feet tall itself) but you tend to imagine it as larger than Duccio's, because Cimabue's forms, even the highly imaginary throne architecture, and especially the sense of body inside the Virgin's drapery, are much sturdier. The baby Jesus, although blessing with the authority of Christ and therefore not acting babyish, is round-faced, curly-haired, and fat-footed, and he has carefully studied drapery. The silky transparency of the angels' lavender-colored drapery is especially Gothicized. Cimabue, however, was a very strong artistic personality, strongly inclined to realism from nature, whose personal stamp is even stronger than what he inherits from both traditions.
Ca. 1310, about the same time as the Kariye Camii Anastasis, a Parisian sculptor was carving, and painting, the lovely Vierge de Paris in Notre Dame (Paris Cathedral). The swaying pose and exaggerated slenderness that began with work like the Joseph Master's at Reims Cathedral two generations later in the Vierge de Paris reaches the culmination of French Gothic courtly and lyrical elegance (never mind that Mary of Galilee would not recognize herself here). Holding the baby Jesus at shoulder height with her cloak caught up in this gesture only emphasizes the S curve of the pose. The baby, like Cimabue's is sober as befits a Messiah and holds the orb in his left hand, but with his right he reaches, babylike, towards his mother's face, which regards him both fondly and with a sense of his destiny, and the infant Jesus has true baby's proportions. This beloved statue is so elegant that we might miss the depth and subtlety of its psychology.
The first Italian sculptor to compare with the Vierge de Paris is Giovanni Pisano, who was working at exactly the same time (as were Duccio and Giotto, in the first quarter of the 14th century), not to be confused with the older Niccolò (especially since they both carved pulpits). In the Scrovegni Chapel in Padua at the same time as Giotto was frescoing the walls ( [B 66] ), Giovanni Pisano carved the Madonna and Child with Two Angels. The Madonna is in the same pose, basically, as the Vierge de Paris, but her physique, by comparison like that of an athlete, and her drapery arranged to emphasize the plumb line, and the intensity of the gaze that she shares with the baby Jesus, all give this image an entirely different character. The two angels have clinging late Gothic drapery, but they stand so foursquare that you can't expect them to fly. Yet it is his having studied and absorbed all he wanted of French Gothic that makes his work so different from Niccolò's [B 380]. The Nativity on the Pulpit in S. Andrea in Pistoia (and equally that which he made for Pisa Cathedral) has a Byzantine composition (cf. the Nativity in one of the squinches at Daphni, [MG 42]) but, as we saw in Duccio, the feeling, and the drapery, and the rendering of hair, all are Gothic. Yet, as [B 392] shows, this is fundamentally the same kind of pulpit as Niccolò had made, and the relief of the Crucifixion, in particular, still shows the crowding and deep shadows that these Italian Gothic sculptors seem to have gotten from so many Roman sarcophagi. The cusped arches of Giovanni's pulpit, however, are steep pointed arches.
Most impressive of all this work done around or just after A.D. 1300 is the Madonna and Child that its architect, Arnolfo di Cambio, carved for the façade of Florence Cathedral (you can see it in the museum directly opposite the east apse of the Cathedral). Even if he had not also been a great architect, this statue would give Arnolfo a place beside Michelangelo and Bernini as a sculptor. It not only ranks with St. Elizabeth at Bamberg but, which Arnolfo would like to hear us say even more, it ranks with the greatest sculpture in the round of Greek and Roman antiquity. It doesn't matter whether you say that the Renaissance of the 15th century stands on the shoulders of Gothic or you express it in terms of Gothic art really being the beginning of Renaissance art (by virtue of working from primary experience and empirical study rather than patterns); Arnolfo has made a statue truly monumental and thought through in three dimensions, even though it had its back to the façade. For this is Italian Gothic, and so is the work of Arnolfo's friend, Giotto. It is just that the Renaissance writers identified with their own 13th-century art so strongly (it is, after all, so very Italian in character) that they did not call it by the (for them) pejorative label "Gothic". They made the label, and they meant by Gothic that it was un-antique and northern, hence barbarian as the 5th-century Goths. We too notice how solidly human and warm Arnolfo's sculpture and Giotto's painting are compared with the royal and courtly Vierge de Paris, but, of course, so are the sculptures of Bamberg and Naumburg.
We might stop with Giotto but for one historical fact: the history of European art is actually punctuated at mid-century by the ravishes of the plague, the Black Death. Artists, including the two we now consider, and many patrons, as well as a considerable fraction of the whole population, died in the plague, which was far more lethal and terrifying (without knowledge of its causes or the means at that time of stopping it) than syphilis in the 18th and 19th century or AIDS in our own decades. So, it makes sense that this course should end ca. 1348.
A generation younger than Duccio, the brothers Pietro and Ambrogio Lorenzetti, like him, were from Siena and worked there. Pietro's Birth of the Virgin, tempera paint on a gessoed panel, nearly 6 feet high, is a triptych with a Gothic-style architectural frame (the gilded colonnettes dividing the scene are half-round wood); what is noteworthy about that is how he has created the painted architectural space of St. Anne's chamber (the newborn baby Mary is being bathed in the foreground) continuous with the frame of the triptych, as if the frame were part of the painted space, emphasizing his intentions by making St. Anne's maid, seated beside her couch, appear on both sides of one colonnette; also, the checkered bed continues into the right-hand panel. The panel at the left shows a young messenger who has just gone through a door from the room represented in the center panel telling Joachim of his daughter's birth. The coloration of this painting takes full advantage of tempera, in which fully saturated hues, almost jewel-like, are possible. Obviously, the interest in representing space the way we really see is snowballing (also, in France in the first half of the 14th century, in northern Late Gothic, there are similar experiments; Gothic has gone from exploring only the human figure and its drapery to exploring also the spaces that figures inhabit). [B 96] at the right joins [B 97]: these are one great frescoed mural painting in the Palazzo Pubblico (City Hall) of Siena; this wall is nearly 100 ft. long. This fresco, by Ambrogio Lorenzetti, represents the Effects of Good Government: in the City and (beyond the zigzagging wall, to the right) in the Country. Never mind that the perspective is still unscientific! Just consider what Ambrogio has done: he has drawn his town as he really saw it and shown it on a festive day full of people, keenly observed, drawn pretty much with a feeling for keeping them in scale with the buildings--thus undoing what the reliefs on the Column of Trajan did and every city-scape that we have seen since then, too. Then, outside the wall, he has painted the hills of Tuscany, from life, as no one ever had painted them before. He had no models; this is wholly original. Nor, in concentrating on the whole of the scene in proportion (no, not quite accurate, but . . .), did he omit delightful details of farm work in the middle distance.
|If you like Tennyson and Victorian monuments, go see Lord Tennyson and his Dog behind Lincoln Cathedral, here seen in pouring rain.|