Medieval Architecture and art
Romanesque and Gothic architecture, church sculpture, and daily life in Medieval England.
Medieval Architecture and Art
BY DAVID ROSS, EDITOR
Art in the Middle ages was inseparable from religion. It was infused with spiritual symbolism and meaning. The purpose of art was to awe and inspire the viewer with the grandeur of God. It also served to symbolize what people believed. Pope Gregory the Great, he of the Gregorian chants, said, "painting can do for the illiterate what writing does for those who read." He might have added that sculpture could serve the same purpose.
At the beginning of the Norman era the style of architecture that was in vogue was known as Romanesque, because it copied the pattern and proportion of the architecture of the Roman Empire. The chief characteristics of the Romanesque style were barrel vaults, round arches, thick piers, and few windows.
The easiest point to look for is the rounded arch, seen in door openings and windows. In general the Romanesque churches were heavy and solid, carrying about them an air of solemnity and gloom.
Beginning in 12th century France a new style of architecture and decoration emerged. At the time it was called simply "The French Style", but later Renaissance critics, appalled at the abandonment of classical line and proportion, derisively called it "Gothic". This was a reference to the imagined lack of culture of the barbarian tribes, including the Goths, which had ransacked Rome in the twilight of the Roman Empire.
Gothic architecture is light, spacious, and graceful. Advances in architectural technique learned from contacts with the Arab world during the Crusades led to innovations such as the pointed arch, ribbed vault, and the buttress. Heavy Romanesque piers were replaced by slender clusters of columns. Window sizes grew enormously, as did the height of vaults and spires.
Sculpture became free standing rather than being incorporated in columns. The new expanse of window space was filled with gloriously rich coloured glass. The easiest point of reference to look for in a Gothic church is the pointed arch, seen in window openings and doors. Also, the later Gothic churches had very elaborate decoration, especially the "tracery", or stonework supporting the stained glass windows.
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