International Gothic
History, Characteristics: Miniature Book Painting, Diptychs, Goldsmithing.

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The Divine Breath (1395-99)
Museum of Fine Art, Dijon, France.
By Melchior Broederlam.

International Gothic (c.1375-1450)


International Gothic Style of Art
Late Gothic Northern Painting
International Gothic Artists

Further Resources

Gothic Architecture (c.1150-1375)
Gothic Sculpture (c.1150-1280)

"Purgatory" from the Burgundian
illuminated manuscript known as
Les Tres Riches Heures du duc de Berry
(1411-16). Musee Conde, Chantilly.

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Old Masters (Painters to 1800)

The International Gothic Style of Art - Characteristics

The term International Gothic (gotico internationale) describes a style of late medieval art (painting, sculpture and decorative art) that extended across western Europe during the last quarter of the 14th- and the first quarter of the 15th-century, acting in effect as a bridge between Gothic art and Renaissance art.

In the International Gothic style (also known as the "beautiful style" or the "soft style") the oddities of natural forms are smoothed away, leaving behind an elegant, delicate realism, which perfectly suited the decorative needs of the royal courts which gave birth to it. Marked by a feeling of secular chivalry - no matter how devotional or religious the subject - its elegance reflects the sophisticated, cosmopolitan nature and pageantry of courtly life. Although it combines elements from northern Europe and Italy, International Gothic art reflects Italian traditions, notably that of the Sienese school.

International Gothic was stimulated by the growing cultural rivalry of the European royal courts, including those located in: Prague, the capital of Bohemia, the seat of the Holy Roman Emperor; Paris, the court of the French King, outshone by the courts of the Duc de Berry, and the Duc de Burgundy; Aragon and Castile, the major feudal courts of Spain; Westminster, England; and Lombardy. Major artists associated with the International Gothic style included the sculptors Andre Beauneveu (c.1335-1400) and Claus Sluter (c.1340-1406); the wood-carvers Veit Stoss (1450-1533) and Tilman Riemenschneider (1460-1531); and the painters Gentile da Fabriano (c.1370-1427), Antonio Pisanello (1394-1455), as well as the Limbourg Brothers, Herman, Jean and Pol, all of whom died of the plague in 1416. The style exerted a strong influence on Early Renaissance art, especially the works of Lorenzo Ghiberti (1378-1455), Paolo Uccello (1397-1475) and Fra Angelico (c.1400-55).


International Gothic Sculpture

Plastic art is less easy to understand in this period, due to so many works having been vandalized or destroyed. Huge quantities, for example, of goldsmithing for the French royal family have almost completely vanished. A handful of remaining pieces testify to the awesome quality of the work. They include: the "Thorn Reliquary" (c.1400-10, British Museum, London), and the "Goldenes Rossel" at the Stiftskirche, Altotting, Germany (1403).

Large numbers of private monumental sculptures from this period have also been lost in France and the Low Countries. The principal sculptor to the French King in the second half of the 14th century was Andre Beauneveu (c.1335-1400). He produced a large number of monuments, especially for King Charles V, of which several survive. A greater sculptor was Claus Sluter (c.1340-1406), who worked for Charles V's brother Philip the Bold, Duke of Burgundy. His figures are both strongly characterized and, at times, emotional. This suggests that his origins may have been German, although greater expressiveness was also symptomatic of a gradual change in sculptural style during this period. The strong facial characterization of Sluter's figures finds echoes in the near-contemporary triiforium busts and Premyslid tombs in St. Vitus' Cathedral in Prague.

The International Gothic sculptural style paves the way for the early work of Lorenzo Ghiberti (1378-1455) and Donatello (1386-1466), and their gradual introduction of Classical ideas into sculpture as an alternative to the elegance of Interrnational Gothic.

One interesting development which becomes noticeable during the late Gothic period is the increase in the amount of sculpture produced by foreign artists for countries like Hungary, Poland, and the Baltic countries. During the 15th century there was considerable artistic interchange between northern and southern Europe. For example, the Netherlandish sculptor Gerhaert Nikolaus von Leyden became court sculptor in Vienna, while the Italian Andrea Sansovino served the Portuguese royal court. The Franconian sculptor Veit Stoss worked for the Polish court at Krakow (c.1480), while the German Bernt Notke produced work for Denmark, Estonia, and Sweden.

In Germany/Austria, the most interesting artists worked in the second half of the century. Two such sculptors were Gerhaert Nikolaus von Leyden and Michael Pacher (1435-98). After them came a number of virtuoso southern German masters of wood-carving, such as Veit Stoss (1450-1533) of Nurnberg (noted for his masterpiece of altarpiece art at St Mary's Church, Krakow, 1477-89), Tilman Riemenschneider (1460-1531) of Wurzburg (noted for the altarpiece at St Jakob Kirche, Rothenburg, 1499-1504), and Adam Kraft of Nurnberg. In northern Germany, the most innovative sculptor was Bernt Notke of Lubeck (noted for his group of St. George and the Dragon in St. Nicholas' Church, Stockholm). See also: German Gothic Art (c.1200-1450).

Other important Late Gothic sculptors from North of the Alps included: Hans Multscher (c.1400-1467); Giorgio da Sebenico (1410-1473); Michel Colombe (c.1430-1512); and Gregor Erhart (c.1460-1540).

In general, French International Gothic sculpture seems to show greater decorative restraint. Certainly, the major surviving works take the form of large groups (eg. the Tonnerre Entombment, 1450s), or of architectural schemes where the decoration is subordinate to the figures (eg. Chateaudun, Castle Chapel, 1425).

The move from International Gothic to Renaissance was superficially far less difficult than the move from Romanesque to Gothic. In sculpture, it was not a change from symbolism to realism, but rather a change from one sort of realism to another. However the decorative embellishment that accompanied Late Gothic, was close to being overworked. As a result, the advent of the Italian Renaissance, with its ties to Classical Antiquity, provided a more fruitful avenue of development.

For architectural designs see: Gothic Style of architecture.

International Gothic Painting

The style of European painting known as International Gothic had a number of features commmon to European painting generally, partly because a lot of the most important work was commissioned by European royal families who were closely linked by marriage. Also, as we saw in sculpture, established artists often worked for a number of different, often competing, patrons. Figures were depicted in an elegant and graceful style, although compared with later Renaissance art they possessed a certain artificiality.

The principal European courts were those of the Holy Roman emperors - like Charles IV and his son Wenceslas - based in Prague, the Visconti of Milan, and the Valois of France. But other sources of patronage also existed - such as the Medici family in Florence, where the Pre-Renaissance painting of people like Lorenzo Monaco (1370-1425) merged with that of the early Renaissance. International Gothic was also welcomed by several artists in the Sienese School of painting.

Book Painting

The Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV was not a collector of illuminated manuscripts. Even so, his court stimulated a major school of manuscript painting, strongly influenced by French and Italian styles but with its own distinctive decorative characteristics. Two important religious manuscripts produced were a missal (a book containing the office of the mass) for the Chancellor Jan of Streda (1360, Prague, National Museum Library, MS), and a huge Bible for Charles' son Wenceslas (1390s, Vienna, Osterreichische Nationalbibliothek).

The apogee of International Gothic illuminations was achieved by the small-scale illuminators of Books of Hours for the courts of Paris and Bourges, many of them of Netherlandish origin. The best miniaturists included the pioneer Jean Pucelle (c.1290-1334), Jacquemart de Hesdin (c.1355-1414), The Boucicaut Master and the Limbourg Brothers.

Other important International Gothic illuminated manuscripts included: Les Tres Riches Heures du Duc de Berry (1416, Musee Conde Chantilly) by the Limbourg Brothers (whose illuminations are strongly reminiscent of contemporary Italian painting); the Annunciation (1400, Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris), the Brussels Hours (Brussels, The Belgian National Library, MS. 11060-1) and the Hours of the Marechal de Boucicaut (Jacque-mart-Andre Museum, Paris) by Jacquemart de Hesdin; and The Missal of Jean des Martins (National Library of France, Paris), by Enguerrand de Charenton (Quarton) (c.1410-1466). French court art revived later during the reign of King Louis XI (1461-83), as illustrated by the illuminated religious manuscript Le Livre du coeur d'Amours Espris (1465, Osterreichische Nationalbibliothek, Vienna).

Panel Painting

The Medieval people increasingly began to see themselves as individuals, and for this reason, private religious devotion became more important, resulting in an increase of commissions for smaller household altar-panels. The wasteful riches of this form of Christian art may have been a consumer-reaction to the misery and devastation of the Black Death in the middle of the century, which had already depopulated wide areas of Europe. In fact, images of death and the transitoriness of life, which reflect the existential experiences of the age, begin to appear in art between 1350 and 1450. In France, double grave sculptures representing the deceased as a worldly figure in the full glory of office and worldly honor, but underneath as a transi, or worm-eaten corpse, become typical at this time. Religious art concentrated on devotional pictures containing drastic portrayals of the suffering and patiently endured martyrdom of Christ, found in the "suffering crucifixions" (also called "plague crucifixions"); panel paintings depicted the instruments of martyrdom and scenes of the Passion of Christ through multiple signs and symbols. At the same time, in a counter movement, pictures began to convey more strongly the dogmatic contents of faith, especially in the environment of the Dominican order which was responsible for carrying out the Inquisition.

The tradition of panel painting, made famous by the Sienese master Duccio di Buoninsegna - see his Maesta Altarpiece (1311) and his icon-like Stroganoff Madonna and Child (1300) - and Simone Martini (1284-1344) - see his Annunciation Triptych (1333) - was well maintained by artists such as the Flemish pioneer Melchior Broederlam (c.1350-1411), official painter to Philip the Bold, who produced the Dijon Altarpiece (1390s, Museum of Fine Arts, Dijon). The Tours-born painter Jean Fouquet (1420-81), noted for his miniatures, altarpieces and portraiture, was an important bridge between French and Italian painting during the later 15th century. The German painter Stefan Lochner (1400-51), noted for his altarpiece in Cologne Cathedral and works like The Presentation in the Temple (1447, Landesmuseum, Darmstadt), was another link between Late Gothic and Renaissance painting. Another German artist of note was Konrad von Soest, who created the "Niederwildungen Altarpiece" (1403). In England, International Gothic style painting is exemplified by the diptych (2-panel) masterpiece known as the Wilton Diptych (1395-9, National Gallery, London), whose theme, relistically captivated, was the presentation of King Richard II to the Virgin and Child. The artist remains unknown.

The most interesting exponent of French painting in the International Gothic era - not least because of his mastery of miniature portrait painting - was probably Jean Fouquet, who, apparently early in his career, visited Italy. Italian details certainly appear in his work, but, as is evident in the Hours of Etienne Chevalier (Conde Museum, Chantilly) and the "Melun Diptych" (now divided between the Gemaldegalerie, Berlin, and the Museum of Fine Arts, Antwerp), he still painted within the northern tradition. The restrained and somewhat reticent character of much French painting is interestingly similar to much of the sculpture.

Italian Painting

In Italy, perhaps the most influential International Gothic painter was the ubiquitous Gentile da Fabriano. Trained in Venice, his most famous work is the Altarpiece of the Adoration of the Magi (1423, Uffizi, Florence). The faces and drapery of his paintings typically have a soft, rounded moddeling, reminiscent of the northern "soft style." By contrast, the figures of the the Florentine Lorenzo Monaco (1370-1425) were drawn with finer, more incisive lines. Happiest working on a small-scale, his well known works include Madonna Enthroned Between Adoring Angels (1400, Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge) and Madonna and Child (1413, National gallery of art, Washington DC). Another important link between the International Gothic School and the early Renaissance was the Italian court painter, portraitist and medallist Antonio Pisanello (1394-1455), whose greatest and most imaginative work is probably Vision of St Eustace (1448, National Gallery, London).

Other important Late Gothic Italian painters include Ambrogio Lorenzetti (c.1285-1348) - see his Allegory of Good and Bad Government (1338-9) - Ugolino di Nerio (active 1317-27), Masaccio's collaborator Masolino (1383-1447) and Stefano di Giovanni Sassetta (1395-50) who combined the Gothic style of Siena with the new Renaissance ideas from Florence.

Late Gothic Northern Painting

Late Gothic painting in northern Europe was centred on the Low Countries. The founder and leading pioneer of the Flemish school of painting was the shadowy Robert Campin (1378-1444) known as the Master of Flemalle, who was noted for his intense devotional triptych altarpieces such as the Seilern (Entombment) Triptych (1410) and the Merode Altarpiece (1425). Other leading members include his pupil Roger van der Weyden (1399-1464), famous for works like the altarpiece Descent From the Cross (1435, Prado, Madrid), and Jan van Eyck (1390-1441) noted for masterpieces like The Ghent Altarpiece (1432, St Bavo's Cathedral) and The Arnolfini Marriage (1434, National Gallery, London).

International Gothic Artists

Leading exponents of the International Gothic style, many of whose works are represented in the best art museums, include:

- Andre Beauneveu (c.1335-1400)
- Claus Sluter (c.1340-1406)
- Hans Multscher (c.1400-1467)
- Giorgio da Sebenico (1410-1473)
- Adam Kraft (d.1509)
- Michel Colombe (c.1430-1512)
- Veit Stoss (1450-1533)
- Tilman Riemenschneider (1460-1531)
- Gregor Erhart (c.1460-1540)

- Ugolino di Nerio (fl.1317-27)
- Lorenzo Monaco (1370-1425)
- Gentile da Fabriano (c.1370-1427)
- Lorenzo Ghiberti (1378-1455)
- Melchior Broederlam (fl.1381-1409)
- Masolino da Panicale (1383-1447)
- Jacquemart de Hesdin (fl.1384-1409)
- Stefano di Giovanni Sassetta (1392-1450)
- Antonio Pisanello (1394-1455)
- Limbourg Brothers, Herman, Jean and Pol (d.1416)
- Paolo Uccello (1397-1475)
- Konrad von Soest (fl.1390s/1400s)
- Fra Angelico (c.1400-55)
- Jean Fouquet (1425-80)
- Michael Pacher (1435-98).

For details of European collections containing works by painters of the International Gothic movement, see: Art Museums in Europe.


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