Gothic Sculpture
History, Characteristics of Cathedral Architectural Sculpture.

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Virgin and Child Ivory Carving (c.1280)
Carved to fit the shape of the tusk.
A masterpiece of Gothic sculpture.
Louvre, Paris.

Gothic Sculpture (c.1150-1280)

Contents

What is Gothic Art?
Characteristics of Gothic Sculpture
The Cathedral in the Town
The Column Statue in Gothic Sculpture
Saint-Denis: Origins of Gothic Sculpture
Chartres Cathedral
Notre-Dame Cathedral
Tympanum of Senlis and the Marian Cult
Sculpture in Northern France (c.1200)
Amiens Cathedral
Reims Cathedral
Developments in 13th Century Gothic Sculpture
Royal Sculptures: Arcade of Kings



The Passion of Christ (1350-65)
Gothic diptych relief sculpture in ivory
depicting the Washing of the Feet (L),
and the Last Supper (R).
Walters Art Museum.


Gothic Gargoyle Sculpture
Notre Dame cathedral, Paris.
Cathedrals in Northern France built
between 1100 and 1250 contain some
of the greatest sculptures ever.

What is Gothic Art?

'Gothic' is a word with a strange history and even stranger connotations. Naturally the builders of Chartres or Canterbury had never heard the word. They may have thought of themselves as moderns (as compared with the builders of St Trophime or Durham), but they would have been surprised to know that four centuries later, men of culture looking for a word to describe their style of Christian art would choose one with the same connotations that the word Vandal has for us today.

To most people it implies neither scorn nor praise: it is just a technical term for the kind of building in which the arches are pointed. Or ask someone to go a little deeper and ignore pedantic tests of this kind and he will tell you rather hesitatingly that he supposes that Gothic art is on the whole a vertical style whereas Romanesque art is a horizontal style. And he will be correct as far as he goes. But if he suggests that vertical and horizontal are two irreconcilable systems of thought and that the first was the result of a sudden act of rebellion against the second, he will be wrong. Architecturally the possible shades of transition from Romanesque architecture to Gothic, and even from Byzantine art to Gothic, are infinite. Venice is full of buildings that are Gothic by definition, but Byzantine in spirit. The pointed arches of Monreale in Sicily are more closely related to Byzantium than the round arches of Durham.

The Gothic Cathedral
Reflecting the increasing stability of the age as well as the growing power and ambition of the Christian Church, the Gothic cathedral was designed as a miniature symbol of God's universe. Each element of the building's design conveyed a theological message: namely, the awesome glory of God. The ordered nature of the structure reflected the clarity and rationality of God's universe, while the sculptures (reliefs and column statues), stained glass windows and murals illustrated the scriptural messages of the Bible. Craftsmen involved included the greatest sculptors in Europe, but they remained largely anonymous.

HISTORY OF SCULPTURE
For a guide to the origins and
development of 3-D art,
see: Sculpture History.

GOTHIC ARCHITECTURE
For the definition of certain
architectural terms, see:
Architecture Glossary.

 

Characteristics of Gothic Sculpture

We, however, are not concerned with buildings or arches, but with sculpture in stone. If the word Gothic has any permanent meaning it must be applicable not only to a cathedral, but to a statue or a relief. But if we isolate an angel from the cathedral of Rheims - from its architectural context - how are we to know whether it is Gothic or not? How, for instance, does Gothic sculpture differ from earlier Ottonian art (c.900-1050) or Romanesque sculpture? There is no neat answer to such questions. Gothic is a relative, not an absolute term. It is a flavour that can be either hardly detectable, or, in extreme cases, overwhelming. What began to produce the flavour was another outburst of that spirit of visual curiosity which is among the chief motive forces of European art.

Curiosity about the human body produced Greek art; another kind of curiosity was responsible for the Gothic spirit. Greek curiosity was that of a scientist: Gothic curiosity was that of a lover. It was an affectionate curiosity, full of little whimsies and extravagances. Instead of limiting itself to humanity it could range playfully and capriciously across the whole of creation, picking out details, a monstrous form here, a charming turn of the wrist there. Greece had developed in the direction of greater breadth and simplicity: Gothic developed in the direction of complexity and preciousness, and gaily mingled the grotesque with the elegant. It is this mixture that gives it its true flavour, and, for that reason it can be summed up in no single statue or painting. If Byzantine mosaic is like beer in that one needs a lot of it, Gothic art is like a cocktail in that its separate ingredients do not fairly represent its final flavour. It has all the complexity of life itself.

 

'Romantic' is the obvious word for it, but 'romantic', like 'beautiful', is a word that will not survive the process of definition. To see Gothic at its impressive best one goes, of course, to the great cathedrals, especially the cathedrals of northern France. (But see also German Gothic sculpture, as well as the differing styles of English Gothic sculpture.)

Those cathedrals are among man's most extraordinary and moving creations, whether one sees them from afar, rearing themselves proudly above the city that surrounds them and breaking upwards into spires and pinnacles, whether one examines them at close quarters, noting the restless infinity of sculptural detail and fretted texture, or whether one enters them to find oneself in a complex architectural system whose soaring pillars and ribbed vaults arrest the eye so effectively that the walls are hardly noticeable and the effect is rather that of a formalized forest than of an enclosed room.

What concerns us here is not their shape or their function but their capacity to provide an ideal setting for certain kinds of plastic art. The Gothic spirit is not merely vertical; it leaps and soars like a rocket. Its essence lies in its power to suggest, not the final perfection of classic reason, like a Greek temple, but a dynamic search for the unattainable. The secondary arts of sculpture and stained glass which it fostered so easily, seem to grow organically out of it rather than to be imposed upon it. Like a living plant, a Gothic building can enrich itself from its own roots, throwing out foliage, tendrils, and flowers without losing its central unity. And that same leaping, nervous energy on which the whole of a Gothic structure is based, communicates itself to every part of the building but particularly to those portions of it which, however firmly they may be embedded in the design of the whole, can at least be thought of as belonging to the separate category of sculpture.

It is not easy, therefore, to detach a given piece of carving, however expressive it may be, from its architectural parent without robbing it of a good deal of its meaning. Those nervous flowing rhythms which still remain in it even after it has been detached, were part of a larger, over-riding rhythm. Yet as we are concerned only with the fine art of sculpture, it is necessary to think of Gothic sculpture as being detachable.

In a purely physical sense, a great deal of Gothic sculpture can be removed from its architectural context and still claim our admiration not only for its vitality, its fantasy, and its grace, but also for its inherent, self-contained meaning. A host of carved statues of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries could be taken out of their niches and set beside the best of the statues of early Italian Renaissance sculpture without suffering by the comparison. But because the sculptors were largely anonymous and because their creations were almost invariably contributions to a conception that was greater than themselves (and because few appear in the best art museums), it is difficult for us to think of even the best of the Gothic sculptures as a series of masterpieces; yet masterpieces they are, both in the assurance of their craftsmanship and in the grace and nobility of their conception.

The anonymity of Gothic art in general and of Gothic sculpture in particular offers an obstacle to the art historian of which he himself is hardly conscious. The three great west doorways of Rheims cathedral alone contain 33 life-size and 200 smaller figures, each of which is the product of a passionately creative mind and a fully developed tradition of craftsmanship. And when one remembers that this amazing collection of medieval sculpture is contained within a comparatively small area of one among a hundred similar buildings, one is amazed at the extraordinary fecundity of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries in north-western Europe.

Much has been written on Gothic carving since Ruskin's famous chapter on 'The Nature of Gothic' in the Stones of Venice. But inevitably the art historian, faced with a mass of anonymous sculptural masterpieces, tends to regard them as the products of a period rather than of a set of exceptional individuals. Despite himself, he takes refuge in generalizations. Doubtless there existed in medieval France, Germany, and England, individual sculptors, each of whom is as worthy of separate study as Nicola Pisano (c.1206-1278), Giovanni Pisano (c.1250-1314), Arnolfo di Cambio (c.1240–1310), Giovanni di Balduccio (c.1290–1339), Andrea Pisano (1295-1348), Filippo Calendario (pre-1315-1355), Jacopo della Quercia (1374-1438), and Donatello (1386-1466), but since they are nameless, their work lacks the spotlight that would direct the art historians full attention on to it.

The Cathedral in the Town

In the Gothic period, the cathedral dominated the town not only by its lofty silhouette, but also through its religious, economic and political influence. The cathedral is the monument which defines what we call Gothic architecture. This term, given prominence by the Romantics, was applied to the new style of religious art that originated in the Ile-de-France and flourished first in northern France, spreading to the neighbouring lands during the second half of the 12th century and the two following centuries. The sculpture of the period of Gothic expansion was primarily conceived for the embellishment of cathedrals. (For Christian religious sculpture from a different era with a totally different function, see Celtic High Cross Sculptures.)

The interest that 19th-century Frenchmen showed in the study of Gothic cathedrals had dual roots in ideology and architectural technology. They saw in the cathedral and its decoration the symbol of a communal organization, of a secular spirit which had taken precedence over monasticism and feudalism. As neo-Gothic tendencies in architecture became very popular throughout Europe from the end of the 18th century, Viollet-le-Duc embarked on the study of the architectural structure, without which, as far as he was concerned, there could be no form in Gothic art: for him it was a dynamic system based on the interplay of thrusts and the study of the ribbed vault. Since then, many other approaches to the interpretation of the Gothic cathedral have been suggested - formal, symbolic and technical. Illustration of the Heavenly Jerusalem, image of Paradise, echo of scholastic philosophy, monumental embodiment of the postulate that God is light, the cathedral has been the subject of many attempts at a global interpretation.

The cathedral was an urban monument whose rise went hand in hand with the revival of the episcopate and the expansion of the town. Benefiting to some extent by the increasingly obvious decline of the monastic orders during the 13th century, the bishops played an important part in a spiritual reform in which the mendicant orders also shared. The Fourth Lateran Council, which in 1215 codified the new religious obligations of the faithful, while raising their minimal requirements, contributed to the increase in secular piety. Around the bishop, the canons lived in a quarter near the cathedral in individual houses which reduced community life to a strict minimum,. These chapters, which offered openings to the upper classes of the population, provided work for many town-dwellers. The cathedral, in its capacity of episcopal see, was also a centre of culture for it housed within its perimeter the episcopal school, which sometimes became a university, as in Paris.

So to understand the amazing rise of the Gothic cathedral whose heyday falls in the half-century known in France as the age of Philip Augustus, from about 1175 to 1225, we must grasp the setting in which it arose and the phenomenon of urban expansion in which it shared. There was indeed a widespread increase in building, as demonstrated by town walls, like those of Paris, Reims, Troyes, and Bourges, the multiplication of parishes aud the construction or reconstruction of many churches, and the renewal of public and civil architecture (collective buildings, bridges, markets), as well as private architecture (houses).

This growth had repercussions in the neighbouring countryside and reflected the city's new industrial and commercial roles. The cathedral worksite occupied an essential place among all this new wealth. Immense resources were needed which came from the fertile surrounding country, from gifts and alms, as well as from the increased pressure of feudal taxation on urban populations. But the worksite, too, contributed to the general economy by giving direct or indirect employment to a very large number of people.

 

Besides these social and economic factors, the cathedral was the centre where the essential inventions of Gothic architecture were worked out: the pointed arch, the cross-ribbed vault, the flying buttress. Treatment of the walls and openings led to a progressive enlargement of the latter which led in turn to the installation of stained glass windows that captured the light and transformed it into a transcendental expression of religious thought. But what made the monumental progress of the new style possible was primarily the new organization of the worksite, of its provision with stone and wood, and especially the standardized cutting and mounting of blocks of stone. Rational working methods affected both the project and its realization, and extended to sculpture which was put in place to keep time with work on the masonry. In this way a new bond was created between architecture and sculpture. (For a comparison with Gothic sculpture in Germany - notably wood carving - see: German Gothic Art.)

The Column Statue in Gothic Sculpture

Major Gothic sculpture was born and evolved to the rhythm of the cathedrals of which it was the external embellishment, in the same way as the precious decorations of the great Gothic shrines made by goldsmiths. Sculpture invaded the cathedral facades, being intimately wedded to their severe architecture and helping to pattern their division into storeys. The towers which stood over the side aisles enclosed the central part of the facade and rose heavenwards solidly supported by the powerful buttresses. The latter were masked at ground level by the fullness and depth given to the splayed jambs of portals, which monumental sculpture helped to lighten. The ensemble of the tympanum, the arch mouldings, the trumeau, the statues and plinths of the splaying, makes up the historiated Gothic portal. Its iconography considerably enlarged the religious content of Romanesque facades by closely associating the arch mouldings and splays with the tympanum. Among the themes carved on them, besides the Apocalypse and the Last Judgment, we find Old Testament scenes corresponding typologically with those of the New Testament. Each event from the time of the Old Covenant refers to an episode of the New Covenant. Thus Jonah's sojourn inside the whale prefigures Christ in the tomb, and Abraham sacrificing Isaac evokes the sacrifice of the Cross. Matthew, the Fathers of the Church and certain medieval theologians have set forth these typological comparisons very clearly. A large number of portals offered the faithful the example of saints' lives. The Virgin occupied a privileged place, to which we shall return later. According to the classification put forward by Emile Male, the ensemble corresponds to the different mirrors of Gothic Christianity: nature, and moral and historical science.

Monumental sculpture also invaded the upper parts of the Gothic facade: gables, galleries, rose windows, etc. Outside the building, flying buttresses and spurs formed aerial emplacements, almost like tabernacles, where statues were housed. In the interior, architectural sculpture may cover the mural surfaces, as on the inner facade of Reims Cathedral, but that is unusual, as are sculptured pillars like the one in Strasbourg Cathedral. On the other hand, statues very soon appeared on the pillars of choir and nave as in the Sainte-Chapelle at Paris and Cologne Cathedral. In contrast, carved capitals no longer play the iconographic role they had in the Romanesque period. The rood screen closing off the liturgical choir afforded a new sculptured wall. But the cathedral was also adorned with carved furniture, cult statues, altarpiece art and tombs, whose careful arrangement made them essential elements in the general iconography.

In the historiated portal of early Gothic, the most original and innovative creation is the statue carved out of the same block as the column. whose form and function it espoused. It is known as the column statue. It confers a vertical dimension on the porch and appears on the jamb, an integral part of the general program of the portal.

The earliest examples were those on the west front of the abbey church of Saint-Denis, dispersed or destroyed before the end of the 18th century, but fortunately known to us from the drawings reproduced by Montfaucon in his Monuments de la Monarchie Francaise (1729). The facade of Saint-Denis, as we shall see, had a decisive influence on the origins of Gothic art. The slender, elongated column statues, with a frozen elegance, decorated with fine, severe pleating, became the favourite theme of the sculptors of the second half of the 12th century and grew progressively more animated. Portals, and also cloisters, were thronged with them.

Standing at the church door like the portico columns of King Solomon's temple, column statues have been the subject of different iconographic interpretations. They have variously been seen as the kings of France and biblical heroes; they have even been identified with legendary figures. Today we know that they fit into the typological iconography already mentioned. So we find column figures of prophets, patriarchs and kings: Abraham, Moses, Aaron, David, Solomon, Josiah, Elijah, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Daniel, John the Baptist, and the Queen of Sheba among the women. The importance assigned to the Old Testament kings in these iconographic programs of northern France should be related to the progress of the monarchic institution, whose ideal portrait is the representation of Solomon. His judgment was interpreted in the Middle Ages as the image of the divine judgment between Church and Synagogue. The wisdom of Solomon attracted the Queen of Sheba, who stands for the Church. There are many iconographic variations between portals which portray Old Testament figures exclusively and those where the presence of Peter and Paul, who traditionally flank the door, confirms the connections between the two Testaments. The portals in which column statues fit into the framework of the iconography of the Virgin belong to a separate category. But when studying the disposition of column statues in cathedrals we should not forget that they have sometimes been moved from their original position: even in the Middle Ages the master masons had a tendency to move and re-use sculptured works at will (as in the St Anne portal at Notre-Dame in Paris. in the transepts at Bourges, in the north transept of Saint-Denis).

Note About Sculpture Appreciation
To learn how to evaluate the statues and reliefs of Gothic sculpture, see: How to Appreciate Sculpture. For later works, please see: How to Appreciate Modern Sculpture.

 

Saint-Denis: Origins of Gothic Sculpture

The Gothic style did not make its appearance in a cathedral but in the abbey church of Saint-Denis, a showplace of French history for it had housed the tombs of french kings since the early Middle Ages. Its reconstruction was the work of Abbot Suger (1122-1151). whose religious and political role measured up to the ambitions he cherished for his abbey. Suger has left us several writings which testify to the planning of his undertaking and the constant attention he devoted to the architectural and decorative work. His De consecratione and De administratione are full of spiritual, financial and artistic information. The first deals with the abbey church's two consecrations; the west section was consecrated on 9 June 1140 and the apse with radiating chapels and crypt on 11 June 1144. In 1145, the monks of Saint-Denis assembled in chapter asked the abbot to write the second document, which is a report on his administration. According to Suger's own words, his great artistic enterprises were the consequence of his policy aimed at financial recovery "both by the acquisition of new domains, the recuperation of rights fallen into disuse, all the progress made in exploiting land, and by reconstruction campaigns and the addition to the treasury of goldsmith's works set off with precious stones and sumptuous fabrics."

Work on the new abbey church destined to replace the Carolingian monument began with the construction of a massive west vault connected to the Carolingian nave by two bays; then work continued eastwards between 1140 and 1144. The two blocks were to have been connected by a nave which Suger did not begin until shortly before his death. These two extremities of an unfinished building proved decisive for the advent of a new style which is apparent in the architecture, sculpture and stained glass windows. For our purposes, it is the facade erected by Suger and already completed in 1140 (on which he had himself depicted kneeling at the feet of the Christ on the central tympanum) which represents an essential milestone in early Gothic sculpture.

Three portals, with splays adorned with eight column statues on the central portal and six on each of the side portals representing Old Testament figures, comprised sculptured tympana, arch mouldings and jamb shafts. The column statues of Saint-Denis symbolized the imperium (the three French dynasties) in the guise of the sacerdotium (kings, high priests and prophets of Israel), an interpretation confirmed by Suger when, as Regent of France during the Second Crusade, he convoked the peers, archbishops and bishops at Soissons in 1149 in the name of "the indissoluble unity of the regnum and the sacerdotium." The central portal was organized around the Last Judgment relief sculpture on the tympanum and the arch mouldings, and also comprised the Elders of the Apocalypse and the Wise and Foolish Virgins. The leaves of the door presented Passion scenes and a statue of St Denis occupied the trumeau. The right-hand portal was devoted to the legend of St Denis and his companions, and thus inaugurated the series of Gothic tympana devoted to the history of the church's patron saint. The engaged piers displayed a calendar, whose counterpart is on the engaged piers of the left-hand portal representing the signs of the zodiac. The tympanum of this portal was adorned with mosaic art (an unusual technique in France at this period) portraying a theme of the Virgin, to which the archivolts and column statues were also devoted (royal ancestors of the Virgin).

Today the facade sculptures of Saint-Denis are not preserved in their entirety. We have already mentioned the dispersal of the column statues, although we are fortunate enough to know them quite well from the drawings published in Montfaucon's book of 1729. What remained of the sculptured facade was heavily restored by the team of the sculptor Brun under the direction of Francois Debret (1839-1840). This restoration has never really been understood and since its completion has been the subject of criticisms as violent as that of Didron who, in 1846, condemned "the disfigured facade, deprived for ever of historical interest and very ugly into the bargain." Emile Male made no mistake when, looking beyond the restorations, he detected many surviving original features. Since then, air pollution has helped to give the whole a misleading appearance of unity. Current scholarship has made it possible to discern what is old and what is modern in the central portal, and Sumner McKnight Crosby has proved that many more authentic stones remain than was formerly believed. Moreover, heads from the column statues continue to be identified thanks to the preparatory drawings made for Montfaucon's engravings. Until recently, four heads were known: two in the Walters Art Gallery, Baltimore, one in the Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge, Massachusetts, and the fourth is the head of a queen in the Musee de Cluny in Paris. A fifth, representing Moses, has recently increased the number and has fortunately been acquired by the last-named museum.

The problem of the style of the stone sculpture on the west front of Saint-Denis is a highly controversial one. Certain features, such as the months of the year and the signs of the zodiac on the jamb shafts and the whole ornamental repertory surrounding them, are still firmly bound up with Romanesque art. Moreover, Sliger seems to have been aware of this influence from the past when he described the tympanum mosaic as "out of date." The essential novelty lies in the column statues, the decoration of the arch mouldings and certain basic stylistic features (calmer style, relief composed of independent volumes) of the older parts of the central tympanum. Henceforth the problem of the style of the column statues can be better understood with the help of the heads still preserved. After Wilhelm Voge's study at the end of the 19th century, the view persisted that the sculptors of Saint-Denis had been schooled at Toulouse and Moissac. Today scholars look exclusively northwards, because the best elements for comparison are in northern France, in the capitals of Saint-Etienne at Dreux, for example, or in the more international milieu of goldsmithing and metalworking. (See also: Celtic Metalwork art.)

Chartres Gothic Cathedral

The second essential monument for the rise of the Gothic style in sculpture is the much better preserved set of three west portals (Royal Portal) at Chartres. The twenty-four column statues originally existing there are probably the most famous works in the whole of Gothic sculpture. They have undergone various attempts at restoration from the plaster casts made by Lassus in 1840 and the removal of two statues in 1961, to the treatment of the stone in situ carried out from 1979 to 1983. A fire in 1134 was the point of departure for the idea of the cathedral's reconstruction. At first the works were focused on the north tower; then they spread to the whole west front, the portals being executed between 1145 and 1155. The facade as a whole should be understood in relation to the existence of the preceding building; it was largely responsible for the high narrow proportions that prevail. The design with three portals included statues on the splaying (nineteen of them are extant) representing Old Testament kings, queens and patriarchs, and historiated capitals forming a cycle devoted to the childhood and life of Christ, which begins, to the left of the central portal, with the story of the birth and childhood of Mary according to the Proto-Gospel of James. The enigmatic signature of the sculptor Rogerus appears on one of the pilasters adorned with figures in high relief beneath the frieze of the Last Supper. The three tympana are decorated as follows: south side, the Virgin in Majesty Ranked by angels surmounting a double lintel with the boyhood of Christ, with the Liberal Arts on the arch mouldings; north side, the Ascension in a three-tiered composition, including the seated apostles in its lower part; in the centre, Christ in Majesty surrounded by the four Beasts and the twenty-four Elders of the Apocalypse on the arch mouldings, and the standing apostles on the lintel. It is a program of great breadth and coherence, but its style betrays the hand of several artists. Art historians have picked out the sculptor of the central tympanum to define the predominant style. However, the different types of drapery folds, the treatment of faces and the proportions of the figures enable us to distinguish several different artists. To the monumentality of the principal master are opposed the dry linear folds of the maker of the exterior column statues, while a third artist is characterized by proportions that are perhaps more archaic, broad and thickset. The problem of the origins of all these works and the schooling of the sculptors is still very much under discussion. Great emphasis has been laid on the role of Burgundy, Autun, Vezelay and La Charite-sur-Loire, while the creative ferment of the arts in the Ile-de-France may have been underestimated, since that area alone could have provided a synthesis of the best outside currents in the creation of the style. Today it is no longer thought that Provence could have played any sort of role in this elaboration; in contrast, the masters of Saint-Denis, the royal statues of Saint-Remi at Reims and above all the Parisian creations proper (Saint-Martin-des-Champs, Sainte-Genevieve, Saint-Germain-des-Pres) re-stake their claim.

Notre-Dame Cathedral, Paris

This reassessment was initiated by the cleaning of the portal of St Anne at Notre-Dame in Paris which, until about twenty years ago, had been dated too late and was misunderstood in consequence. This south portal of the present-day west front, which should really be called the Portal of the Virgin, is a work from the years 1140-1150 designed for the church preceding Maurice de Sully's cathedral (c.1160), then put back in place with numerous additions on the new facade begun in 1210. For this operation, the builders proceeded not only to add some necessary elements, but also to re-carve others, such as the St Paul discovered in 1977 with numerous fragments which added their testimony to the observations made when the facade was cleaned in 1969. Then what scholars had begun to divine became factual evidence on the occasion of the "de-restoration" of the only trumeau preserved from the first great Gothic portals, the St Marcellus in the Musee de Cluny which was removed from the centre of the portal of St Anne in 1857 by Geoffroy Dechaume. The tight pleats with their supple movement and the high plastic quality of the St Marcellus (headless today) entitle this portal to a place of the highest order in early Gothic sculpture between Romanesque (lintel) and contacts with Chartres (Virgin). Here a new problem is posed, that of the existence of a project for the reconstruction of a cathedral anterior to the present one and in which Suger himself was interested enough to donate to it a stained glass window devoted to the Virgin before his death.

Give or take a few years, the portals of Saint-Denis (the oldest), Paris and Chartres are contemporary. Around them gravitate some ensembles with column statues, notably the south portal of the collegiate church of Etampes; the style of its sculptures, with their recently recovered polychromy, is close to the two outside statues of the left splaying of the left portal of Chartres, to those of Saint-Benigne at Dijon for which a redating to before 1150 has been suggested, to the south portal of Le Mans Cathedral (a portal possibly antedating Chartres, some now think), and to the column statues in the cloister of Saint-Denis which mark the art of the first two decades of the second half of the 12th century. During these years 1150-1170, Gothic sculpture followed multiple paths naturally marked by the rapid diffusion of portals with column statues; their variety vouches for the existence of many different workshops. In certain cases, the style is shaped in relation to Chartres, as in Notre-Dame at Corbeil; in others, as in La Madeleine at Chateaudun a little earlier, the style of the Paris Basin merges with the diffusion of late Romanesque from western France. Among the many new creations, special mention should be made of the west portal of Saint-Germain-des-Pres in Paris, the west portal of Angers Cathedral, that of Saint-Loup-de-Naud, the side portals of Bourges Cathedral, then the door of the north transept of Saint-Denis (c.1170-1175) and the facades of Senlis and Mantes (1170-1180). Reciprocal influences between the greater and lesser ensembles cannot be singled out here; the list would be wearisome, for comparisons such as those linking Corbeil to the rediscovered fragments of Nesle-la-Reposte belong to the very specialized field of the diffusion of the style in a region which saw profound changes during the second half of the 12th century. The example most brilliantly restored to prominence recently is that of the cloister of Notre-Dame-en-Vaux at Chalons-sur-Marne whose fifty odd rediscovered column statues testify to the stylistic diversity of the years 1170-1180, the complexity of relations between artists from one monument to another (the relations between Senlis and Mantes, for example) and of joint work on a single site by several masters (five principals have been identified at Chalons) who, while sharing the concerns of their age, interpreted artistic tendencies in terms of the technical practices and stylistic features born of their different schooling.

Note: For details of Gothic sculptors, see: Medieval Artists.

 

The Tympanum of Senlis and the Marian Cult

During the 12th century the Virgin Mary progressively acquired a privileged place in Western iconography, both in monumental sculpture and church furniture. Not that she had been ignored before, but for various reasons connected with the veneration in which eminent prelates held her on the one hand and the new inclusion of feminine values in society on the other, the Virgin Mary became more present in Western piety. As the Mother of God, or through her Son, she began to take a monumental place and play an intercessory role. Her cult, which was spread far wider in the East than the West, grew rapidly and the Virgin was present in everyday piety and the collective imagination, supported by the sermons of a Fulbert of Chartres, by the hymns and writings of Peter the Venerable and Bernard of Clairvaux, by the poems of Gautier of Coincy.

In the monumental iconography of the Virgin, western sculptured facades retained different themes, among which dominated the representation of Mary, seat of wisdom, shown frontally, holding the Child, associated with the Three Kings, or depicted in the centre of the apse or the tympanum surrounded by a few favoured personages. Apse decorations in Rome already show this Marian figure during the early Middle Ages, then it became common in the Romanesque period on the sculptured tympana of Corneilla-de-Conflent. Neuilly-en-Donjon, Anzy-le-Duc, and in the early Gothic period on the portal of St Anne at Notre-Dame in Paris, the south tympanum of the Royal Portal of Chartres, the north transept of Reims and at Laon Cathedral - to mention a few examples. Moreover, each of these images fitted into a context peculiar to it, into the framework of an iconography which acquired its full dimensions in terms of the scenes surrounding it. The Virgin also figures in the Ascension of Christ, presiding over the apostolic college, at Cahors and Anzy-le-Duc; she becomes even more autonomous in the representation of her own Assumption at La Charite-sur-Loire where she is welcomed by her Son in the Heavenly Jerusalem. The novelty of this image lies in the special emphasis put on the concept of bodily assumption, belief in which spread from the beginning of the 12th century. It was around 1135 that Peter the Venerable defended it in a letter addressed to one of his monks. The special veneration in which the Virgin was held at Chartres was of long standing, while in England, Marian devotion and more especially the cult of the Immaculate Conception was celebrated even before the Conquest. So it is not the growth of the cult of the Virgin as such which is in question at the beginning of Gothic art (we should remember that late southern Romanesque had represented the miracle of Theophilus at Souillac and the episode of the Virgin's girdle at Cabestany), but rather the transition from the theme of the triumph of the Virgin to that of her coronation and more especially the creation of a type of portal entirely built up around this iconographic theme.

The tympanum of La Charite-sur-Loire. the mosaic of Santa Maria in Trastevere at Rome, the tympanum of the south portal of Quenington church in England, present three variants of the triumphant Virgin welcomed by her Son in celestial glory. At Notre-Dame in Chartres, the tympanum devoted to the glory of the Virgin and Child, and surmounting episodes from the boyhood of Christ in which the Virgin Mother intervenes, is accompanied (elsewhere on the facade to be sure) by a cycle, entirely new in the West, of the birth and childhood of the Virgin. A similar context (glory of the Virgin and Child, childhood of Christ) is presented on the tympanum of the portal of St Anne coming from the earlier portal dedicated to the Virgin at Notre-Dame in Paris. The iconography here is complicated, because the ensemble was re-assembled; what is known of the original arch mouldings tells us that they were apparently destined for a decorated portal of the Majesty of Christ, other fragments of which were found by Viollet-le-Duc. The two historical personages, a bishop and a king, who accompany the censing angels on either side of the Virgin and Child. were formerly identified as Maurice de Sully and Louis VII. More recently, it has been suggested that they are St Germain and Childebert, two historical figures who had a decisive say in the construction of the cathedral. Looking a little further, we might be dealing here with an allusion, already mentioned in connection with Saint-Denis, to the symbolic representation of the secular and ecclesiastical powers brought together by the Virgin: the bishop standing to the right of Mary asserts his pre-eminence over the king kneeling on her left. This is an interpretation which fits in with 12th-century ecclesiological thinking and which acquires a new significance today in a Parisian context because of the much earlier dating of this ensemble.

It used to be assumed that Abbot Suger played a leading part in the creation and diffusion of Marian iconography and art, but this theory, which Emile Male found so seductive, has since been regularly contradicted. Yet, according to the latest research, the west front of the basilica of Saint-Denis does seem to have included a portal dedicated to the Virgin, whose triumph was depicted on the tympanum mosaic. Before his death. Abbot Suger is said to have offered Notre-Dame in Paris a stained glass window representing a Marian theme - possibly the earliest example of the coronation of the Virgin. It is a difficult point to prove, although we do know from an 18th-century description that this window portrayed a Marian triumph.

According to our present state of knowledge, the iconography of the Virgin broke new ground on the west portal of the cathedral of Notre-Dame at Senlis, where we find the fully worked out theme of the crowned Virgin for the first time. The two known dates (1150-1155 under Bishop Theobald for the decision to rebuild and 1191 for the consecration) are too far apart to fix the chronology of the facade accurately. Stylistic comparisons. on the other hand, favour a dating of about 1170, although the style, formed of supple curves full of nuances in contrast to Chartres verticality, is original enough to make it a somewhat isolated phenomenon and one that had little following.

The west portal of Senlis Cathedral consists of a sculptured tympanum set on a wide lintel. protected by four archivolts decorated with figures which rest on splays with column statues, the plinth being adorned with a calendar. On the lintel to the left, are the death of the Virgin and the placing of her body in a sarcophagus by the apostles (Dormition). In the upper part of this scene, angels soar up with the Virgin's soul represented as a small figure over which they hold a crown. To the right, a group of angels attend the resurrection of the Virgin, supporting her on her emngence from the tomb. while one of them also holds a crown over her head. On the tympanum, the Virgin and Christ, both crowned, are depicted seated and conversing, in Majesty and symmetrically arranged on either side of the central axis. The two figures are placed on an equal footing. which establishes a marked difference from, for example. the apse mosaic of Santa Maria in Trastevere at Rome (c.1145), in which Christ occupies the centre. At Senlis this dialogue between the two crowned sovereigns is magnified by a pattern of arches, whose central double curve brings to mind the outline of the uncial M. All around, angels censing or holding candles appear under the small lateral arches and in the oculi. It should be pointed out that the Senlis Christ does not actually crown the Virgin; instead the emphasis is more on the links which unite the two divine figures, the Virgin being already crowned.

Introducing the ensemble, the eight column statues, heavily restored and completed by the sculptor Robinet in 1845-6, represent, from outside to inside, John the Baptist, Aaron, Moses and Abraham on the left, and David, Isaiah, Jeremiah and Simeon on the right. They all bear the attributes indicating their role as prophets of the Incarnation (right) or foreshadowers of Christ the Redeemer (left) and, in this capacity, refer more to Christ than the Virgin. Doubt still exists about the identity of the figure that might have occupied a putative trumeau which has disappeared today: Christ or the Virgin? A very similar arrangement of column statues is found on the portals of Saint-Nicolas of Amiens (destroyed during the Revolution) and of the north transept of Chartres (central portal), there with Peter and Melchizedek. It will be noted that the statues on the splaying pose a general problem it would be interesting to study, namely the nature of the changes these series originally conceived for portals with the iconography of the Redemption might have undergone when they had to accompany the new iconography of the coronation of the Virgin in its early stages.

The west portal of Senlis is completed by the arch mouldings carved with figures representing the genealogy of Christ and the Virgin (Abraham, Jesse, David, Solomon) amid the branches of a Tree of Jesse. This lineage culminates symbolically in the Virgin and the Christ on the tympanum. Thus the general program of the Senlis portal becomes clear through the different stages of the history of Humanity redeemed by the blood of Christ, stages in which the Church played an essential part. By comparing the Virgin of the tympanum sitting beside Christ to the betrothed of the Song of Songs, the virtual equation of the Virgin with the Church becomes stronger. The essential novelty is that the place the Virgin occupies on the tympanum puts her on the same footing as Christ. The corporal resurrection of Mary, which is based on belief in the Assumption of the Virgin, is accompanied here by the celestial glorification of the Mother of God.

Even if the term Coronation of the Virgin does not exactly fit the scene on the tympanum of the main portal of Senlis, this figuration subsequently becomes the major theme of Marian tympana. The central portal of the west front of the collegiate church of Notre-Dame at Mantes, whose dating must be very close to that of Senlis, if slightly later, presents a monumental version of the Senlis images, although with certain differences (a richer cycle of the Virgin, a slightly different Assumption). In contrast, the theme of the tympanum and arch mouldings is revived on it with a complement which serves to reinforce the meaning of the Senlis portal: a cross appears above the central couple. The west front of Laon Cathedral has two portals devoted to the Virgin executed at the very end of the 12th or during the first few years of the 13th century; they complete the right-hand portal dominated by the Last Judgment. The central portal takes up the Senlis scheme again, whereas the left-hand portal breaks new ground in Marian iconography, heralding the north transept of Chartres and Amiens. The tympanum represents an Epiphany with the familiar formula of a lintel adorned with the Annunciation, the Nativity and the Annunciation to the Shepherds. The arch mouldings deserve attention insofar as they contain prefigurations of the virginity of Mary. Figures and symbols of the chosen people arc assembled on the third arch moulding: the new Eve, Daniel in the lion's den, Habbakuk, Gideon, Moses before the burning bush, the Ark of the Covenant, the Temple, Isaiah. The fourth exhibits figures and themes from pagan Antiquity associated or not with the history of Israel: the unicorn, Virgil, Isaac blessing Jacob, Balaam, Simeon, the statue in Nebuchadnezzar's dream, Nebuchadnezzar asleep, the coronation of David, the Sibyl, the three Hebrews in the fiery furnace. Typologically speaking, we find here a summation of the testimonies of Jews and Gentiles about the virgin birth of Christ and the coming of his kingdom on earth, which is portrayed at Laon in the scenes on the lintel and tympanum. At Saint-Yved at Braine, shortly before the dedication of the church in 1216 the Virgin turning towards Christ is shown in profile in the attitude of prayer. The subsequent evolution of Marian iconography assigns an essential place to the coronation proper and repeats this scene ad infinitum as We see it even before the end of the first decade of the 13th century on the central portal of the north transept of Chartres. Then the Annunciation and the Visitation take their place among the column statues on the splaying of the left-hand portal of the same transept.

During the 13th century statues of the Virgin holding the Child and standing became common in the Ile-de-France and elsewhere. In monumental sculpture, the tradition of the seated Romanesque Virgin holding the Child continues and culminates about 1180 on the trumeau of the central portal of Noyon Cathedral. The appearance of the standing Virgin and Child on the trumeau poses a problem. It is recorded at Moutiers-Saint-Jean in Burgundy at a date close to that of the Virgin and Child on the right-hand splaying of the west portal of Notre-Dame of Vermemon (c.1170). The role of Paris in the diffusion of the trumeau Virgin must have been decisive, judging by the crowned Virgin trampling the snake underfoot, accompanied by saints on the splays, who figured about 1210 on the left-hand portal, below the Coronation of the Virgin, of the west front of Notre-Dame in Paris. This model (destroyed during the Revolution) was taken up again at Amiens and then in many monuments. The figure of St Anne holding Mary in her arms (portal of the Coronation of the Virgin, north transept of Chartres) stands out as an important stage in the Marian iconography of the facade shortly before 1210, insofar as it refers to the story of Mary's childhood, quite apart from the presence of relics of St Anne at Chartres, formerly the Annunciation to Joachim could be seen on the plinth. The imroduction of the monumental iconography of the Virgin testifies by its great popularity to the theological elaboration which, during the second half of the 12th century, governed the cult of this Lady, mother of Our Lord, fiancee of Christ and embodiment of the Mystery of the Church. It is one of the major innovations in Gothic cathedral sculpture.

 

Sculpture in Northern France (c.1200)

To define the changing art of the age of Philip Augustus, increasing use has been made for some decades of the term "1200 style" applied to the notion of a transitional style and covering the years on either side of 1200. Its field extends to the artistic production represented in book illumination by the Ingeborg Psalter, but also to goldsmith's work which, beginning with outstanding monuments like the shrine of the Three Kings in Cologne Cathedral and the work of Nicolas of Verdun, played a decisive role in the definition of the styles adopted in monumental sculpture. Other forms of the "1200 style" also appear in distant geographical areas such as southern France and Italy under Frederick II.

The major sculpture of northern France just before the turn of the century is marked by a new monumentality and by antiquizing tendencies. The sculpture of Laon Cathedral denotes the first turning point in relation to the style of Senlis and Mantes. The two characteristics just mentioned are expressed here on the arch mouldings of the portal of the Virgin, for example, in a completely assured manner for the first time. These major stylistic upheavals recur and mature on the worksite of Sens Cathedral. This monument, which was destined to be one of the first of early Gothic art, for it was begun under Bishop Henri Sanglier (1122-1142), belongs to the years 1185-1205, as far as the west front is concerned, except for the tympanum of the central portal and the right-hand portal which were rebuilt in the mid-13th century. The figures appear in groups on the arch mouldings of the lefthand portal adorned with a cycle of John the Baptist. Medallions invade the mural surface in the lower parts. On the arch mouldings of the central portal, a new antiquizing style appears in the fluid and delicate treatment of the drapery thanks to a play of lines slightly curved and in any case less severe than in the past, defining the style which finds its highest expression in the St Stephen on the trumeau of the central portal around the turn of the century and in a few heads which escaped mutilation in 1793. This style had a certain influence even beyond monumental sculpture, as the tomb of an abbot preserved at Nesle-la-Reposte testifies.

The stylistic experiments at Laon and Sens lead to the north transept of Chartres, especially the statues on the splaying of the central portal. The monumental formula which consisted in treating the extremities of transept arms as genuine west fronts was perfected on the worksite of Chartres Cathedral. To help fix the chronology, we know that the head of St Anne was given to the cathedral in 1204-1205 and that the trumeau of the north portal must be dated very similarly. The cathedral of Chartres was rebuilt after the fire of 1196 and the canons were already installed in the new choir in 1221. The comparative chronology of the building and stylistic study of the portals and porches show that the central portal is the oldest, the others dating only to the second decade of the 13th century. During these early decades, Chartres was a centre producing quite exceptional sculpture which reached a peak about 1230 and even a little later with a monumental rood screen illustrating the childhood and Passion of Christ, many fragments of which have been preserved. It was one of the finest monuments of all Gothic sculpture in the 13th century.

When dealing with the stylistic mutation of the first decades of the 13th century, one of whose major currents led to the marvellous antiquizing statues of the central portal of Reims Cathedral, we should take into account the vast worksite which the reconstruction of the west front of Notre-Dame represented in Paris, from about 1210. There we find the result of antiquizing research (angel's head in the Musee de Cluny) and of the forms perfected at Laon and Sens. The Last Judgment on the central portal and the Coronation of the Virgin on the north portal embody a formula of wide superimposed registers that are more clearly integrated with the rhythm of the arch mouldings. A greater verticality characterizes the style of the sculptures, which have already abandoned the antiquizing mode and announce the expressiveness of the Amiens statues. The extraordinary discovery of 1977 has improved our knowledge of certain stylistic aspects of the Notre-Dame facade, in particular the heads of the arcade of kings which date to the latest stage, around 1230.

Amiens Cathedral

Amiens Cathedral is one of the greatest French buildings of the 13th century. A labyrinth which was situated in the middle of the nave gave the date of the works begun in 1220 by Bishop Evrard de Fouilloy (1211-1222) and the names of the architects Robert de Luzarches, Thomas de Cormont and his son Renaud de Cormont. The date 1288, when the labyrinth was made, indicates that by then construction was completed. It began with the nave and continued after the terrain was cleared (destruction of Saint-Firmin to the east and displacement of the Hotel-Dieu to the west), the facade being erected shortly after 1236 and the apse begun about 1241. The plan of Amiens Cathedral is formed of a nave with ten bays flanked by single side aisles, a wide transept also with side aisles, and three straight bays with double side aisles preceding the apse with radiating chapels, including the deep axial one, and an ambulatory. The building is also characteristic for its elevation on three levels. The external sculpture extends widely over the west front and the south arm of the transept.

The chronology of the west front of Amiens Cathedral remains in question. Work was thought to have proceeded, more or less, according to a linear evolution, which would have brought the workmen to the facade only ten years or so after the beginning of the nave. After a colloquy organized in 1974 by the Societe Francaise d'Archeologie, the facade was judged to be not particularly coherent and later in date, with successive additions marking the progress of its attachment to the main body of the cathedral. This point of view is opposed to a chronology in three building campaigns, from 1220-1235 to 1248-1263. Apart from the fact that it takes into consideration the numerous technical observations made in the 19th century during the radical restoration undertaken by Viollet-le-Duc (1844-1847), it brings the sculpture of the west front into line with that of the portal of the Vierge Doree of the south transept. Thus the role of the Amiens workshops is essentially concentrated on some ten years around 1240. Certain sculptures might belong to an initial facade design; for example, the statue of St Ulphia on the lefthand splay of the St Firmin portal, with its antiquizing air due to the employment of damp-fold drapery. With that remark, we return to the general problem of the differences of style between the sculptures on the great facades. Are they evidence of different moments in the execution of the works or do they simply point to the presence of sculptors with varied origins and training? Because, when looking at the facade of Amiens Cathedral, we observe, in addition to the innovating hand of the Master of the Beau Dieu, whose style is comparable to the Christ on the trumeau of Notre-Dame in Paris, the hand of several masters at work on each of the portals.

The west front of Notre-Dame of Amiens, with two towers and rose window, has an devation on several levels. The monumental sculptures are concentrated on the arcade of kings and the three portals. Each portal is designed with trumeau and tympanum, and flanked by deep splayings. The unity of the whole is due to the fact that the statues and the reliefs in quatrefoils on the substructure continue without interruption onto the splays and buttresses. As a result the ground floor of the facade offers a close symbiosis between architecture and sculpture. As in Paris, the tympanum of the central portal is devoted to the Last Judgement; its program is set out on three large registers. The separation of the Chosen from the Damned continues on the lower part of the first arch moulding. The program unfolds on the arch mouldings with angels, martyrs, priests, women, the Elders of the Apocalypse and the Tree of Jesse. As in Paris, the trumeau depicts Christ blessing one of the major works of sculpture at Amiens, while the apostles, much restored, occupy the splays. The right-hand portal is devoted to the Virgin, who is standing on the trumeau and crowned on the tympanum. The statues on the splays represent the Three Kings, Herod, Solomon and the Queen of Sheba on the left, and the Annunciation, the Visitation and the Presentation in the Temple on the right. The left-hand portal is devoted (henceforth the established norm for the great programs) to local hagiography: on the trumeau, St Firmin, first Bishop of Amiens, whose story unfolds on the registers of the tympanum; the statues on the splays represent twelve saints. On the buttresses are arranged prophet statues, forming an original composition in conjunction with the reliefs of the substructure.

Together with the bronze plaque from the tomb of Bishop Evrard de Fouilloy (d.1222), in a style without direct relation with that of the facade and an important example of Gothic bronze sculpture, Amiens Cathedral possesses another major work of 13th-century sculpture: the St Honoratus portal of the south transept. Today the evolution of the worksite and the style of the sculptures enable us to date it to the years 1235-1240 (possibly even 1245), with the additional help of an architectural study of the actual installation of the portal. The latter is famous for the so-called Vierge Doree on the trumeau. As an innovation, the apostles, grouped in conversing pairs, stand out in the round on the lintel. The originality of the program of the arch mouldings is enhanced by that of the tympanum which recounts the life of St Honoratus, former Bishop of Amiens, on four registers. The style of the sculptures on the portal of the Golden Virgin offers many points of comparison with that of the sculptures on the west front. It had been wrongly assigned a later date than the west portals of Reims and the transept of Notre-Dame in Paris. However, the present chronology has the advantage of placing the originality of the lintel and the style of the Virgin more accurately in the framework of the evolution of 13th-century sculpture.

For other 13th/14th century arts, see: Gothic illuminated manuscripts (1150-1350) and the later, more decorative International Gothic illuminations.

Reims Cathedral

Reims Cathedral is a masterpiece of French medieval art which has made a profound impression on people's minds, sometimes less for its role as a coronation cathedral than for the damage inflicted on it during the First World War and the discussions which ensued about the deterioration of the sculptures, their removal and restoration. In 1210, after a fire, Archbishop Aubry de Humbert (d.1218) decided to rebuild the church, and the axial chapel was in use by 1221. The subsequent history of the cathedral's construction was full of incident and interruptions on the worksite. The west front was begun in 1255 and finished in 1275 (except for the upper parts), but from the outset statuary had invaded the exterior of the building. A labyrinth supplied the names of four architects, Jean d'Orbais, Jean Le Loup, Gaucher of Reims and Bernard of Soissons, but not the details of their intervention. The plan of the building comprises a nave with nine bays flanked by single side aisles, a slightly projecting transept with a supplementary side aisle which is prolonged by two straight bays preceding a choir with radiating chapels and ambulatory. On the exterior, the present-day building lacks the transept towers, but has a facade firmly anchored on the two lateral towers, which endow it with a characteristic vertical upthrust. The great profusion of sculptures testifies to an immense project, successive additions and a rare decorative ambition.

The west front of Reims is a wonderful illustration of this Rood of sculpture, covering portals, buttresses and gables, as well as the tabernacles placed in the buttresses and the upper parts. The Coronation of the Virgin on the central portal reaches up into the gable, the tympana being pierced. The Virgin and Child occupy the trumeau, while the statues on the splays are devoted to the boyhood of Christ and the life of the Virgin. The lefthand portal is dominated by a monumental Crucifixion and the arch mouldings contain a christological cycle. Saul's conversion is represented on the lintel, while the splay statues represent saints, angels and apostles. The Christ as judge on the gable of the righthand portal is accompanied by an Apocalypse cycle on the arch mouldings; prophets and saints stand on the splays.

The decision to replace the mid-12th-century facade was probably taken some thirty years before work actually began. So the design of the west front would date to the 1220s or shortly afterward, which would explain why the great splay statues with their antiquizing air (Mary and Elizabeth representing the Visitation, for example) had already been executed before 1240-1245, at the same time that the statues on the upper parts of the choir and transept were being made. It has recently been suggested that the delay in setting up the facade workshop could be attributed to serious financial difficulties in the diocese of Reims. From 1255, work on the portals, which demonstrate a knowledge of the west front of Amiens, got under way. The first group of reliefs was executed by sculptors coming from Amiens or Paris. Shortly after 1260, the model of the north transept of Notre-Dame in Paris led to an enlargement of the side buttresses and is reflected in the upper parts and the style of the inner wall of the facade. Indeed, the program of the upper parts of the portals continues in the interior by means of a succession of niches containing figures referring to St John the Baptist on the north half of the wall of the main nave and to the Virgin on the south half, while prophets appear in the side aisles, with scenes from the New Testament and the Apocalypse. The lintels are also embellished on their inner face. On the principal trumeau is St Nicasius facing the main nave; on the lintels of the side portals is the martyrdom of St Stephen. Its location made this program quite exceptional, although it was probably not unique in the Middle Ages. On the exterior, contributions from Amiens (reliefs of the legend of St John, the preaching of St Paul, and the lintels) precede those from Paris (relief of the Apocalypse). The large statues reveal some Parisian features (smiling angel, Helen), but essentially they show great diversity and are mostly later than 1201, as an important recent book has proved.

 

Developments in 13th Century Gothic Sculpture

The history of Gothic sculpture in the middle and early second half of the 13th century starts in the 1240s with the fundamental changes in monumental sculpture we have seen emerging at Paris and Amiens. Some Parisian works should also be mentioned, beside the more recent sculptures carved for the late installation (c.1240) of the central portal of Notre-Dame (Christ, angel with nails, left section of the lintel, trumeau Christ, six archstones in the first arch moulding), breaking with the style of the 1220s, as does the King Childebert from the refectory trumeau of Saint-Germain-des-Pres in the Louvre, reliably dated to the abbacy of Simon (1239-1244), whose restoration has revealed its polychromy and forceful style. Although space only allows a brief mention, we should not forget the importance of the apostles of the Sainte-Chapelle (some originals in the chapel, others in the Musee de Cluny, c.1241-1248), the elegant portal of the north transept of Notre-Dame, and above all the fine quality of the statue of a naked Adam in the Musee de Cluny, from the inner south transept of Notre-Dame; it is contemporary with the magnificent inner and outer decoration of that facade, whose first stone was laid by Jean de Chelles in 1258. The treatment of the nude is akin to that of the bodies of Adam and Eve on a rood screen fragment from Notre-Dame preserved in the Paris Louvre. (For an historical discussion of nudity in medieval painting and sculpture, see: Female Nudes in Art History (Top 20), and also please see Male Nudes in Art History (Top 10).

In comparison with the works executed in Paris shortly before the middle of the 13th century, Bourges stands out for the rood screen sculptures, a remarkable composition with heavy drapery folds and full decorative forms, and for the central portal of the west front, possibly slightly later than the rood screen and so from the middle of the 13th century, with its classical air and a remarkable freedom in the treatment of the nudes. These stylistic tendencies recur on the portal of La Calende at Rouen, at Rampillon, and in the south transept of Saint-Denis. The reconstruction of Saint-Denis in the 13th century is important for the history of Gothic architecture. The retables of the choir chapels, showing obvious affinities with the Bourges sculptures and the Sainte-Chapelle apostles, attest the Parisian production of the years 1250-1260 and the role that carved church furniture played in the evolution of Gothic art. The large relief with St Denis, St Rusticus and St Eleutherius (Paris Louvre), probably from the rood screen of Saint-Denis, already belongs to the end of the ccntury. The new dating (before 1265-1279) of the major ivory statuette of the Virgin and Child (Paris Louvre), known as the Sainte-Chapelle or Soltykoff Virgin, confirms the importance of Paris as an artistic nursery. Many other works do not deserve to be left in the shade: the portals of the west front of Auxerre Cathedral and especially the abundant output of funerary sculpture which, in the context of relations maintained with monumental sculpture, leads from the gisants of Fontevrault to those of Amiens, then to the funerary statue of Constance of Arles (Saint-Denis) and the head of the gistant of Jeanne of Toulouse (1271-1285), on the threshold of the new artistic tendencies of the late 13th century.

Royal Sculptures: Arcade of Kings

During the first decades of the 13th century, Gothic sculpture made innovations in many fields. Statues, for example, owing to a twisting movement which made the legs face in an opposite direction to the torso, or a slouching from the hips with the weight on one leg (the Gothic sway), tend to stand out visually from the architectural setting. Again, statues began to smile and there was a growing taste for the anatomical study of the nude. We have already dwelt on the novelties in the iconography of the Virgin. Parallel to them, from the beginning of the 13th century, monumental Gothic sculpture shows a predilection for the representation of crowned kings, for a royal iconography. The west portals of Saint-Denis and Chartres had already established the type of the royal biblical statue on the splay, with the book or rotulus as attribute. Generally, the figures wear an open cloak, held in on the right shoulder, which falls in straight tight folds. During the first half of the 13th century, the robe falls to the feet and is drawn in at the waist; an open cloak is held in over the chest. But the main novelty is the appearance of royal figures aligned on the upper part of the facade: the famous arcades of kings.

In April 1977, 364 sculptured fragments from the cathedral of Paris were discovered during restoration work on the Hotel Moreau, Rue de La Chaussee-d'Antin. In 1793 in the desire to suppress emblems of royalty after smashing the crown on statues, the revolutionaries decided to pull them down and destroy them. Out of religious and undoubtedly monarchic respect, many fragments were buried and so faint was the memory of them that Viollet-le-Duc had to use his imagination when restoring them. Among the pieces found in 1977 were twenty-one heads from the arcade of kings at Notre-Dame, which establish the Parisian style of the years 1225-1230, that is to say an intermediary period little known before, and supply valuable information ahout the polychromy of medieval statues. Their formal aspect is fairly coherent: a crown with fleurons that have disappeared, hair divided into long strands often hiding the ears, beard and moustache nearly always abundant. In contrast, only a very few fragments were found of the bodies, from which the heads had been carefully removed.

Much has been written ahout the identification of the statues in the arcades of kings. The Notre-Dame arcade represents the kings of Judah and so constitutes a sort of horizontal Tree of Jesse, better explained today by the authentification of the central group which surmounted the arcade. It represented the Virgin and Child Ranked by two angels restored in the 19th century on the initiative of Viollet-le-Duc. In contrast, the restored statues of Adam and Eve on either side, in front of the towers, have turned out to be a product of the restorers' imagination. So the role of Notre-Dame in Paris in the monumental glorification of the Virgin is even better known than it was when the only artistic creation of that genre attributed to it was the standing Virgin on the trumeau.

When looking for the origin of the arcade of kings, a distinction should be made between the architectural motif and the iconography, because the row of figures under arches developed very early in medieval art, in painting and mosaics, at the back of apses or sculptured on facades in western France and northern Spain. Many Spanish facades display aposolados or registers of apostles, as at Santiago de Compostela, Moarves, Carrion de los Comics, Sanguesa and later at Ciudad Rodrigo, a monumental transposition of a theme frequently found on altar frontals. Incidentally, the Epiphany is incorporated into the frieze at Carrion de los Condes. The arcade of kings of Notre-Dame, Paris, as well as those of Chartres (south arm of the transept and west front), Amiens (west front) and Reims (buttresses and transept towers) signify the emergence and diffusion of a new theme in which the royal ancestors of the Old Testament were very soon confused with the "ancestors" of the kingdom of France. The fact is that the emerging theme of the arcade of kings cannot be dissociated from the growing prestige of the Capetian dynasty beginning with the reign of Louis VI, from the shaping of the notion of royal legitimacy, from the reflection on the image of the king which was a central concern in the aulic circles of the France of Philip Augustus. The royal statues in the upper parts of the transept of Reims show, by the artistic and iconographic scope of the cycle, the close connection deliberately sought between religious iconography and the idea of royalty through its symbols. The important ecclesiastical and political personalities who intervened in commissioning works were directly involved in the emergence of an architectural motif which illustrates the culmination of thinking about medieval genealogies. As a facade theme, the arcade of kings also enjoyed an obvious and rapid success outside France (Burgos, Wells, Lichfield, Exeter, Lincoln).

The Gothic style of architecture predominated in Northern Europe until the 16th century, although it was superceded in Italy by 15th century Italian Renaissance designs. In the area of sculpture and painting, it developed into the International Gothic style (c.1375-1425) in Western Europe (especially France and Italy), before being overtaken by Renaissance art.

Late Gothic Sculptors

The following are among the greatest Late Gothic artists north of the Alps:
- Andre Beauneveu (c.1335-1400)
- Claus Sluter (c.1340-1406)
- Hans Multscher (c.1400-1467)
- Giorgio da Sebenico (1410-1473)
- Veit Stoss (c.1447-1533)
- Tilman Riemenschneider (c.1460-1531)
- Gregor Erhart (c.1460-1540).

REFERENCES
We gratefully acknowledge the use of material from the seminal work on early European Sculpture, namely Sculpture: From Antiquity to the Middle Ages, Edited by G. Duby and J-L Daval (1989-91) (published by Taschen GmbH), a book we strongly recommend for any serious students of European Gothic sculpture and architecture.

 

• For more facts about sculptors, see: Homepage.


ENCYCLOPEDIA OF SCULPTURE
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