Rayonnant Gothic Period

Beauvais was begun in 1225

Beauvais was begun in 1225, the year before Louis IX, king of France, ascended the throne. During his long reign, from 1226 to 1270, Gothic architecture entered a new phase, known as the Rayonnant. The word "Rayonnant" is derived from the radiating spokes, like those of a wheel, of the enormous rose windows that are one of the features of the style. Height was no longer the prime objective. Rather, the architects further reduced the masonry frame of the churches, expanded the window areas, and replaced the external wall of the triforium with traceried glass. Instead of the massive effects of the High Gothic cathedrals, both the interior and the exterior of the typical Rayonnant church now more nearly assumed the character of a diaphanous shell.

All these features of the Rayonnant were

All these features of the Rayonnant were incorporated in the first major undertaking in the new style, the rebuilding (begun 1232) of the royal abbey church of Saint-Denis. Of the earlier structure only the ambulatory and the west facade were preserved. The spirit of the Rayonnant, however, is perhaps best represented by the Sainte-Chapelle, the spacious palace chapel built by Louis IX on the le de la Cite in the center of Paris. Construction began in the early 1240s, and the chapel was consecrated in 1248. Immense windows, rising from near the pavement to the arches of the vaults, occupy the entire area between the vaulting shafts, thus transforming the whole chapel into a sturdy stone armature for the radiant stained-glass windows.

In the evolution of Gothic architecture

In the evolution of Gothic architecture, the progressive enlargement of the windows was not intended to shed more light into the interiors, but rather to provide an ever-increasing area for the stained glass. As can still be appreciated in the Sainte-Chapelle and in the cathedrals of Chartres and Bourges, Gothic interiors with their full complement of stained glass were as dark as those of Romanesque churches. It was, however, a luminous darkness, vibrant with the radiance of the windows. The dominant colors were a dark saturated blue and a brilliant ruby red. Small stained-glass medallions illustrating episodes from the Bible and from the lives of the saints were reserved for the windows of the chapels and the side aisles. Their closeness to the observer made their details easily distinguishable. Each of the lofty windows of the clerestory, on the other hand, was occupied by single monumental figures. Because of their often colossal size, they were also readily visible from below. Beginning in the 1270s the mystic darkness was gradually dispelled as grisaille glasswhite glass decorated with designs in graywas more often employed in conjunction with colored panels, while the colors themselves grew progressively lighter in tone.

Dissemination of Gothic Architecture

The influence of French Gothic architecture

The influence of French Gothic architecture on much of the rest of Europe was profound. In France the scheme of Bourges, with its giant arcade and short clerestory, met with little response, but in Spain it was taken up again and again, beginning in 1221 with the Cathedral of Toledo and continuing into the early 14th century with the cathedrals of Palma de Mallorca, Barcelona, and Gerona. In Germany the impact of all phases of French Gothic architecture was decisive, from the early Gothic four-story elevation of the Cathedral of Limburg-an-der-Lahn (1225?) to the choir of Cologne Cathedral (begun 1248). Modeled on the Rayonnant choir of Amiens, the interior of Cologne exceeds in height even that of Beauvais.

Italy and England

Italy and England, however, are the exceptions to this pervasive French influence. The peculiarly Italianate idiom of the Gothic churches of Florence and the superficial reminiscences of the French Gothic facades on the cathedrals of Siena and Orvieto are but transitory phases in a development that leads from the Italian Romanesque to Filippo Brunelleschi and the beginnings of the Renaissance.

In England

In England, French Gothic architecture intruded itself only twice, once in the 1170s in the eastern extension of Canterbury Cathedral and again in Henry III`s Westminster Abbey (begun 1245), patterned on the general scheme of Reims, with Parisian Rayonnant modifications. Otherwise the English architects developed their own highly successful Gothic idiom. Rejecting the aspiring verticality and the functional logic of the French cathedrals, the English churches emphasize length and horizontality, replacing the French polygonal apse with a square east end that is sometimes further prolonged by a rectangular Lady chapel (a chapel devoted to the Virgin Mary, characteristic of English cathedrals). This extreme elongation often includes two separate transepts. The multiplication in the number of ribs, some of which are of a purely ornamental nature, is also characteristically English.

The first major phase of this insular architecture

The first major phase of this insular architecture, the early English period, is well represented (except for the 15th-century tower and spire) by the Cathedral of Salisbury (begun 1220). The introduction of bar tracery in Westminster Abbey led to an astonishing variety in tracery design. This Decorated period, with its lavish ornamentation, also produced such poetic creations as the lovely Angel Choir (begun 1256) of Lincoln Cathedral, and was responsible as well for that unique masterpiece of medieval architecture, the astounding octagon (begun 1322) of Ely Cathedral, with its wooden lantern and tower soaring over the crossing.


Following a Romanesque precedent

Following a Romanesque precedent, a multitude of carved figures proclaiming the dogmas and beliefs of the church adorn the vast cavernous portals of French Gothic cathedrals. Gothic sculpture in the 12th and early 13th centuries was predominantly architectural in character. The largest and most important of the figures are the over-life-size statues in the embrasures on either side of the doorways. Because they are attached to the colonnettes by which they are supported, they are known as statue-columns. Eventually the statue-column was to lead to the freestanding monumental statue, a form of art unknown in western Europe since Roman times.

The earliest surviving statue-columns are

The earliest surviving statue-columns are those of the west portals of Chartres that stem from the older pre-Gothic cathedral and that date from about 1155. The tall, cylindrical figures repeat the form of the colonnettes to which they are bound. They are rendered in a severe, linear Romanesque style that nevertheless lends to the figures an impressive air of aspiring spirituality. During the next few decades the west portals of Chartres inspired a number of other French portals with statue-columns. They were also influential in the creation of that sculptural ensemble on the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, fittingly known as the Portico de la Gloria (completed 1188), one of the outstanding artistic achievements of medieval Spain.

All these proto-Gothic monuments

All these proto-Gothic monuments, however, still retain a distinct Romanesque character. In the 1180s the Romanesque stylization gives way to a period of transition in which the statue begins to assume a feeling of grace, sinuosity, and freedom of movement. This so-called classicizing style culminates in the first decade of the 13th century in the great series of sculptures on the north and south transept portals of Chartres.

The term classicizing

The term classicizing, however, must be qualified, for a fundamental difference exists between the Gothic figure of any period and the truly classical figure style. In the classical figure, whether statue or relief, a completely articulated body can be sensed beneath, and separate from, the drapery. In the Gothic figure no such differentiation exists. What can be discerned of the body is inseparable from the folds of the garment by which it is enveloped. Even where the nude is portrayed, as in the statues of Adam and Eve (before 1237) on the German Cathedral of Bamberg, the body is largely reduced to an abstraction.

Emergence of Naturalism

Beginning about 1210 on the Coronation

Beginning about 1210 on the Coronation Portal of Ntre Dame and continuing after 1225 on the west portals of Amiens Cathedral, the rippling surface treatment of the classicizing drapery was replaced by more solid volumes. In the 1240s, on the west facade of Reims and in the statues of the apostles in the Sainte-Chapelle, the drapery assumes those sharp, angular forms and deeply carved tubular folds that are characteristic of almost all later Gothic sculpture. At the same time the statues are finally liberated from their architectural bondage.

In the statues at Reims and in the interior

In the statues at Reims and in the interior of the Sainte-Chapelle, the exaggerated smile, almond-shaped eyes, and clustered curls of the small heads and the mannered poses result in a paradoxical synthesis of naturalistic forms, courtly affectations, and a delicate spirituality. Along with these manneristic tendencies and the increased naturalism, a more maternal type of the cult statue of the Virgin Mary playfully balancing the Christ child on the outward thrust of her hip made its first appearance on the lower portal of the Sainte-Chapellean image that in the ensuing centuries was disseminated in infinite variations throughout Europe.

Diffusion of Gothic Sculpture

Although northern France was the creative

Although northern France was the creative heartland of Gothic sculpture, as it was of Gothic architecture, some of the outstanding sculptural monuments were produced in Germany. Expanding on the French Gothic style, German Gothic sculpture ranges from an expressionistic exaggeration, sometimes verging on caricature, to a lyrical beauty and nobility of the forms. The largest assemblage of German 13th-century sculpture, that of the Cathedral of Bamberg, created under the influence of Reims, culminated about 1240 in the " Bamberg Rider," the first equestrian statue in Western art since the 6th century. Although the identity of the regal horseman remains unknown, no other work so impressively embodies the heroic ideal of medieval kingship.

The influence of French Gothic sculpture

The influence of French Gothic sculpture in Italy was, like the architecture, more superficial and transitory than in Germany. This influence can indeed be aptly described as Gothicizing trends in the larger framework of the Italian proto-Renaissance that in sculpture began in 1260 with Nicola Pisano`s marble pulpit in the Pisa Baptistry. Giovanni Pisano, the son of Nicola, was the first to adopt the full repertory of French Gothic mannerisms. Of great inner intensity and power, the statues of prophets and Greek philosophers he created about 1290 for the facade of the Cathedral of Siena are also the masterpieces of this entire Italian period.

Although during the later decades of the

Although during the later decades of the 14th century an ever-increasing number of Italian sculptors assumed the French Gothic mannerisms, again and again their works show the study of the classical nude and differentiate between body and drapery in a way that is the mark of the classical style. This Gothicizing phase had ended about 1400 with the advent of Lorenzo Ghiberti in Florence and the beginnings in sculpture of the full Italian Renaissance.

Gothic Art and Architecture 1 | Gothic Art and Architecture 2 | Gothic Art and Architecture 3 | Gothic Art and Architecture 4 |

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