Art History Everyone Should Know: Gothic and Romanesque Architecture, Monasteries, and Art In General

For the full course in order visit:
Visit the Art History Page on Facebook

The Romanesque and Gothic Styles

Pisa Complex
Baptistry 1153, (foreground)
Cathedral (Duomo) 1063, (midground)
Tower (Campinale) 1174 (back right)
 Iconography and Context:  The Pisa Cathedral complex is a good axample of the combination of religious and patriotic devotion.  It is basically almost the heart of the community which built it.  It was the place where, after you were brought into the world, you would be baptized in the Baptistry and when you died a prayer was said for you in the Cathedral.  The bell in the "Leaning Tower" called you to worship and marked the hours of the day for you.  The fact that the entire complex took more than a hundred years to construct is key in understanding the effort, pride and consistency of the faith of the people who built it.  As such, the complex is an "icon" of devotion. Form:  According to the Encyclopaedia Britannica, "Both the cathedral and the baptistery are built of white marble with strips of black in the Pisan Romanesque style, which features colonnades and the decorative use of pointed arches."  In this way the buildings are all made of sumptuous materials and also illustrate the fusion of several different periods' styles: the early Christian Basilican style complete with its cross vaults, the Romanesque technology of thick supporting arches, and the arches and highly ornate decorations of the Gothic style.
According to the Encyclopaedia Britannica, 
The Leaning Tower of Pisa, begun in 1174 and completed in the 14th century, is also round and is constructed throughout of white marble, inlaid on the exterior with coloured marbles.  The uneven settling of the campanile's foundations during its construction gave the structure a marked inclination that is now about 17 feet (5.2 m) out of the perpendicular. The camposanto's marble buildings, erected from 1278 in the Italian Gothic style by Giovanni di Simone, contained important frescoes by various 14th- and 15th-century Tuscan artists, notably Benozzo Gozzoli. His frescoes there were damaged by bombing during World War II but have since been restored."


Cathedral (Duomo) 1063,

Form: The Cathedral is initially built in the Romanesque style.  The overall plan is a Latin cross plan with a dome floating above the crossing of the nave and transept.  The facade is white marble with a simple looking arcade of Roman style arches atop classical, almost Corinthian style columns.  The overall order is symmetrical, squat and very predictable and geometric. The dome, which is a later edition, is almost an onion or egg shaped pointed dome which is different from the type of simple dome that we might come to expect from buildings such as the shallow half dome of Hagia Sofia and or the perfect half circle of the Pantheon.
Iconography:  The form of the structure is somewhat iconic.  Overall the structure looks fairly "traditional" in a Byzantine or Early Christian sense.  The plan is somewhat like St. Peters in Rome and the exterior of the building is made of a series of Roman triumphal arches and classical collumns.  These two architectural references give the building some "class" in their references to older honored styles.
Context:  A Cathedral like this is the "seat" of the community.  Cathedra in Latin means chair or seat.  The structure would have taken years to build and was the center of the community.  In many Italian cities, the main Cathedral usually has a dome floating above the crossing and the Italians will refer to the main Cathedral in their city simply as the "Duomo" which means "dome" in Italian.


interior of cathedral
interior of cathedral

Form: The interior of this Cathedral demonstrates the transitions between Byzantine, Romanesque and Gothic styles. The roof is Byzantine They were constructed using flat timber and cross vaults in the side aisles. The first sign is the rows of Roman style arches atop the collumns around the perimter of the nave.  The high pointed archways Gothic style arches are at the crossing of the nave and transept. There was also a tendency at this time for the architect to be influenced by Islamic art and decoration. The Islamic Mosques, such as Dome of Jerusalem, were filled with two-tone paining on the arches and columns, whose influence can clearly be seen in the upper picture, with the black and white crosses and striped columns above. The arches themselves are also entirely reminiscent of Islamic architecture, tall and pointed at the top, they closely resemble the arches found in the courtyard of Masjid-I Jami (Stokstad pg. 356 for example).  Context: The interior of this church is meant to inspire awe in the worshippers, and this particular Cathedral has a Mosaic done by the artist Cimabue. Cimabue was a well known and respected Byzantine style fresco painter who painted prmari;y for the church, and was believed to have painted Mother and Child Enthroned for the main alter of the Church of the Holy Trinity in Florence at about 1280. What makes it important that Cimabue is said to have done a mosaic for this Cathedral is the fact that mosaics were rarely done in this time period because of the expense of thematerials and the need for a skilled artisan to create them. In this case, not only did the church spare no expense for the materials, but they also hired one of the most skilled and expensive craftsmen of the time. This helps to underscore the importance of the church as a center of worship and of economics. The Cathedrals took hundreds of years to build, and employed thousands of craftsmen, architects, artisans, and laborers. The building of the Cathedrals could keep a town flourishing for years. The advent of a Cathedral not only provided religious stability for a city, but economic security as well. 
There are some marked differences between the Gothic and Romanesque style that are important to keep in mind while studying the two, as it will help you to easily identify which cathedral comes from which period. The first, and easiest to remember, is the way in which the Romanesque style most closely resembles that of ancient Roman architecture. By this, it means that there tends to be a more horizontal feeling to the structure, as well as copious amounts of Roman style  columns and rounded archways, as opposed to the more pointed archways of the Gothic time. 
"The cathedral, begun in 1063, has a nave with double-vaulted aisles and transepts with single-vaulted ones, and a cupola at the intersection of the two axes. On the western front, the range of arches running around the base of the cathedral is repeated in four open arcades."  Brittanica


Form:  According to the Encyclopaedia Britannica,  "The circular baptistery, begun in 1152 but only completed in the 14th century, is covered by a dome surmounted by a cone, which gives the structure an ogival, Oriental effect. The interior contains a wonderful hexagonal pulpit completed in 1260 by Nicola Pisano."

Nicola Pisano. Nativity, 
Pulpit from Pisa's Baptistery c1259
Italian Gothic,
Form:  This pulpit exhibits qualities from all three of the eras.   The ornate carving and stylization of the lions and the lions demonstrates both the influence of the Byzantine and Gothic eras.  The classical columns surmounted by Gothic style tracery show those periods styles. Iconography:  This pulpit is the podium from which the priest or brother who resides over the ceremonies and services speaks from.  As such it is elevated as his words must be but the decorations and ornamentation are also iconic of the priest's words and his status. The references to both the classical and gothic styles also lend the work some authority as well.  The sculptures of the eagle and lions at the base have some basis in earlier traditions in which lions and monsters serve an apotropaic (protective) function but in this case, it is possible that the lions could refer to the story of Daniel in the lion's den or to a passage from the the 95th Psalm (read the entire Psalm in "Liaisons"):
For he will command his angels concerning you
to guard you in all your ways;
they will lift you up in their hands,
so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.
You will tread upon the lion and the cobra;
you will trample the great lion and the serpent.
Likewise, the representation of the eagle could be a reference to one of the apostles or again to the psalm:
Surely he will save you from the fowler's snare
and from the deadly pestilence.
He will cover you with his feathers,
and under his wings you will find refuge;
his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.
Context:  Several generations of the Pisano family had worked in and around the Pisa complex where this was found.  The Catholic Church at this point in time was the major patron of the arts.  It was not unusual for several generations of artists or workers to work on a single church or structure.


Nicola Pisano. Nativity, detail of Baptistery Pulpit panel: Annunciation, 
Nativity and Annunciation to Shepherds 1259-60 Italian Gothic,

Pediment of the Parthenon
Three Goddesses c438BCE
Greek Classic,
Form:  This is a relief carving.  The relief varies greatly in the height and or depth of each of the figures and objects.  In general the composition is fairly symmetrical yet it is very crowded and almost seems disorganized.  Most of the figures are placed in the foreground of the picture plane and the space created is not very illusionistic.  Space is created by placing the figures in the foreground lower in the picture plane.  In order to show the recession of space, the figures are layered and the placed in a vertical perspective.  The rendering of each of the figures is fairly naturalistic and the clothing, drapery and poses are somewhat reminiscent of carvings such as the this one from the Parthenon's pediment.  Several of the figures, such as the main one which depicts Mary and the child (Jesus) are repeated because several scenes are simultaneously being represented.  This kind of continuous narrative is common in Byzantine, Romanesque, Gothic and Renaissance art. 
Iconography:  This is a nativity scene that at first appears to take place in a manger but it also contains the baptism of Christ as well as the annunciation by the angel Gabriel.  The scenes are as follows, far left the angel Gabriel confronts Mary with his annunciation of the birth of Jesus. Mary pulls away towards the center of the scene.  In the upper right hand corner is a manger scene in which Jesus lies in his crib, at the far right are two of the wise men who are missing their heads.  The center of the scene Mary reclines in a pose very reminiscent of the Goddesses from Parthenon.  In the lower left foreground of the image is the baptism of Christ (note he's missing his head too.)
The next major difference is in the style and amount of artwork. In general, the Romanesque style is extremely organized, diagrammatic, and stylized. It tends to take cues from Byzantine art, in which the figures' relative size to another figure is based upon its' importance in the spiritual hierarchy. For example, when Jesus or an Angel is shown, they are relatively larger than all the other figures whom are depicted in a particular scene. This shows how important they are, they loom above the mere mortals, faithful and sinners alike. In contrast, the Gothic style of sculpture and art within a cathedral is very much a "schema and correction" of the Romanesque art. While the same themes and saints may be depicted, they are far more naturalistic, shown more or less in proportion often with detailed, flowing robes which harken back to the Greek ideals of art and beauty. For example, in Stokstad on pg. 594, is a depiction of Dormition of the Virgin from the Strasbourg cathedral in France. Jesus, the virgin, and all the followers are all equal in size and proportion, the only thing that shows Jesus as the most important figure is his place n the center and his halo, otherwise he blends in with the others. There also tends to be more of an emphasis on the stories of Jesus in the Gothic cathedrals, whereas the Romanesque cathedrals tended to emphasize not only Jesus, but biblical stories, morality stories, saints, parables, and virtues. Context:  The realism of her pose and drapery demonstrate the beginnings of the heightened realism that occurs during this period.  These classical references are both "classy" but also refer to the new ideas concerning a more humanistic approach towards interpreting scripture.  The naturalism relates more towards the viewer than ever before and it is possible to imagine the scene as something real.


Amiens Cathedral, France 1220-1236 by Robert Deluzarches 

Flying Buttresses
Read Stokstad 556-612 Form: Cathedrals, in general, were made completely of stone for permanence. The construction of the cathedral, although derived from the basilican plan, is a non-uniform shape.  The addition of the transept and the bays in the apse tend to make the shape fairly irregular. 
Structurally, the Gothic Cathedrals differed with their use of huge soaring structures known as 'flying buttresses'. These beautiful structures did for the Gothic Cathedrals what rounded and barrel vaults did for Romanesque churches, supported them, except they were located outside the church. They provided  a sort of exoskeleton (made of stone) for the structure as well as lending a visual sense of fragility and beauty to the look of the church, though in reality they are quite strong. Made of iron rods with stone and concrete encasing them, these buttresses are the main support as well as the main source of architectural beauty for these massive buildings.
As well as sculpture and architecture, the Gothic cathedrals brought about the advent of the 'Rose' style stained glass window. These are enormous glass window n the shape of a 'rose' and found on the facade of the Gothic cathedrals. It is supposed to represent purity, like a rose, and is symbolic of the Virgin Mary. True to Gothic symbolism and the Jesus motif, a rose also has thorns on the stem, which can also be representative of the crown of thorns worn by Jesus as he walked through the streets bearing the cross towards his crucifixion.
Read the brown box at the top of the page in Stokstad, pg. 569,  understand more about the technique of creating a stained glass window and how it developed n use through the ages in churches and cathedrals. 
Iconography: Quatrefoils at the base of the cathedral serve a didactic purpose.  The quatrefoils each tell stories. The exterior serves a didactic purpose (teaches about Christianity). According to Stokstad, quatrefoils contain relief sculptures that greet worshippers as they enter the cathedral and are used to tell biblical or morality based stories. These usually focus on the themes of Good vs. Evil, the lives of the saints, biblical allegories as well as seasons of the months. 
Context: Construction of cathedrals, such as Amiens' Notre Dame, were a labor of love that went on for decades and sometimes centuries.  Often entire generations of families would be at work on the cathedrals as an expression of transgenerational love for god. 
The purpose of Gothic Cathedrals was to make the worshipper feel as thought they were truly in the presence of God. The high, imposing ceilings, awe-inspiring stained glass windows and enormous buttresses dwarfed the worshippers as they entered the building and inspired a sense of awe.They were also monuments to the power of the monarchy of the time and were central fixtures in the urban centers. In this time period, much of daily life revolved around religion and a strict adherence to the will of the laity as well as the ruling monarch. This was the time of the crusades and a widespread religious fervor. 


Interior of Amiens Cathedral
The main two design innovations evinced in Gothic architecture are the perfection and use of the ribbed groin vault and the use of flying buttresses.  Groin vaults needed massive walls to support the side stress created by them. In order to compensate for this and relieve some of the outward thrust of the traditional barrel vaults that one observes in Romanesque architecture, pointed arches were introduced.  These arches change some of the outward thrust to downward thrust.  The pointed arch also allowed for more flexibility in terms of the space that the arch could span. Flying buttresses absorbed the rest of the force generated by the arches.  Flying buttresses are essentially an exoskeleton which take a great deal of the stress off of the inner walls and allow them to be built taller and thinner and with large openings for stained glass windows. 


PSALM 91, He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High
will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say of the Lord, "He is my refuge and my fortress,
my God, in whom I trust."
Surely he will save you from the fowler's snare
and from the deadly pestilence.
He will cover you with his feathers,
and under his wings you will find refuge;
his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.
You will not fear the terror of night,
nor the arrow that flies by day,
nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness
nor the plague that destroys at midday.
A thousand may fall at your side,
ten thousand at your right hand,
but it will not come near you.
You will only observe with your eyes
and see the punishment of the wicked.
If you make the Most High your dwelling --
even the Lord, who is my refuge --
then no harm will befall you,
no disaster will come near your tent.
For he will command his angels concerning you
to guard you in all your ways;
they will lift you up in their hands,
so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.
You will tread upon the lion and the cobra;
you will trample the great lion and the serpent.
(sometimes worded: You shall tread upon the asp and the viper, trample the lion and the dragon.)
"Because he loves me," says the Lord, "I will rescue him;
I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name.
He will call upon me, and I will answer him;
I will be with him in trouble,
I will deliver him and honor him.
With long life will I satisfy him
and show him my salvation."
Form: Carved lintel, between the two doors to the portal of the cathedral.
Iconography: This particular sculpture is filled with symbolism and is a good example of how the importance of Jesus was emphasized in a naturalistic way, rather than the distortion found in Romanesque art. Here, Jesus us shown as higher than his disciples, showing his place in the spiritual hierarchy of Heaven. He holds a book, a symbol of the bible and knowledge of heaven. His hand is in a  gesture of benediction, the symbol of blessing. Here Jesus is shown as a teacher and a spiritual leader. He is placed so that he stands above the city and above mankind.  In the quatrefoils around the cathedral, his importance is shown in depiction's of him entering Jerusalem, larger than the city itself, and a central figure once again. Another quatrefoil shows the last judgment. He is seated with his saints and angels, the primary figure once again, with the damned to his left and the saved to his right. 
Context: It must be remembered that the importance of Jesus was prevalent in a Gothic cathedral.  In most any story of Jesus shown, whether it be sculpture or stained glass window, Jesus is the central and most important figure. 

Interior of Amiens
Form: This is an interior view of the ceiling in the main part of the cathedral. Iconography: One can easily see the vaulted structure of the ceiling, which not only provides support, but is aesthetically pleasing to see. This type of vaulting is crucial in making the high, soaring ceilings possible, without it, the ceiling would be too heavy and the whole structure would collapse. It also serves  to allow as much light as possible in, giving the cathedral an ethereal glow during the daytime and especially while services are being conducted. Much the same way transcendentalists saw nature as representing the beauty of God, the light pouring into the cathedral reminded worshippers why they were there. Along with the ceiling, almost every part of this area of the cathedral was covered with carving and decoration.This was to make the interior appear valuable and precious. In addition, it was supposed to give the impression of the gates of heaven, which were often characterized as ornate and possessing a beauty that surpassed anything that mankind could create.
Context: It is apparent while looking at this structure that every detail in this cathedral, as well as all the others, was created and decorated for maximum visual impact and impression.  It was made to create a sense of awe in even the most jaded and hardened of sinners.


An outline on Amiens
quoted from Department of Art History and Archaeology
Columbia University
Humanities C1121 - Fine Arts F1121


  1. The gothic cathedral of Amiens was constructed between 1220 and 1269, following the destruction of the old cathedral in 1218; nave chapels, west towers and central steeple are later. Bishop Evrard de Fouilloy initiated the work; the master masons were Robert de Luzarches, Thomas de Cormont and his son Renaud de Cormont. Built of chalk; measures 417' in length and 213' in overall width; crown of interior vaulting rises to 137', the equivalent of 144 royal feet.
  2. Position of the cathedral in the town. Aimens, aquired by the French monarchy in the 1180s, was governed by a commune. Norte-Dame was the seat (cathedra=chair )of the bishop and was served by a chapter of forty cannons. The Gothic cathedral as civic and religious monument.
  3. Plan: cruciform; orientation. Parts of plan: nave, aisles, transepts, crossing, choir, apse, ambulatory, radiating chapels. The plan involves a combination of arithmetic and geometric proportions. The nave bays are modular (squares and double squares); the overall dimensions are derived from the great square placed in the center of the edifice.
  4. Construction: arch and vault; pointed arch and ribbed quadripartite vaults, piers with colonnettes (piliers cantonnés), tower and flying buttresses.
  5. Interior elevation: nave arcade, triforium, clerestory.
  6. Stained glass: lancets, oculi, rose window; space and light; directionality. (The stained glass at Amiens was lost to storms and other destruction before the Frence Revolution; for a cathedral with its original windows, see the comparative material on Chartres.)
  7. Sculptural program: Design and style; location and relation to architecture.
    1. West facade: Last Judgement in tympanum of central portal. Trumeau figures: St. Firmin (parton saint of Amiens), Beau Dieu (Christ), Virgin Mary. Quatrefoils: Labors of the Months, Signs of the Zodiac, Virtues and Vices.
    South transept portal: Vierge Doree--Gothic style of the 1250's.

Claudia Torres
ARTS 1301
Texas A&M International University
An Amazing Gothic Cathedral
When first enrolling for this course, I was hesitant. I did not think I would enjoy any of it and much less find that I would actually be interested in anything that was introduced to us. I have found myself appreciating every piece of art that we have seen, but there has been one piece of architecture that has amazed and inspired me more than any other, and that was the Cathedral of Notre Dame at Amiens, also known as the Cathedral of Amiens. The symbolism found in almost anything you decide to set your eyes on is enough to intrigue anyone. Everything in its interior and exterior is equally heavenly and majestic.
The Cathedral of Amiens was begun in 1220 following the designs of Robert de Luzarches. This cathedral is one of High Gothic style,it has a rectangular-bay system, four-paneled rib vault, and a buttressing system. This aspect of the cathedral is not particularly what amazed me most, but it played an important part interrelating with the decorative work.
The exterior of the Amiens is enough to leave anyone who sees it in awe. It has magnificent detailing and storytelling. The portal contains great detail. At the base one sees quatrefoils that serve to teach. Immediately above the quatrefoils we see the Apostles both to the right and left of Christ who was found at the center. Great work and detail is found in all of this. The quatrefoils are relatively small in comparison and yet there was still room to place figures within them to tell a story/lesson. They were done with such great detail that one can appreciate even the smallest piece of work, down to the facial features and expressions on the angels as well as on all other figures. When you see the Apostles you see a gothic cathedral above their heads symbolizing the dome of heaven. Christ is found at the center and taller than the Apostles to show respect and praise. The bodies of both the Apostles and Christ are deemphasized, all is in the mind. Christ is placed on a mythological creature, representing Psalm 91. Looking straight up, you can see angels on the dome-shaped area of the portal. This Cathedral entailed tremendous amount of work both in structure and the decoration, which is what I like the most. More than the actual decorations, I like what they represent and how it is they came to be.
In a more general view of the exterior; I like the fact that since it took several generations to complete the project, it is not identical. Identical on, for example, both right and left sides of the west façade. The towers have minor differences that I particularly like and find that make it all the more magnificent. The rose window is also something that is extremely beautiful and colorful. This window as well as just about anything in this piece of architecture represents something. The rose symbolizes the Virgin and the rose's thorns symbolize the thorns on Christ's head. From the inside this window lets in light in all the bright colors used. The choir vaults look like they are suspended from above and light is let in through the clerestory.
I have never been devout to my religion, but seeing this immense work of art devoted to Christ sends shivers down my spine. When seeing a picture of the choir vaults I can picture myself there listening to chants in voices that inspire just about anyone who allows themselves to be inspired. In essence, what I liked most about this piece of architecture is that I can feel myself there and not only that, but to some extent feel the presence of Christ as well.

No comments:

Post a Comment