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The Romanesque and Gothic Styles

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Thomas Aquinas (1225-1273) was a medieval scholar who started life, much as St. Francis of Assisi. Both began life in well to do Italian households and were given an upper class classical/religious education. Both were called to serve the church and in both cases, their callings were probably much to the vexation of their parents.In the case of St. Francis, his calling made him give away much of his father’s wealth and he then took vows of poverty, chastity and obedience and became the founder of the Franciscan order. Aquinas parents were disappointed for similar but slightly different reasons. They expected young Thomas to become an abbot of the Benedictine monastery at Monte Cassino, and therefore, since he would control much of the monastery's wealth, he would be able to aid his own family’s fortune. Instead Thomas he joined the Dominican order, which like The Franciscans, the Dominicans were a mendicant order and took similar non-wealth oriented vows.
The family responded by kidnapping him back to his home and plying him with "wine, women and song." None of this worked and so Thomas was allowed to rejoin his fellow Dominicans in Paris where he was exposed to the academic ecclesiastic community he found there. While in Paris he had access to many academic Christian texts as well as the writings of the classical philosophers such as Aristotle. The influence of which can be seen very clearly in his most famous work his Summa theologiae or 'summary of Theology.'
The Summa theologiae is written in a question and answer format that was standard medieval form for treatises. Each "question" is really the introduction of a topic and the following "answer" is really an exposition and exploration of the main ideas presented by the "question." The following selection consists of the "Five Ways" which is a small portion of the Summa theologiae concerning the existence of God.

The Five Ways, 
Translation by David Burr
Article 3: Whether God exists.
Thus we proceed to the third point. It seems that God does not exist, for if one of two contrary things were infinite, its opposite would be completely destroyed. By "God," however, we mean some infinite good. Therefore, if God existed evil would not. Evil does exist in the world, however. Therefore God does not exist.
Furthermore, one should not needlessly multiply elements in an explanation. It seems that we can account for everything we see in this world on the assumption that God does not exist. All natural effects can be traced to natural causes, and all contrived effects can be traced to human reason and will. Thus there is no need to suppose that God exists.
But on the contrary God says, "I am who I am" (Ex. 3:14).
Response: It must be said that God's existence can be proved in five ways.
The first and most obvious way is based on the existence of motion. It is certain and in fact evident to our senses that some things in the world are moved. Everything that is moved, however, is moved by something else, for a thing cannot be moved unless that movement is potentially within it. A thing moves something else insofar as it actually exists, for to move something is simply to actualize what is potentially within that thing. Something can be led thus from potentiality to actuality only by something else which is already actualized. For example, a fire, which is actually hot, causes the change or motion whereby wood, which is potentially hot, becomes actually hot. Now it is impossible that something should be potentially and actually the same thing at the same time, although it could be potentially and actually different things. For example, what is actually hot cannot at the same moment be actually cold, although it can be actually hot and potentially cold. Therefore it is impossible that a thing could move itself, for that would involve simultaneously moving and being moved in the same respect. Thus whatever is moved must be moved by something, else, etc. This cannot go on to infinity, however, for if it did there would be no first mover and consequently no other movers, because these other movers are such only insofar as they are moved by a first mover. For example, a stick moves only because it is moved by the hand. Thus it is necessary to proceed back to some prime mover which is moved by nothing else, and this is what everyone means by "God."
The second way is based on the existence of efficient causality. We see in the world around us that there is an order of efficient causes. Nor is it ever found (in fact it is impossible) that something is its own efficient cause. If it were, it would be prior to itself, which is impossible. Nevertheless, the order of efficient causes cannot proceed to infinity, for in any such order the first is cause of the middle (whether one or many) and the middle of the last. Without the cause, the effect does not follow. Thus, if the first cause did not exist, neither would the middle and last causes in the sequence. If, however, there were an infinite regression of efficient causes, there would be no first efficient cause and therefore no middle causes or final effects, which is obviously not the case. Thus it is necessary to posit some first efficient cause, which everyone calls "God."
The third way is based on possibility and necessity. We find that some things can either exist or not exist, for we find them springing up and then disappearing, thus sometimes existing and sometimes not. It is impossible, however, that everything should be such, for what can possibly not exist does not do so at some time. If it is possible for every particular thing not to exist, there must have been a time when nothing at all existed. If this were true, however, then nothing would exist now, for something that does not exist can begin to do so only through something that already exists. If, therefore, there had been a time when nothing existed, then nothing could ever have begun to exist, and thus there would be nothing now, which is clearly false. Therefore all beings cannot be merely possible. There must be one being which is necessary. Any necessary being, however, either has or does not have something else as the cause of its necessity. If the former, then there cannot be an infinite series of such causes, any more than there can be an infinite series of efficient causes, as we have seen. Thus we must to posit the existence of something which is necessary and owes its necessity to no cause outside itself. That is what everyone calls "God."
The fourth way is based on the gradations found in things. We find that things are more or less good, true, noble, etc.; yet when we apply terms like "more" and "less" to things we imply that they are closer to or farther from some maximum. For example, a thing is said to be hotter than something else because it comes closer to that which is hottest. Therefore something exists which is truest, greatest, noblest, and consequently most fully in being; for, as Aristotle says, the truest things are most fully in being. That which is considered greatest in any genus is the cause of everything is that genus, just as fire, the hottest thing, is the cause of all hot things, as Aristotle says. Thus there is something which is the cause of being, goodness, and every other perfection in all things, and we call that something "God."
The fifth way is based on the governance of things. We see that some things lacking cognition, such as natural bodies, work toward an end, as is seen from the fact hat they always (or at least usually) act the same way and not accidentally, but by design. Things without knowledge tend toward a goal, however, only if they are guided in that direction by some knowing, understanding being, as is the case with an arrow and archer. Therefore, there is some intelligent being by whom all natural things are ordered to their end, and we call this being "God."
To the first argument, therefore, it must be said that, as Augustine remarks, "since God is the supreme good he would permit no evil in his works unless he were so omnipotent and good that he could produce good even out of evil."
To the second, it must be said that, since nature works according to a determined end through the direction of some superior agent, whatever is done by nature must be traced back to God as its first cause. In the same way, those things which are done intentionally must be traced back to a higher cause which is neither reason nor human will, for these can change and cease to exist and, as we have seen, all such things must be traced back to some first principle which is unchangeable and necessary, as has been shown.

Aquinas' "Five Ways"
How is Aquinas' text a treatise?
Although Aquinas writes during the Gothic era how does his essay reflect some Renaissance ways of thinking?
Aside from the fact that this text is an attempt to prove the existence of God, what other societal factors made it possible for Aquinas to write this text?
Choose a work of art or music and explain how it mimics the form or ideas expressed in Aquinas' treatise. 

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 556-612Form: 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.

The Art of Neolithic Turkey and the Historic Era of the Fertile Crescent


Fertile Crescent
Copper Age     5000 BCE - 3000 BCE
Bronze Age     3000 BCE - 1400 BCE
Iron Age     1400 BCE - 1 CE


Plaster Skulls
7000 BCE
Form:  The skulls of people were separated from their bodies and covered over with plaster.  They were sculpted to look like a  person before he or she had died.  The eyes were then inlayed with shells and hair was painted onto the head and sometimes face in the case of a man having a mustache. Iconography:  They may have been icons of ancestors and used as fetish objects.  They may also be an icon of the people of Jericho's belief in an afterlife.  They were an icon of wisdom because they were consulted on serious matters.
Context:  These heads mark the beginning of larger sculpture in the Near East.  They were found under the floors of the houses in Jericho and were supposedly looked to for values and wisdom.


Catal Huyuk
6,500 BCE - 5,700 BCE
Anatolia, Turkey
Form:  This city has no streets.  The buildings are all attached and the entrances to the rooms were on the ceiling.  The houses were made of timber frames and mud brick, the insides were plastered.  There were platforms along the walls and shrines in many of the houses.  In these shrines were bulls horns, plastered breasts, wall paintings and animal heads. Iconography:  The plaster breasts found in the shrines are symbols of fertility and the bulls horns also found in the shrines are symbols of virility.  The style that the city was built in is iconographic of the need of the people for protection.  The shrines and dead people are an icon of the heavy influence of religion and possible ancestor worship.
Context:  Catal Huyuk's wealth was in the trade of obsidian which was a stone that was very useful in the making of weapons because it could easily be made into a sharp point.  The buildings being attached, with no doors or windows, formed a very protective outer wall that allowed the people to better protect themselves.  The ceiling entrance also provided the rooms with chimneys that allowed the smoke from the fire to escape.  The houses were all of similar construction even though there sizes vary.  The platforms in the houses were used to perform the days activities and to sleep upon at night.  Dead people were buried beneath the floors and shrines were in one out of three houses.


Cuneiform Writing
Process:  Developed around 3100 BCE, it was original an accounting system.  They started as pictographs, simple pictures, that were carved into damp clay.  Between 2900 BCE and 2400 BCE they developed into phonograms, representations of syllable sounds.  At the same time scribes, the people who wrote the text, began using a stylus, pictured on the bottom left.  This instrument is pushed into damp clay rapidly to form the characters in the diagram.  The illustration on the top left shows the development of the language from pictographs to later cuneiform signs.  Not many people were literate during this time.

Early Cuneiform Tablet (left)
Later Cuneiform Tablet (right)
both approximately 3"x5"
- made of clay. 

Stele of Hammurabi
1780 BCE
Susa, Iran
Form:  The Stele depicts Hammurabi on the right and the sun god, Shamash on the left.  Shamash is handing the measuring rod to Hammurabi.  It is made of black basalt and has a picture on the top and writing on the bottom.  The figures are in composite view.  In a composite view, the face, feet and arms are in profile but the torso is depicted in the frontal view.  Sometimes the eyes are a frontal view although the face is in profile.  Iconography:  The three steps upon which the god rests his feet are iconographic of this meeting taking place on a mountain top.  The larger seated figure is the god Shamash.  (The use of size to indicate importance is referred to by Stokstad as hieratic scale.)  Both Shamash’s size and the flames surrounding his represent his larger than life divine status.  The flames surrounding his head are icons of his role as god of light or enlightenment and they symbolize power and ideas in much the same way our comic books represent figures with a lighbulb above their heads to represent a good idea.  This meeting is symbolic of Hammurabi’s divine right to rule and pass judgment.  Shamash hands over a staff of rule or rod.  This represents Hammurabi’s divine right to act as Shamash’s earthly representative. 
Context:  This is a stele that was used to ensure even treatment of people throughout the kingdom.  The punishments were set in stone so that there could be no confusion as to how to deal with a situation.  The punishment varied depending upon race, wealthy, and class.  It was one of the first documents that we have that described a legal system.


Ziggurat of King Ur-Nammu 2100 BCE 
mud brick with facing of red fired clay, each level 25' to 50'
Ur, Iraq
Sumerian Form:  Overall the temple is built in two levels entirely of mud brick: in the lower level the bricks are joined together with bitumen, in the top level they are joined with mortar. 
According to the Brittanica, "The ziggurat was always built with a core of mud brick and an exterior covered with baked brick. It had no internal chambers and was usually square or rectangular, averaging either 170 feet square or 125  170 feet (40  50 metres) at the base. Approximately 25 ziggurats are known, being equally divided in number among Sumer, Babylonia, and Assyria."  The walls angle slightly outward and there are three staircases of one hundred steps each. 
Iconography:  Ziggurats symbolize a connection between the heavens and the earth.  The monumental size and shape suggest that ziggurats are a type of man-made mountain.  In many cultures, religious leaders and figures often ascend mountains as a means to connect with a god or goddess.  In the ancient Greek faith there was Mount Olympus where the gods lived and in the Judeo Christian faith, Moses was given the tablets of the law on Mount Sinai.  Monuments of such a massive size most probably represent the power of the secular and religious rulers who commissioned them but in a more general sense they are also evidence of the organized cohesive nature of Mesopotamian civilization.
Context:  The temple was dedicated to the moon god Nanna and possibly used to communicate with him.  There used to be a temple at the very top of the ziggurat.  People would wait in the temple for the god to communicate with them.  The structure was used to intimidate enemies as well.  The shape of the ziggurat may have arisen from the building on top of older buildings until it found this height but this ziggurat did not find it's shape that way.  The walls were slanted probably to prevent rain water from ruining the brick work.
According to the Britannica,
No ziggurat is preserved to its original height. Ascent was by an exterior triple stairway or by a spiral ramp, but for almost half of the known ziggurats, no means of ascent has been discovered. The sloping sides and terraces were often landscaped with trees and shrubs (hence the Hanging Gardens of Babylon). The best-preserved ziggurat is at Ur (modern Tall al-Muqayyar). The largest, at Chogha Zanbil in Elam, is 335 feet (102 m) square and 80 feet (24 m) high and stands at less than half its estimated original height. The legendary Tower of Babel has been popularly associated with the ziggurat of the great temple of Marduk in Babylon. The city of Ur, modern Tall Al-muqayyar, or Tell El-muqayyar, important city of ancient southern Mesopotamia (Sumer), situated about 140 miles (225 km) southeast of the site of Babylon and about 10 miles (16 km) west of the present bed of the Euphrates River. In antiquity the river ran much closer to the city; the change in its course has left the ruins in a desert that once was irrigated and fertile land. The first serious excavations at Ur were made after World War I by H.R. Hall of the British Museum, and as a result a joint expedition was formed by the British Museum and the University of Pennsylvania that carried on the excavations under Leonard Woolley's directorship from 1922 until 1934. Almost every period of the city's lifetime has been illustrated by the discoveries, and knowledge of Mesopotamian history has been greatly enlarged.


Standard of Ur
2700 BCE
Ur, Iraq
Sumerian/Mesopotamia Form:  It is made of wood, shells and stone.  The Standard of Ur is broken up into the war side, middle left, and the peace side, top left.  The war side, on the bottom, features horse drawn chariots running over people.  In the middle, the prisoners have been captured and are being lead.  On the top, the prisoners have been striped naked and are being presented to a king figure.  He is the largest figure in the piece and he is also centered on the band.  On the bottom, of the peace side, men carry provisions.  In the middle they lead animals, and on the top a banquet takes place where the king figure is present again.  At this banquet there is a lyre player and a singer, they are shown in detail on the bottom left.
Iconography:  These pieces are iconographic of the morals of the culture.  Long hair is iconographic of a singer.  The hieratic scale and placement of the king figure are an icon of his power.  The standards are icons of peace and war.
Context:  Anthropologist Edmund Leach thinks that we see the world in a binary way so that is why they have the peace and war standards.  More meaning can be created, if it is used for demonstrative purposes, if there is something to compare an image against.  Scholars disagree as to weather the peace side banquet is a victory celebration or part of a cult ritual.


Sumerian Billy Goat and Tree from Ur 
20" Tall
Wood, gold, lapis lazuli 
Form:  It is made out of wood, gold and lapps lazuli.  Great attention to detail has gone in to the making of this piece.  Each of the flowers have eight points and each little ruffle in the goats wool is depicted. Iconography:  Goats are symbols of fertility, power, and mans struggle with his animalistic side.  The tree may be a symbol for the tree of life.  The goat may also represent the fertility god Tammuz.
Context:  This is a tiny statue that was recovered at a royal burial site at Ur.  This statue is part of a pair that were found, both were crushed.  They may have been used as supports for an offering table.


Lyre of Queen Puabi
(Bull Lyre from the 
tomb of 
King Abargi)
2700 BCE
Ur, Iraq
Form:  This is a musical instrument that is made of wood, gold, lapis lazuli. and shell.  The head of the bull is very naturalistic despite the beard.  The top register of inlayed shell, directly beneath the bulls beard, depicts an athletic man holding two bulls with human faces.  The second register shows animals, walking like men, bringing food for a feast.  The third register shows the animals making music.  Finally, the fourth register shows a scorpion man being offered cups from a gazelle. Iconography:  The panels on the Lyre are iconographic of the humanization of animals.  It is iconographic of the after life and the animals might be icons of the ones that guard the gate to heaven.  It is a symbol of death because it was played at Queen Puabi's funeral.
Context:  Harps like this one were used in the funerary rights of the dead person and then buried with them.  There were songs that were chanted during these burials and copies of them have been found on cuneiform tablets.  The theme of this piece is the civilization of our wild nature.  See Summary of the Epic of Gilgamesh
The title of this work is open to a bit of debate.  Gardener's Art Through the Ages refers to this work as the "Bull headed lyre from the tomb of Puabi, Royal cemetery."  Stokstad refers to it as "Bull Lyre from the tomb of King Abargi."  You may use either one.


Victory Stele of Naram-Sin
2300 BCE
limestone 6'6"
Susa, Iran
Form:  This is a low relief carving on limestone. The figures are all in composite form. Iconography:  Proportionately the main figure of the king Naram Sin is exaggerated to emphasize his status.   When a figure's scale is emphasized in this manner it is referred to as hieratic scale.  (You will also see this in Egyptian art.  Naram-Sins helmet is adorned with bull horns.  Since bulls are powerful and virile creatures the horns are associated with his physical power as warrior. horns on his head are also an icon for power and virility, also symbols of a king.  The stars or sun in the right hand corner are symbols of divine support.  He's also holding a newer kind of weapon in his left hand called a composite bow which could also represent the Akkadian armies innovative battle technology.
Context:  This commemorates Naram Sin's defeat of the Lullubi.  It is inscribed twice, once in honor of this event and again when it was taken as booty when someone captured the city where it stood. 
"Originally this stele was erected in the town of Sippar, centre of the cult of the Sun god, to the north of Babylon. lt was taken as booty to Susa by an Elamite king in the 12th century BC. lt illustrates the victory over the mountain people of western lran by Naram-Sin, 4th king of the Semite dynasty of Akkad, who claimed to be the universal monarch and was deified during his lifetime. He had himself depicted climbing the mountain at the head of his troops. His helmet bears the horns emblematic of divine power. Although it is worn, his face is expressive of the ideal human conqueror, a convention imposed on artists by the monarchy. The king tramples on the bodies of his enemies at the foot of a peak; above it the solar disk figures several times, and the king pays homage to it for his victory." - Louvre 
Head of an Akkadian Ruler
(Sargon of Akkad?)
bronze 12" 2200 BCE


Head of an Akkadian Ruler
(Sargon of Akkad?)
2200 BCE
Nineveh, Iraq
Form:  Made from bronze, this portrait head was probably part of a larger work.  Perhaps a full figure.  The shape and proportions of the face and head are naturalistic but the shape and texture of the eyebrows and hair are stylized in a geometric fashion.  Other stylizations or distortions occur in the exaggerated size of his eyes and nose.  These stylizations and exaggerations are attempts to idealize this ruler and make him more handsome or beautiful than he probably was according to the ideals of physical perfection in the ancient near east.  Iconography:  In most cultures, beauty and goodness are equated as being one in the same thing.  Certainly the cultures of Mesopotamia felt this way as well.  Therefore the portraits beauty is also equated with Sargon's inner beauty and or virtue.  His "virtuous" nature is symbolically enhanced by his beard.  Beards are icons of wisdom and because in order to grow a beard one needs to have matured to appoint beyond childhood.  (This same idea is evidenced in several versions of the Arthurian legends in which although King Arthur was able to pull the sword from the stone, his brothers still refer to him as "beardless"  and therefore too inexperienced or young to rule.
Context:  This statue is not in its original state.  This head was once part of a complete statue that was vandalized.  The ears were mutilated, the eyes gouged out, and the ears and part of the beard broken off.  It has been vandalized (literally defaced) in order to dishonor the ruler it once represented.  Originally the eyes in this head would have been inlayed with precious and semiprecious stones. 
The tearing down of effigy monuments to symbolize the destruction or change in a regime is common to every era.  When US troops "liberated" Iraq in 2004 many of the statues of Sadam Hussein were either defaced or torn down from there pedestals.  In ancient Egypt, often older monuments constructed by previous pharaohs were recarved to resemble the newer rulers.
Sargon the Great of Akkad is the first in a long (and possibly ever-extending) line of people whose life is driven by conquest. He was the first emperor of the world’s first empire. However, like most of the people who followed him, his empire didn’t last long. According to legend, Sargon’s mother was “changeling,” meaning a demon or a prostitute. He was probably born around 2350 BCE. He served as the cup-bearer of a king of the Sumerian city-state of Kish, but the king, sensing something divine in him, had Sargon killed. Sargon escaped the plot, rallied some tribesmen to his cause, and built a new city north of Sumer – Akkad. Sargon’s career has soared ever since. From Akkad, his armies blazed southward to conquer Sumer, Kish and all. From the Persian Gulf, he made a northwestward sweep to Lebanon.
The Akkadian Empire was a very wealthy empire; it derived its wealth not just from plunder but also from trade. Sumer was smack in the middle of the trade routes that connected the Indus Valley, Egypt, and Mediterranean civilizations. Akkad wasn’t actually the first city to enjoy the benefits of trade in the Mesopotamian region, and it wasn’t going to be the last.
Sargon tried to keep his empire in the hands of his sons, but his successors lacked Sargon’s power; the city-states of Sumer rebelled against Akkad, destroying the Akkadian Empire.

Statues from Tell Asmar
2,900 BCE - 2,600 BCE
made from painted gypsum
Tell Asmar, Iraq
Sumerian Form:  The statues are made of gypsum and inlayed with shell and black limestone.  The men have long hair, beards, belts, and fringed skirts.  The women wear dresses that leave the right shoulder bare.  The eyes are exaggerated, while the hands are downplayed.
Iconography:  The figures are iconographic of real people not deities.  The large eyes may symbolize eternal wakefulness or the need to approach a god with an attentive gaze.  They are iconographic of the early religious practices of the Sumerians.
Context:  The were buried beneath the floor of a temple.  Donors may have commissioned these statues to be built in their image so that their prayers are forever being said to the gods.

Reconstruction of Statues from Tell Asmar
2,900 BCE - 2,600 BCE
made from painted gypsum
Tell Asmar, Iraq
Museum of Natural History, NYC

  Web ArtLex

bi.tu.men n [ME bithumen mineral pitch, fr. L bitumin-, bitumen] (15c) 1: an asphalt of Asia Minor used in ancient times as a cement and mortar 2: any of various mixtures of hydrocarbons (as tar) often together with their nonmetallic derivatives that occur naturally or are obtained as residues after heat-refining natural substances (as petroleum); specif: such a mixture soluble in carbon disulfide -- bi.tu.mi.ni.za.tion n -- bi.tu.mi.nize vt  composite view     A view of the human body in Egyptian and Mesopotamian art in which several points of view of the human body are merged into one.  Often the figure is depicted with the head, legs and arms in a profile point of view while the torso of the figure is depicted in a frontal view.  The head which is depicted in a profile view often depicts the eyes in a frontal view.  This is especially so in Egyptian art but in Mesopotamian art it is less consistent.  The purpose of the this point of view is probably both symbolic and formal.  In terms of form, it is often easier to depict parts of the body in profile.  This is certainly so in prehistoric art. 
ef.fi.gy n, pl -gies [MF effigie, fr. L effigies, fr. effingere to form, fr. ex- + fingere to shape--more at dough] (1539): an image or representation esp. of a person; esp: a crude figure representing a hated person -- in effigy : publicly in the form of an effigy
gyp.sum n [L, fr. Gk gypsos] (14c) 1: a widely distributed mineral consisting of hydrous calcium sulfate that is used esp. as a soil amendment and in making plaster of paris
ide.al adj [ME ydeall, fr. LL idealis, fr. L idea] (15c) 1: existing as an archetypal idea 2 a: existing as a mental image or in fancy or imagination only; broadly: lacking practicality b: relating to or constituting mental images, ideas, or conceptions 3 a: of, relating to, or embodying an ideal b: conforming exactly to an ideal, law, or standard: perfect --compare real 2b(3) 4: of or relating to philosophical idealism ²ideal n (15c) 1: a standard of perfection, beauty, or excellence 2: one regarded as exemplifying an ideal and often taken as a model for imitation 3: an ultimate object or aim of endeavor: goal 4: a subset of a mathematical ring that is closed under addition and subtraction and contains the products of any given element of the subset with each element of the ring syn see model -- ide.al.less adj 
pro.file n [It profilo, fr. profilare to draw in outline, fr. pro- forward (fr. L) + filare to spin, fr. LL--more at file] (ca. 1656) 1: a representation of something in outline; esp: a human head or face represented or seen in a side view 2: an outline seen or represented in sharp relief: contour 3: a side or sectional elevation: as a: a drawing showing a vertical section of the ground b: a vertical section of a soil from the ground surface to the underlying unweathered material 4: a set of data often in graphic form portraying the significant features of something ; esp: a graph representing the extent to which an individual exhibits traits or abilities as determined by tests or ratings 5: a concise biographical sketch 6: degree or level of public exposure syn see outline ²profile vt pro.filed ; pro.fil.ing (1715) 1: to represent in profile or by a profile: produce (as by drawing, writing, or graphing) a profile of 2: to shape the outline of by passing a cutter around -- pro.fil.er n