FIRST YEAR : FROM MIDDLE AGES TO RENAISSANCE

FIRST YEAR : FROM MIDDLE AGES TO RENAISSANCE

2015-06-02

INTRODUCTION


This is an attempt. An attempt to create an English version of my Art History Course (http://www.elccarignanhistoiredelart1ereannee.blogspot.fr/). I am waiting, I hope for corrections.

That history begins with the period of the Middle Ages and continues until the contemporary period. The principles are :
1. to show that there is coherency in the successive artistic periods (that history has a sense : a direction and a meaning),
2. to prepare our mind for contemporary art,  starting with the Middle Ages.

1. The changes, e.g., from the Roman period to the Gothic period, from the Gothic period to the Renaissance, or the Baroque period to the New Classicism period, are not arbitrary. Each period is a continuation of the previous one but its definition however lies in its opposition to it. Art history is both continuity and rupture.

2. The period of the Middle Ages is as unfamiliar to us as the contemporary age for questions of art. But we are not conscious of this. Because we believe that we know, that we immediately understand the works of the Middle Ages. That belief is (generally) mistaken. It's an illusion. In other words, we have to make the same effort to understand art from the Middle Ages as we do to understand contemporary art..


This is why that history of art starts in the 12th century.

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TABLE OF CONTENTS (links)


Chapter 1 : Romanesque architecture
Chapter 2 : Romanesque sculpture
Chapter 3 : Gothic architecture
Chapter 4 : Gothic sculpture
Chapter 5 : International Gothic and The Renaissance in the North in the 15th century (or : the Flemish Primitives) 
Chapter 6 : The Renaissance in Italy : The perspective

to follow :


Chapter 7 : The Renaissance in Italy. The classical Renaissance : 14th and 15th centuries.
Chapter 8 : One of the Renaissance artists : Leonard de Vinci
Chapter 9 : The painters of the classical Renaissance (14th-15th centuries)
Chapter 10 : The Mannerist Italian Renaissance (16th century)
Chapter 11 : The artists of the Mannerist Italian Renaissance (16th century)

CHAPTER 1 : ROMANESQUE ARCHITECTURE

For a church we have first a plan.

1. The plan.

The 12th century is a pilgrimages century. The most prestigious, but also the most dangerous and the most expensive, are: first, the Jerusalem pilgrimage, secondly the pilgrimage to Rome. The most popular and the most frequented is the famous pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostella.
A pilgrimage is a journey to a sacred place, an "tour package" toward holy relics. In Greece, people  were going to Delphi to consult the Oracle delivered by the Pythia in order to know what decision to make for an important business or a marriage or an alliance ... Why to Delphi  ? Because in Delphi was the Omphalos, the navel of the World (a big carved stone egg-shaped). Delphi is the center of the universe. The christian world, for its own part, introduced a multitude of "centers" : places where are the holy relics with a spiritual power (to insure salvation) or a temporal power (to cure a disease).
The church plan shall fulfill two functions : 1) to insure the relics show, 2) to insure the pilgrims circulation.

So, two kinds of plans are adopted : the benedictin plan which promotes the exhibition of the relics, they are placed in the chapels aligned along the transept ;

the radiating chapels plan which promotes the pilgrims circulation, this plan puts together the chapels in the apse. The latest plan shall prevail.
2. The structure.

By "structure" we understand the components of the building and their composition.

2.a. The elements : the arches.
We are accustomed to imagine that the Romanesque arch is a semi-circular arch. It's not true. Evidently the semi-circular is characteristic, but all the Romanesque architecture is not reduced at that arch. The pointed arch, but many another kinds of arches, are used by the Romanesque builders.

2.b. The elements : The vaults.

The most common vault is, naturally, the  semi-circular barrel vault, but the pointed barrel vault is also a perfectly Romanesque structure.
In the place where is the intersection at right angles of two barrel vaults, we have the cross-vaults, which are not the same as the ogival vault.

3. The wall.

The church with wooden frame uses generally pillars.


The church with vaults uses columns. But things are not simple. At the pillar, pilasters can be annexed (which creates the quadrangular pillar, e.g.) or semi-columns (which produces the quatrefoil pillar). The column can be joined by semi-columns. Sometimes the number of the elements is very sizable.

3. b. The engagement in the wall.

But these pillars, these columns are generally engaged in the wall ; so, it appears that their support function is secondary. All happens as if we wanted to show (by this gathering of pilasters and semi-columns around the pillar or the column, themselves joined to the wall) the subordination from the small to the tall and the solidarity which is the result of that subordination ; which is the characteristic of the feudal order in the Middle Ages (lords, vassals, peasants).
Below, the terminology related to the column surmounted  by a capital and the drawing of a semi-column engaged in a pillar, engaged itself in the wall.


(in order : abaque, basket, astragale, shaft, torus, base)

3. c. The portal.

The portal is an essential element of the church. Not because it is the passage from the outside to the inside (the church has around it a perimeter which is a part of the sacredness of the edifice (often, there is a cemetery next to it), but the portal is the place of the opening, the place where the wall disappears.

(in order : arch moulding, tympanum, lintel, corbel, trumeau, abutments)

3. d. The Romanesque wall.

The Greek wall (below, left)is abstract. Whatever the stone extracted the quarry and then cut, we can put it where we want, we can put another stone in the same place without difficulty. The Greek wall is homogeneous.
The Romanesque wall (below, right) is concrete. Each stone is unique and wants that another stone joins it perfectly. As in a living organism where each organ is (more or less), adapted to the variations of all the other organs, the Romanesque stone responds at all the others.


4. The refusal of the perspective in paint.

The wall is the essential element of the Romanesque art and the Romanesque spirit. It takes priority over all other characteristics. It determines that should be the painting and the sculpture of the 12th century.
In the paint, e.g., there is no question of "make a hole" in the wall by an illusion of depth. Therefore it is not question to use the linear perspective which will be invented by the Renaissance. We will not agree more than one plan and all will be showed on one flat surface only.

5. The places for the decoration.

The places for the sculptured decoration, therefore, are conditioned by the architecture. They are the junction points. The capital, junction point of the column and the vault. The base, the junction point of the column and the soil. The archivolt at the junction of the inside and the outside (portal). Modillions, finally, at the junction of the wall and the roof.

6. The chevet.

The chevet, finally, is the Est end of the church ; it is composed of the apse around that, as the semi-columns around the columns, are joined the absidioles. Here, we remember the subordination from the small to the tall.
Seen from the outside, the church appears as a gigantic sculpture, carved in the space itself, by drawing in that profane space an architectured block of holy space, so that the look rises gradually towards the sky, by passing along the spire.

7. The problem of the sculpture.

a. In the Egyptian pattern, "technical" and "objectives" dimensions coexist. The Pharaoh statue respects the human body proportions. But, when the statue is brought at a huge size, the result is an important visual deformation which is not corrected. The top of the statue is perceived more small because far from its base, the base more large because perceived closely.


b. In the Greek pattern, the "objectives" dimensions prevails over the "technical" dimensions. The visual correction is adopted and makes that, whatever the dimensions of the statue, the human body proportions seems respected. They are idealized


c. In the medieval pattern, the "objectives" dimensions are dropped and the human or animal figures are submissive to deformations. We should explain (next chapter) these deformations.










CHAPTER 2 : ROMANESQUE SCULPTURE

1. The colour.


The colour is everywhere in the Romanesque churches : on the walls, on the sculptures.


2. The iconography.

It's the iconography of a terrified faith : The Apocalypse on the tympanums.
The 12th century man believes. He believes in a God absolutely stranger which doesn't have nothing common with human people. A terrible God whose the will is incomprehensible for human mind. The byzantine figure of the Moissac tympanum is made to do this impression of terrifying power.
He believes yet that the end of the world is imminent. He believes that he can be concerned directly. He believes that the Apocalypse is for tomorrow, may be even for today.
The Gothic God will get closer to the human people. His will, by distinguishing between the good and the bad, becomes comprehensible and, on the tympanums, the Last Judgment will take the place of the Apocalypse.
The late Gothic God, in the 14th and 15th centuries will become yet more "human" : he will be The Crucified. The God reached by the death : the Sorrowful Christ.

3. The characteristics : the rejection of "realism".

The Romanesque sculpture isn't based on the "nature". The human depiction appears deformed. We have to understand the reasons of that deformation. They come  (see Focillon  Art of the West in the Middle Ages. 2 vols. New York: Phaidon, 1963) from the obedience of the sculpture to the architectural surroundings, from the architectural domination on the sculpture. This will only start  to release itself  in the Gothic age and  will reach its emancipation in the Renaissance.

3.a. First law : The submission to the architectural surroundings (Architectural factor).
The capital, the archivolt are formal surroundings in which the sculpture has to fit. To manage to do that, it has, strictly talking,  to fold up. In this way the "Trapezium Man" (below) owes his form to the cupola brick in which he fits.

(Aulnay. The Trapezium Man)

3.d. Second law : the "space-place" (Metaphysical factor).
The Aristotelian theory, in force during the Middle Ages, doesn't consider the space like an homogeneous thing, as Euclid, but made of places rigorously distinct and independent. It's not the same thing for an object to be at the top or to be at the bottom, to be on the left or to be on the right. The evidence is that the flame goes up, because its natural place is at the top, or that the stone fall because its natural place is at the bottom. It's by this theory that Aristotle explains the motion.
Several consequences result from this conception.

a. Each figure takes up a place and takes it entirely.
As a result, the figure suffers deformations without which it can't take up the place entirely. See below the posture of the old men (Moissac).


b. Each place is independent of each other (by its contents).
The capitals of the Moissac cloister come one after the other without logic. We would have waited that these capitals tell a story, because of their succession : starting by Genesis to ending by the Resurrection. It's not the case. The succession is totally non-historic.

c. Each place is independent of each other (by its form).
As a result, each figure has to fold itself at the neighboring figure (as the unequal stones of the Romanesque wall which have to adjust their form to the  forms of the other stones). Below, in Moissac, the Tetramorph figures are adjusted to the form of the divine place, and the Seraphim's figures are adjusted to the form of the Tetramorph's "places".


3.c. Third law : the hierarchic perspective (Symbolic factor).
The Middle Ages refuses the linear perspective that will be the Renaissance perspective. It refuses to dig in an illusory way (as much as in a real way) the wall which is the vector of the Romanesque architecture. But it knows the perspective. That perspective is hierarchic : in the center, at the top and in the most large place it puts the most important figure (God, e.g.). On the right, at the top, it puts the figure which is, by order of importance, just after the first (the evangelist the most close of God : saint John (the eagle, the one which looks the sun squarely). On the left, at the top : saint Matthew (the angel, the one to whom the angel has dictated his Gospel). On the right, but at the base, saint Marc (the lion, which figures the Resurrection of the Christ). On the left, at the base, saint Luke (the ox, which figures the Crucifixion). At the base, the less "noble" : the Apocalypse's old men.


(Hierarchic perspective : (left : visual perspective, Renaissance; right : hierarchic perspective, Middle Ages.
From left to right : back = smallest = less important ; front = biggest = more important)

3.d. Fourth law (1) : the submission to the frame (Plastic factor).
The Romanesque capital comes from the Corinthian capital. The figures which are carved on it, are repeating the underlying forms, the frame of this capital : fleuron, two levels of acanthus leaves,  volutes. The figures will be folded, by following this frame.


3.e. Fourth law (2) : The submission to the decorative frame (Plastic factor).
Symmetry or metamorphosis.
The geometric requirements, due to the Corinthian frame  (symmetry) are making new deformations, but especially hybrid figures emerging by metamorphosis.


There is also the consequences of a particular conception of the "Nature". God has created the World ; he has given form to the beings who inhabit that World, but the infinity of his power can't be reduced at the Creation of the familiar beings. The Nature is itself the expression of the God's power, the Nature doesn't stop create new forms. This is not the Darwinism or the Lamarckism of the 19th century, because the ideas of evolution or adaptation are not 12th century ideas. The Nature doesn't create to do better, it creates because it's an active power. So, on the edge of the manuscript pages, on the church walls, there are monsters chains, creatures who devour each other, who metamorphose themselves the one in the other in an incessant way.

4. The decoration.

Here there is no deformations. Especially on the capitals abacus or on the tympanums archivolt, there are geometric figures. The interlacing (geometric forms of the monsters chains) are the most frequents.


5. The tradition.

Just the opposite of the contemporary artist, the Romanesque artist is not turned toward the invention but rather toward the tradition. His work is to transmit. This is the consequence of that : all the knowledge, in the Middle Ages, is  given already. All the knowledge is disclosed. The Fathers of the Church have to make explicit this knowledge. The artists have to illustrate this knowledge. In the monasteries, the monks have to copy the manuscripts. The same thing, for the artists, on the churches ' walls.
But, the sculptor's work isn't restricted to do a simple reproduction. He immerses himself in the pattern and gives an adaptation of it in the stone. The Moissac tympanum may be coming from the Apocalypse de Saint-Sever. The liturgical drama is another pattern for the sculptor.

6. The painting.

Its characteristics are alike at the one of the sculpture.

6.a. Wall painting.
a. The depiction has to refuse any illusion of depth.

b. Submission to the frame.
The painting has to submit its figures at the same requirements as the sculpture.

c. Submission to the underlying (geometric).
Exactly as the sculpture.

6.b. The manuscripts.
a. The stone tone is frequent for the paper on which the monk writes or draws illuminations. All perspective representation  is exclude (in spite of the fact that it is, but rather in the 15th century, in these illuminations, that appears the first attempts of linear perspective).

b. Submission to the frame.
Here yet (see the capital letters) the figures have to fold in front of the "architecture" of the page or the margin.





CHAPTER 3 : GOTHIC ARCHITECTURE

Romanesque architecture was in the wall. Gothic architecture will be the negation of the wall. Its replacement by glass walls : the stained glasses.

1. The ogive.

The invention of the ogival vault involves to make that, on the  vault point which receives the most pressure, the forces are returned toward the outside. The cross-vault (or groin vault) is produced by the intersection at right angles of two vaults. The vault weighs on that point. But, rather to weigh downwards like a direct force, perpendicular to the soil, it weighs sidelong. The weight is dispersed toward four directions.



2. The ogival vault.

The Gothic cathedral is a treatise of architecture. It is enough to see it, to understand the strengths game which is presents in the vault and the pillars. 
The ogival vault can take two forms : the domical vault, which is made of a succession of domes, because the cross vault  is highest than the top of the arches  formeret or doubleau.


The segmental vault which is given by the lifting of the arches formeret and doubleau, to align them on  the cross vault. So, the vault appears regular.


3. The erection of the wall.

Several solutions were used successively or simultaneously to erect the church. First, the formeret arch.

a. The formeret arch.
Drowned in the wall, parallel to the great arcade which  marks out the nave, span by span, opening  on the nave collateral, the formeret arch reinforces the structure, following the principle above exposed : throw the forces on both sides and, by the way, divide these forces by half, rather than to receive them perpendicular




b. The slimming down of the supports.
The reinforcement of the wall relies also on another kind of building. We can use the stone like it leaves the quarry : horizontal strata which promotes the elasticity. But we can also use the stone in another way : vertically, with vertical strata. This promotes the solidity. That building is most rigid. That is the Gothic builders solution. In the same time, the support is thinned and most light.


c. The first Gothic (12th century) : Saint-Denis, Noyon, Notre-Dame-de-Paris.

(Saint-Denis, in the 19th century)


c.1. - Marienval (below) : a Romanesque church with the first ogival vault.


c.2. - Laon -(below) : typical of the first Gothic : the four floors : the great arches, the gallery, the triforium and the high windows.



The first Gothic often appears like a perfect Romanesque architecture (Noyon, e.g.). Its essential characteristic is the development of the ogive, naturally, and also the arche formeret and the high gallery. That gallery is erected on the collateral, creating a floor which allows to support the nave wall and, by this way, to gain in height.


(From top to bottom : high windows, triforium, galleries, great arches)

4. The flying buttress and the classical Gothic (First half of the 13th century).

The appearance of the flying buttress allows to dispense with the erection of the galleries. The vault "weighs" on the wall, on the two sides. The gallery reinforced the sides. The flying buttress is taking the forces and drives them outside the wall in the abutment and, from there, to the soil.
Without the galleries, the wall is able to hollowing itself out more. It is replaced by a glass wall : the stained glasses.

(From top to bottom : flying buttress with double flight, wall under gutters, abutment load (pinnacle), abutment, collateral, nave)

-         Chartres, Reims, Amiens, Bourges, Le Mans.

video
(Extract of Le défi des Bâtisseurs - La cathédrale de Strasbourg  Arte 2012)

5. The glass ark and the Radiating Gothic : (Second half of the 13th century).
  

The wall once disappeared, only subsist the "ribs" and, between them, the stained glasses. The Sainte Chapelle (below), in the Île de la Cité, in Paris, is a glass building (as those which are built nowadays). Here we are to the antipodes of the Romanesque architecture based on the stone wall. The rose window (a radiating sun which is the origin of the name attributed to the style of that period) is obviously one of the most beautiful and  most persuasive demonstration of that architecture so  elegant (in the sense where we say that a mathematical proof is elegant).




6. The stained glass.

a. General features : the symbolic.
The cathedral is doubtless an ark where are taking refuge those which want to be safe. But it is also the foreshadowing of the God's City. In that sense it has to appear like a jewellery box where abound precious stones. The stained windows give at the light which goes into the church, the same reflection as these stones.
Furthermore, because the stained windows often depict saints, they are as the Lord Court which is sitting with God, on both sides of the tabernacle where God himself resides.


b. Its evolution.

Furthermore, the stained glass evolution teaches us something essential concerning its signification. In the Romanesque period, the stained glass is little, it has not a lot of colors. Only a bit of light is able to enter the church by those windows. And also, because of these colors, it transforms that light.
More the disappearing of the wall and its replacement by the glass is progressing, more the colors are gaining intensity (often "dark" : red or blue). As a result the light doesn't go into the building more than before.  The increase of the stained glasses has not for aim to illuminate more the church.
The reason is that the aim of the stained glass is not the illumination but the transmutation of the earthly light   in a celestial light. In the God's House, the sun light doesn't take place. One has to a divine light. The stained glass is the philosopher's stone which following the transmutation.


7. The flamboyant Gothic. (End of 14th century and 15th century).


In the Classical Gothic we were able to follow the ribs of the columns and arches and, by that way,  in a glance, to understand the architecture of the cathedral. In the Flamboyant Gothic, the eye is lost in the complexity of the nerves which the aim is not architectural but decorative, even spectacular.
This Gothic is named "Flamboyant" because the columns and the arches, using the counter-curve, mime the grace (which will said “Mannerist” in the 16th century) of the rising flame. It is an exotic style, with a great lightness in which some wanted to see a "decadence" of the Gothic style.

(Oxford Divinity School)





CHAPTER 4 : GOTHIC SCULPTURE

I. The features.

The gradual disappearance of the wall frees the sculpture of the domination of the architecture. and drives it progressively toward the nature. The Gothic age will be in sculpture the age of the equilibrium between the requirements of the architectural surrounding and those of the natural pattern which, in the Renaissance, will be once again (after the antiquity) the only pattern.

1. Frame.

Sculpture is not totaly free. It is framed above and below : dais and base. Sculpture is once again submissive to the architecture.

2. Abutment.

The "statue" emancipates itself a bit of the wall.
Furthermore, it sticks to the wall by the back. But, sticking by the back only, the statue is free on the sides and in front.

3. Faciality.

Neither frontal nor axial, the statue is facial ...

a. Frontality : Frontality is archaic. We can meet it in the Egyptian sculpture, in the Greek Kouros, in the Romanesque Virgin (below right) and  first-ever Gothic (statues-column at Chartres, below left).



















The frontal presentation of the Egyptian Pharaoh, of the Greek Kouros, of the Romanic Virgin gave to these figures a hieratic aspect. There are fixed in a symetric posture for the eternity and give, on earth, the idea of divinities come from an another world.

b. Faciality is typical of the classical Gothic.
The Gothic statue, because of its faciality, accesses at a beginning of move which gives it a "life". While the frontal statue could not be seen differently than in a frontal view, so under one perspective only, the facial statue can be looked by all the points of view, except by back (Below : Annunciation, Reims).


c. Axiality : in Greek, Roman and Renaissance sculpture (below : Apollo by Polyclete).


4. Expressivity.

So, quite freed of the architectural confinement, the sculpture stops to be low-relief or high relief and becomes statue. It accesses at a relative autonomy and, by that way, became expressive. That expression is not yet writed on the face but on the bearing (Below : Amiens).


Yet submissive for a part to the architecture, the sulpture shall accept some "deformations". The statues-column of Chartres extend up according to the column on which they are supported. But, in some way, they are freed of the wall and tend to go in front. So they look like more to human people they represent. The equilibrium between sculpture and architecture defines the Gothic sculpture (Below, : Chartres)


The ability to look like a natural being allows to the statue, if not to personify yet an individual (tall or small,  bald or haired), but, at least, the human essence, what is universal, communal at all the individuals : their humanity (Below : Zacharie, Chartres).



5. The symetry between the Old and the New Testament.

a. "Untidiness" : iconography of the romanesque portal.

The cloister of Moissac aligns its capitals in an evident iconographic untidiness. The porch of the same church alludes to some scenes of the New Testament in an almost as important untidiness. Annunciation / Visitation (it still be acceptable), Adoration of the Magi, Presentation in the Temple, Flight into Egypt, Death of Lazarus,  Death of the miser, lust, ...

b. "Chronology" of the Gothic portal (the portal of the Precursors). The Gothic portal runs through the holy Story, from Patriarchs ans the Prophets, to the Holy Gospels, we progress toward the Nativity (depicted by the Virgin Mary.

The Gothic introduces the order : chronological or symbolical ( the symmetries between the Old and the New Testament; See later)

II. The iconography : the form.

1. The new themes.

From the Apocalypse, on the Romanesque tympanum, we pass to the Last Judgment or to the Christ in glory or to the glory of the Virgin, on the Gothic tympanum. God stops to be that terrible being without any report with the human being. He becomes the Father. The one who makes the difference between right and wrong, the one who rewards or punishes. Is that his Son has a Mother, like a human being. God has "humanized" his divinity. However he remains a severe Judge. But the saints and his Mother are able to influence his judgement by their prayers.

2. The Gothic grammar.

a. Signs, not symbols.
The pictures : sculptures and paints are creating together a writing made of signs, not symbols, contrary to we understand usualy. A sign is a difference. A sign doesn't takes its meaning except by its difference compared to the other signs that surround it. The report of the signifier (e.g. the cruciform halo which surrounds the Christ face) to the signified (the Christ) is arbitrary (it would have been possible to associate a no-cruciform halo to the Christ, as we meet for the other saints, but, to distinguish the Christ of the other saints, it would have been necessary to equip the other saints with a cruciform halo, e.g.). Whereas, in the symbol, the report of the signifier (the cross, e.g.) to the signified (the Christians) is "justified" ( in that the Christians can't be depicted by anything other : a scale or a sword which are appropriate to the justice, e.g.). So, that Jesus inherits the cruciform halo, doesn't have another meaning that this one : he is unmistakable with those that inherit of the no-cruciform halo. But the opposite would have been possible.


The almond (or glory) surrounding a body, will indicate that body as the one of God or Mary. Naked feet : God, Jesus, the angels, the Apostles, in order to distinguish them from the Virgin, from the other saints or from ordinary people (without halo and, by this way, distinguished themselves of the Virgin and other saints which have in common the shod feet). Below, two Apostles (naked feet), the Virgin (halo + shod feet), ordinary people (shod feet but not halo).


b. The types.
Some types appear progressively. They will be present until in the works of the 16th, 17th and even 19th centuries. So, there is a Saint Peter type, recognizable : some characteristics of the physiognomy, independent of the keys which are another sign of recognition (that is : distinction). A Saint Paul type, independent of the sword which is also a distinction. A Saint John the Baptist type (less independent, this time, of the sheepskin he wears).





Another figures are unchanging in the Gothic writing. So, the Church (Virgin crowned, carrying in his hand the Holy Grail which has received the Christ blood) opposite to the Synagogue (a woman crowned with a pointed hat, blindfolded eyes (here is something symbolic). The first brings openly the Christ message, message delivered directly by God in the person of his son. The second brings the same message, but deformed, fogged by the prophets, message which has not enabled to recognize in Jesus the son of God.


c. The places hierarchy : high/bottom, right/left.
Depending on the place of the figure, its worth is not the same. Always, in the Tetramorph, e.g., Saint Matthew is in the high place and on the right (of the Christ). Saint Jean is in the high place but on the left. Saint Marc and Saint Luke are below, the first on the left, the second on the right (of the Christ).


(Saint-Loup de Naud)

d. The organization of the detail.
The bases of the statues. They talk about the statue they support. The basilisk, the asp (the death and the sin) are below the Christ's feet who triumph of them. The saints have under them the kings which have persecuted them and of which they also triumph.


(Chartres, Central Portal)


(Chartres)


(Arles)

The places, in the church, have a signification. In the North (night and cold) are placed the Old Testament episodes. In the South, the New Testament episodes. The numbers too, have a signification. There is not a coincidence if the apostles are twelve : "4" is the number of the matter (the four elements) and "3" is the number of the spirit ( the Holy Trinity). So (4 x 3 = 12) the apostles are the ones who import the spirit in the matter, God in the World.

5. The symbols

The Wise Virgins are equivalent to the Five Contemplations, whereas the Foolish Virgins are equivalent to the five senses and to the concupiscence. The lion refers to the resurrection.
The attributes are symbols : the lamb / John the baptist ; serpent of brass and Tables of the Law / Moses ;  a young boy (Isaac) / Abraham ; the Tree of Jesse / Isaiah.

(Chartres, Central Portal : from the right, to the left : Saint Peter. He wears a crown shaped to form a conic tiara as the tiara of the 13th century popes, He carries a key which opens the paradise gates. He stands on a stone which is the one on which Jesus  built his Church. Near Saint Pierre, Saint John the Baptist. He wears a sheepskin coat (or a camel skin coat). He carries a lamb which brandishes the Resurrection flag. Under his feet, a dragon. Then, Simeon, who carries the Christ. Simeon became so old that he could have seen Jesus. Then Jeremy who is the prophet of the Passion carries a crucifom halo which symbolizes the Crucifixion. Under his feet, a curious person listens to the words of the prophet. Finally, Isaïe who was the author of the prophecy regarding Jesse (Jesse who sleeps under the Isiah's feet). He carried a rod symbolizing the famous Jesse Tree, the Family Tree of the Christ).

6. The paint.
The Gothic paint is in the stained-glass. In the books, the illumination is an imitation of the light and of the consistence of the stained-glass.

(Staines-glass                                 Illumination)

II. The iconography : the content.

The cathedral is not only an arch or the Heavenly Jerusalem (the City of God), it is also a book. Not a Bible for illitrate, it is necessary to know how to read, (as we have just seen) to understand the iconography, but, at the contrary, an encyclopedia which recaps and shows the totality of the knowledge (of the age); (See Emile Mâle). The origin is the Speculum majus (The Great Mirror) by Vincent de Beauvais which is split up in "four Mirrors".

1. Mirror of Nature (Speculum naturale).

Nature is nothing but the incarnation of the thought of God. He has designed and created the Nature according to his plans ; so, the nature expresses exactly his thought. The fact remains that it is necessary to know how read it. All the work of the "science" will be to decode that "text". In this way, take a walnut (nothing is more common), the Saint Victor walnut. First there is the green husk. It has two meanings : it is the "humanity" of the Christ or the World. Secondly there is the shell which has also two  meanings, in relation to the meanings of the envelop : it is the Wood of the Cross or the sin. Finally, there is the fruit which is the hidden "divinity" of the Christ or the God's Thought. So, All is in each thing, and God is everywhere.


There is yet the animals. All are not symbolic. The most important show the Evangelists. They constitute the Tetramorph. It is the Eagle (Saint Jean, but also the Ascent of Christ and, among the virtues, the Contemplation). The Angel or the Man (Saint Matthew, but also the Incarnation and, among the virtues, the Wisdom). The Lion (Saint Marc, but also the Resurrection and, among the virtues, the Courage). The  Bullock (Saint Luke, but also the Crucifixion of Jesus and, among the virtues, the Temperance). The snake (or the dragon) is the devil. The elephant symbolize the Fall. The asp is the sin and the basilisk is the death. And again, all the animals are not symbolic. The Bullocks of the Laon cathedral are only an homage to the work given by those animals during the building of the cathedral. Elsewhere, they show the creative power of God (see, e.g., at the north portal of Chartres, the Creation of the Animals).

(Chartres, North Portal : Left : Human people already present in the thought of God when he creates the animals : fishes and birds (right))

2. The Miror of Doctrine (Speculum doctrinale).

So then, the cathedral is a Mirror of the Nature. It is also a Mirror of the "Science". On its walls, all that the science knows is showed.

a. The practical science.
The work. There are the "Calendars" describing the activities of each month linked to the zodiacal chronology.

(Amiens : from left to right : June (Cancer, mowing) ; July (Lion, hervet) ; August (Virgin, threshing) ;

 September ( Libra, grape-harvest) ; October (Scorpio, pressing of the grapes).

b. The speculative science.
The medieval science is not, as ours, an instrument of domination of the nature (by the science, "become masters and possessors of nature", as programed  by Descartes as soon as the 17th century) ; the science is the interpreter of the Nature. And the science is taught in an exact order. Therefore will be  that organization of the studies : the Trivium (grammar, dialectic, rhetoric) and the Quadrivium (geometry, arithmetic, astronomy, music) ; finally the philosophy (or theology). These subjects will be personified, often by an authentic scientist (Aristote, Pythagore, Boece, etc.)

(Notre-Dame-de-Paris : Geometry and Rethoric)

(Notre-Dame-de-Paris : Philosophy)

c. The exclusion of the idleness.
If the science shows itself in the work, it is necessary to include in its figures that paradoxical figure which shows the idleness. It appears in the form of the Wheel of Fortune. To confide to the happenstance to take care of our subsistence  (that is the idleness, the root of all evil.)

(Herrade de Landsberg. Wheel of Fortune in Hortus Deliciarum, 1159-1175)

3. The Mirror of Moral.(Speculum morale)

The third dimension of the knowledge is the Moral, the science of the behavior.

a. The Romanesque pattern.
There is a Romanesque pattern of the Morale : the Psychomachy, by Prudence : the fight between virtues and vices, which decorate a lot of capitals. It is an inner fight which inspires the Romanesque sculptors. The Gothics are going to search elswhere and not the same patterns depending they are sculptors or illuminators.


b. The Gothic patterns for illumination.
The Tree of Virtues and The Tree of Vices (below) by Hugues of Saint-Victor and The Scale of the Virtues, by Honorius d'Autun.



c. The sculptors.
The sculptors do not use those patterns. They bring into opposition, by couples, the virtues and the vices.

With the theologians of the period, we retain three categories of virtues :
The theological virtues : Faith (vice : idolatry) ; Hope (vice : despair) ; Charity (vice : avarice). These are the virtues without which no salvation is possible.
- The cardinal virtues : Temperance (vice : intemperance) ; Prudence (or Wisdom, vice : madness) ; Courage (vice : cowardice) ; Justice (or Obedience, vice : rebellion).
- The other virtues like, e.g., Humility (vice : pride), Patience (vice : anger) ; Gentleness (vice : brutality) ; Concord (vice : discord) ; etc.


(Amiens : from left to right : Charity/Avarice ; Temperance/Intemperance ; Concord/Discord).


4. The Mirror of History (Speculum historiale).

Finally, the cathedral will be the Mirror of the History. Not of the profane history which is the place of the nonsense, but the only valuable history : the Holy History, reported in the Old and the New Testaments. The point is to understand this History, that is (because of the Old Testament is the announcement of the New) to find the connections between the two. The saints life on one hand and the Jewish people life on the other hand resonate across all the History. We have to grasp and to make explicit those resonances.
So, the Sacrifice of Isaac prefigures the Crucifixion of the Christ. The water extracted of the stone by Moses prefigures the blood of Jesus, escaped out of the wound made by the Longin's

 lance. Jonas, coming from the stomach of the whale, prefigures the Resurrection of the Christ. And so on. The stained-glasses of the cathedral are a skilled commentary of the Holy Bible.

Look at the stained-glass of Lyon (below). It introduced some connections between the Old Testament, the New Testament and symbols. From the bottom up :
                       
- Isiah (OT), who has prophesied Jesus birth from a Virgin ; the angel (NT) who has informed the Virgin of the Jesus birth ; the unicorn (Symbol) which is a pure animal, that only a Virgin can approach.

- The Burning Bush (OT) which is burning without consuming itself ; the Virgin who gives birth without  "consuming" (NT) ; the Gedeon fleece which is covered by the dew without a natural reason (Symbol).

-Abraham (OT) who is ready to sacrifice his son to obey God ; Jesus (NT) who is sacrified on the cross in order to save the humanity ; the Serpent of brass (Symbol) which is raised by Moses in the desert to save the Jewish people threatened by the burning snakes sended as a punishment.

- Jonas (OT) who is spited out by the whale ; Jesus (NT) who is resurrected the third day ; the lion cubs (Symbol) which seem dead the first three days and seem coming back to life, the third day, under the breath of their father.

The kladrius (Antiquity), a bird which is able to tell if a patient will live or die ; the Ascent of Christ (NT) who will live after death ; the eagle (Symbol) which is the bird which rises more high than the others and which, in order to teach how to fly to its young, loads it on its wings.

( The stained-glass)

 (First detail : Isaïe, Annunciation, Unicorn)

 (Second detail : Burning bush, Nativity, Gedeon fleece)

 (Third detail : Abraham, Crucifixion, Serpent of brass)

 (Fouth detail : Jonas, Resurrection, Lion cubs)

(Fith detail : Kladrius, Ascent, Eagle)

Furthermore, each text includes three meanings : 
- the literal or historical meaning (a fact is related : "Abraham has existed"), 
- a moral or tropological meaning (it is the immediate meaning of this fact : "the Faith". Abraham in spite of the God hesitations who says "kill Isaac ! don't kill him !", obeys and does not doubt that it is God who speaks. He does not know that God is testing  his faith, otherwise there would not be a test,, but he believes.) 
- a mystical or allegorical meaning (The Crucifixion of the Christ is anticipated in the Isaac sacrifice).

But the Christ life (The New Testament) has to be interpreted. The legends, which are not in the Book, bring that interpretation. In this way the legend of the two midwives., Zelemi and Salome. One of them is astonished by the fact that Mary is yet virgin after the delivery, and the other woman is skeptic. When she verifies with his hand, his hand gets dry. It is when she pries the Jesus child for forgiveness that, by an act of faith, his hand is cured. One of the main origins of inspiration, a part from the New Testament, will be the Golden Legend, by Jacobus de Voragine.


5. The evolution of the representations.



We have seen the content of the Gothic sculpture and its origins. We have now to consider, finally, its form. Not the general features already studied, but its particular features. Especially for some figures as, e.g., the Virgin.

a. Romanesque :
The Virgin in Majesty. Frontal, staid, sitted in her throne with the Child on her knees, she is the God's throne. She is neither feminine nor maternal.


b. First Gothic.
It is the beginning of the humanization of the Virgin. In the 13th century, the Virgin becomes "human". The Child slides on one knee and turns his face toward his mother or plays with her.



c. Classical Gothic.

The Virgin mother. She stands up, carries her son on his arm and smiles at him. The Virgin became a mother.




d. Last Gothic.

The woman. On the 15th century, she is the pain's Virgin, the mother who is just lost his child. The woman who suffers. So, as soon as God becomes human, the Virgin also becomes human.




e. The Virgin's life.

The Virgin’s life becomes an essential subjet of the writing on the portals and on the facades of the cathedrals. The most depicted scenes are, obviously, The Annunciation, the Visitation, the Death and the Assumption.

A very frequent subject in the tympanum is the Coronation of the Virgin. That way to consider that thing is, however, questionable. Indeed, the fact, to a man,  to put a crown on the head of a virgin, be equivalent to request to perform a wedding. Therefore that is not his mother who is crowned by the Christ. Furthermore, we remember a woman crowned : the Church, in front of the Synagogue, the blindfolded woman. So, the Coronation of the Virgin would be, in fact, the mystic wedding of God with the Church.
That depiction turns among the time. In the oldest formula, the crown is already on the Virgin's head. Then, an angel will put the crown on the head. Finaly, around 1250, that is the Christ who puts the crown on the Church's head (below, Reims).


The cathedral is not only an arch in which humanity can  find a refuge, it is not only the foreshadowing of the Heavenly Jerusalem, it is a book. An encyclopedia where is reflected all the knowledge of the Middle Ages. When, in Notre Dame de Paris, Victor Hugo titles the chapter where he brings up the invention of the printing and the end of the medieval architecture : Ceci tuera cela (This will kill That), he expresses perfectly the reality of the Gothic sculpture.