GOTHIC 1150-1450 AD

Age of Contrast, Transition, Cathedrals

Gothic - The term is from the Goth's, a barbaric Germanic people who dominated Central Europe 3 - 5th C. They were "thought" to have built the cathedrals.

From Medieval dogma, of superstition, divine will and retribution to seeds of enlightenment to the Renaissance.

Power Ideas:

  1. Eyeglasses extends life of scholar's, artists. Paper.
  2. Clock – to define, then control of nature and people. Soap.
  3. Gun powder by 14th C, compass, and higher mathematics used in cannon warfare.
  4. Intense territorial wars for land by nobility – with tremendous lost to pheasants.
  • Black Death, Plagues.
  • Ghengas Khan 1200- 60
  • Mongal threats, and bands of marauders
  • Marco Polo 1271, Columbus
  • Flat to round Earth
  • Order of St. Francis's 1215
  • Crusaders driven from East

A time of growing, apparent difference between medieval faith and Gothic worldliness.

Joan of Ark - 1433

Short sturdy, black hair, ruddy complexion. At age of 13, had vision to "put rightful King in place. Will liberate and unite rural French from English rule, except Paris. Is captured and burned for hearing voices.

Stark class distinction between rich and poor, nobility and pheasant, poor diets and sanitation. Better life for the chambermaids. Feudal courts to wealthy aristocrats, persecutions and inquisitions intensify.

Magna Carta – Begins reform civil standards.

As Europe emerges from Dark ages there is new interest in education for the privileged at the cathedrals and courts, in Italy, France and England.

The first university's, church or court sponsored, establish the Philosophy of Scholasticism. Which will begin to challenge the Medieval unquestioning acceptance of faith, grounded on original sin and judgment from a higher authority.

When Moores in Spain fall to Western forces, Spanish Classical and Arabic texts are available. And with Muslim texts from the crusades, rational critical inquiry is enhanced.

Brings new advancements to medicine, astronomy, natural history and importantly mathematics and the banking credit system.
Which the church and wealthy will use to sponsor greater wealth through colonization.

Importantly this infusion of knowledge results in the beginning of a new philosophical spirit of critical inquiry. A renewed interest in peoples real place in the natural rather than divine order of things.

But for most people the word of god from "Holy Writs," still governs most peoples lives.

Gothic Religion and Philosophy: Influences

  • Epicureanism - seeks pleasure of mind/body by putting self into places of joy vs. pain.
  • Stoicism to Early Christian - live with passive dignity, brother/sisterhood, virtue through self contemplation, Plato metaphor of the heart. Isolation from materialism and corruption until coming of a messiah.
  • Nominalism - dogma of Roman Church. Salvation for the privileged, through the "Holy Writs", in Latin. From Aristotle and Augustine, scriptures are only "way of truth" a closed system. Soul is only beautiful, earth as hell and trial. Judgment to salvation.
  • Fanaticism – only will of God is supreme. And through more suffering, one can obtain illumination, leads to self-flagellation.
  • Mysticism - revelation takes precedent over intellectual reason. Practiced intense meditative process to evoke "esthetic dance".
  • Scholasticism - important to Gothic and Renaissance, reason and individual critical enquiry with Socratic dialogue. Leads to Renaissance Enlightenment. Will come to acknowledge both Plato and Aristotle. And for the church to integrate reason with dogma of the church..

Important church thinkers in Gothic

St. Francis of Assisi (1181-1226)

Vow of poverty, preached to birds asserting nature is worthy of Gods Love. Divine in all creation. Initiates Franciscan Order. Emphasized loving qualities of God over threat of hell and damnation. Was said to be able to soothe wild beasts.

St. Dominic (1170-1221)

Vow of Humility, devoted to study of knowledge. The Dominican order with the Franciscans devotion to study and preservation of manuscripts, is a valuable to future generations.

St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274)

His writings try to fuse Catholic doctrine to Aristitian Philosophy. If god is exempt from laws of the world, then beliefs about him maybe doubted. No subject, then , is free from light of reason.

Gothic thinkers will challenge Medieval thinking, that only divine will makes things the way they are. Scholars tried to find underlying divine pattern in mathematical symbolism. A logos of the universe.

The seven spheres and numerology

At worst becomes validation of hierarchy of authority and mind. At best shows interrelatedness.

Master Ekhart – "Self as reflection of God." Dies before inquisitioned.
Bishop Ockham – "science will verify God."
The thread of Humanist thought to Renaissance is maintained.

Gothic Age of Cathedrals

With triumph of Medieval Church, church building is the hallmark of the Gothic.

The growing number of converted Nobility sponsors with money and resources to gain tax credits, "Tithing" from the poor.

Crusades bring in more money to help liberate Jerusalem and win converts. Pheasants go for adventure, escape from poverty and with "merits" to help at judgment time.

The investment in church building is equivalent to modern effort of Hoover Dam, takes several generations to build the cathedrals.

Advances in labor guilds, chain / pulleys and wheelbarrows.

Cathedrals will reflect a profound difference in people's appreciation and relationship to the divine and nature.

Gothic Architecture - Paris France, initiates Age of Cathedrals

Abbot Suger, advisor to Louis VI is the 1st Gothic architect. He organizes French bishops under Roman church to challenge the Germanic tradition of power.

In his youth, 1091 he was offered to the monastery of Saint Denise. Where he became a fellow student of King Louis VI.

During a stay at Rome 1121-11, he was elected Abbot of Saint Denis. He successfully accomplished the reform of his monastery. He continued to remain the constant advisor of Louis VI and of his successor Louis VII.

As a statesman he sought to improve agriculture, commerce and trade, and to reform the administration of justice.

Suger wanted to transform the medieval Abby of St. Denise, named from 5th c writings referring to Dionysus, into a spiritual center of France. To attract, or "outshine splendor" of all others pilgrimage churches. Completes the renovation in Gothic aesthetic, 1144AD.

Suger equipped an army and was about to depart for the Holy Land when he died.

Sets a fresh new posture of the Gothic with, " I seem up lifted in a mystic manner from this lower towards that upper sphere".

Of stained glass windows, he says "the miraculous light through the most scared content of windows becomes the light of the divine, a mystic revelation of the spirit of God."

Compares this light of god, through the windows illuminating Jesus teachings without breaking the windows, to the Immaculate Conception.

Important ideas suggested by Gothic Cathedrals.
  • pointed arch – Unlimited human potential, can reach any height, vs. Roman arch.
  • ribbed vaulting and flying buttress emulate nature. Organic skeletal structure with ribs and skin.
    Fuses mind and nature.
  • Numerical symbolism – from pagan and medieval symbolism. To understand and describe nature and cosmos in mathematical language, like 3,4,5,7. The trinity, and union of below and above.
    The 12 labors and 24 Elders.
  • The light and height is a metaphor for the union of mortal and divine.
  • Gothic music evolves with the organ, to an important advancement from monophonic to a higher vibratory affect that compliments the light, which the cathedrals are designed to receive.
  • The word Nave, comes from how the Gothic ceiling looks like a boat when turned upside down. Which Early Christian would hide under.
  • Relics held by the cathedrals.
  • Oldest known rose bushes at Notre Dame


Reconciliation of faith and reason. A Harmonic synthesis of divine and natural light. Greco Roman realism fused to Christian abstraction.

Growing Greco Roman realism reflects Humanistically, more desire to bring religious metaphysical themes into real time and place.

This reflects philosophically a greater trust of nature and reason, suggesting that people have the ability to determine one's own fate.

Gothic Review

Important shift from the limited medieval ideas of peoples potential. Nature and the relationship to the Divine.

Education for the privileged. Yet, poverty and battlefields for the poor and oppressed.

Worsening conditions for growing urban lower class. Mini ice age, plagues, bad sanitation and diets.

Under lingering threat of a predestined world of pain, suffering and a vengeful god, more intense inquisitions and persecutions. St. Augustine's church philosophy prevails.

Servant class, and chamber maids, labor guilds and mercantilism offer some hope for the privileged, lucky and clever.

The humanist's ideas will be championed by St Aquinas, "no subject is exempt from light of reason."

And, St Francis concept of the love and wonder of God in all things. With the coming of the Renaissance the cult of Mary and other female saints are popular, signifying acknowledgment of feminine principle of life giver and sustainer.

Gothic sets a posture for a more humanistic access to important church themes, by grounding them in, aesthetically greater realism and inner psychology character and communication.

Gothic painting in the South is remarkable for the achievements of Giotto, the father of modern art. He will evolve Greco Roman realism to a "soft naturalism". Bathed in a uniform Mediterranean light.

Northern Gothic painting begins in 1400, close to the Renaissance. It will assimilate Greco / Roman realism with a harsh sever light, with medieval realization of particulars and disguised symbolism.

Giotto di Bondone. 1226-1337 AD

Giotto was born near Florence. His father was a small land farmer. Cimabue, a Florentine painter supposedly saw the 12-year-old boy sketching, and was so impressed with his talent that he persuaded the father to let Giotto become his pupil.

Vasari tells the story of how Pope Boniface VIII sent a messenger to Giotto with a request for samples of his work. Giotto dipped his brush in red and with one continuous stroke painted a perfect circle. He then assured the messenger that the worth of this sample would be recognized. When the pope saw it he "instantly perceived that Giotto surpassed all other painters of his time."

Giotto executed commissions from nobility and the church. In the series of his Biblical scenes, is a portrait of his friend the poet Dante.

In 1334 the city of Florence honored Giotto with the title of Magnus Magister, and appointed him city architect and superintendent of pubic works. He designed the famous campanile (bell tower). He died in 1337 before the work was finished.

It is said Giotto was short and homely, and was a great wit and practical joker. He left six children at his death. He saved his money and was accounted a rich man. He was on familiar terms with the Pope, King Robert of Naples and Dante, the social radical.

Giotto is regarded as the founder of the central tradition of Western painting, in the Arena Chapel at Padua. 1305-06. AD

He establishes a concern for naturalism that will initiate the modern development of Western art.

A break with rigid medieval stylization to present human figures based on living models.

His more realistic naturalism, with inner psychology presence humanizes important church themes.