Gothic architecture and art: Gothic Sculpture

Gothic Sculpture

Sculpture and stained glass were formally and spiritually integrated within the Gothic cathedral to express a theological program or scheme. The Royal Portal at Chartres (mid-12th cent.) exemplifies the early achievements in the development toward a coherent sculptural scheme; the tympanum, archivolts, and jamb figures are newly united structurally and iconographically to emphasize the importance of Christ on earth. Images of Christ began to reveal a tendency toward greater humanization.

By the first half of the 13th cent., the role of the Virgin Mary as the intermediary between God and humanity was stressed in the sculptural programs of Laon, Notre-Dame de Paris, and the north transept of Chartres. At the same time figures began to protrude more strongly from their architectural background. Whereas the jamb figures of the Royal Portal at Chartres were formally no more than splendid humanized columns, by the 13th cent. individual sculptural elements became more important and less united with the architecture. The portal figures of the cathedral at Reims provide an eloquent example of the trend toward sculptural independence.

From the mid-13th cent. onward, mannerisms in gesture developed, such as the “hip-shot” pose, notable in the statue of the Virgin and Child at Amiens. This swaying posture further separated sculpture from architecture. In the 14th cent., after the completion of the great cathedrals, sculpture became an independent artistic form. Mannerisms were exaggerated into an elegant style that continued into the 16th cent. There was a parallel trend toward greater realism, which had its origin in sepulchral portrait sculpture. The tendency toward realism reached monumental form in the Well of Moses (Dijon; 1395–1403) by Claus Sluter.

The influence of French Gothic sculpture spread throughout the Continent and England. The finest and most individual examples are found in Germany in the middle of the 13th cent. in the facades of Bamberg, Strasbourg, and Naumbourg cathedrals, the last showing evidence of a powerfully realistic, wholly German style. In Italy the late 13th-century works of Giovanni Pisano (see Nicola Pisano) in Siena and Pistoia and of Lorenzo Maitani at Orvieto reflect the heightened expressiveness found in French Gothic art.

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