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Gothic Painting. Comparative Civilizations 12 K.J. Benoy. From Sister Wendy Becket, The Story of Painting.

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Gothic Painting

Comparative Civilizations 12

K.J. Benoy

From sister wendy becket the story of painting l.jpg

From Sister Wendy Becket, The Story of Painting

“The Gothic style began with the architecture of the 12th century, at the height of the Middle Ages, when Europe was putting the memory of the Dark Ages behind it and moving into a radiant new era of prosperity and confidence. At the same time, Christianity was entering a new and triumphant phase of its history, and so the age of chivalry was also the time of the building of the magnificent Gothic cathedrals, such as those in the northern French towns of Chartres, Reims and Amiens.”

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From Sister Wendy Becket, The Story of Painting

“In the realm of painting, the change to the new style became visible about a century after the first of these cathdrals rose. In contrast to the Romanesque and Byzantine styles, the most noticeable feature of the art of the Gothic period is its increased naturalism. This quality, which first appeared in the work of Italian artists in the late 13th century, became the dominant painting style throughout Europe until the end of the 15th century.”

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Three Women at the Tomb

Biblical fresco on the wall of the monastry of Pedralbo, Barcelona

Instructive Art

  • Early Gothic art was almost entirely religious in nature.

  • It was intended to teach the largely illiterate public or to serve as spiritual aids for prayer, in the Byzantine tradition.

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Fresco of the Annunciation, Church of S. Claudio, Spello, Umbria

Italian Origins

  • The Gothic style in painting emerged in Italy in the 13th century.

  • This is partly due to the tendency of Italian church building to retain large wall spaces, suitable for frescos. Gothic architecture in the North resulted in a movement to stained glass.

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CimabueThe Virgin and Child Enthroned and Surrounded by Angels – Still close to the Greek style.

Departure from Byzantine Influence

  • Though it may not appear clear to the modern eye, Italian painters departed from Byzantine formalism as they sought greater realism.

  • There is an interest in producing the illusion of depth, though mathematical perspective remained unknown.

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  • Working in Florence at the end of the 13th century, he moved away from the flatness of icon painting.

  • His Maesta figures have a sweetness about them.

  • The drapery looks soft.

  • 3 dimensionality is hinted at.

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Angels, detail from Cimabue’s fresco Apocalyptical Christ, found in the upper church of San Francesco, Assisi.


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Duccio’s Maesta,above & detail to left.

Duccio of Sienna

  • Much greater three dimensionality appears in the work of Duccio.

  • His figures are more “solid” than Cimabue’s.

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More detailed view, from Duccio’s Maesta.

Duccio of Sienna

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Duccio’s The Annunciation

Duccio of Sienna

  • Duccio’s architecture is no longer unrealistically scaled, yet it is still not “real”.

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Painting with Gold

  • This most valuable metal has always been reserved for the most important works – in sculpture, painting, or architectural detailing.

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A modern gilded icon in the Byzantine tradition

Painting with gold

  • In Byzantine and Medieval painting, gold was used to indicate the spiritual or heavenly sphere.

  • Its reflective properties are superbly suited to candle-lit illumination.

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Gilded Icon with Christ Enthroned. St. Paul’s Monastery, St. Athos.

Painting With Gold

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Painting With Gold

  • Gilding today is still done using the same method as employed by Duccio and others in Medieval times.

    • Over a wooden panel a number of thin layers of diluted bole (red clay) are brushed over the prepared surface of white gesso.

    • This then receives the delicate beaten gold leaf, applied in overlapping layers.

    • The surface is then burnished, to polish it.

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Painting With Gold

  • Sometimes a greenish colour tinges the gold.

  • This is the result of natural impurities showing through.

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Simone Martini

  • One of the most influential of the Italians was Simone Martini, also of Sienna, and a disciple of Duccio.

  • Sister Wendy describes his figures as graceful and “precious”.

  • They are dramatic, yet fluid in their movement.

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Simone Martini

  • At the end of his life, Martini resided in Avignon, the temporary residence of popes.

  • This brought his style to the attention of the French.

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Simone Martini

  • Martini’s colours and architectural backgrounds are in the manner of Duccio.

  • His modeling of people, however, is in the more radical style of Giotto.

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Martini’s portrait of Gentile Portino de Montefiore.

Simone Martini

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Martini’s Guidoriccio da Fogliano

Simone Martini

  • Martini’s style fit nicely into the papal court at Avignon, having a “particularly courtly and aristocratic flavor, infused with a specially Flemish concern for naturalistic detail.” (Beckett)

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Konrad von Soest, The Crucifixion

The International Gothic Style

  • This courtly style was popular throughout Europe and came to be known as International Gothic.

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The Wilton Diptych

  • The Wilton Diptych is a prime example of this style.

    • Richard II , accompanied by two saintly kings and John the Baptist, receives the blessing of the Christ Child as he is held in the arms of Mary and surrounded by bejeweled angels.

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King David,Andre Beauneveu


  • This courtly style was particularly suited to illuminated works produced for noblemen.

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January, from Les Tres Riches Heures

The Limbourg Brothers

  • The greatest of all of Medieval illuminators were three brothers, Pol, Herman and Jean Limbourg, who worked for the immensely rich Duc de Berry.

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The Limbourg Brothers

  • Les Tres Riches Heures is a book of hours – a devotional book to assist in prayer.

  • It held text material for each hour of the day and special prayers for feast days.

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The Limbourg Brothers

  • Historians have found this volume a particularly rich source of information on the lives of rich and poor in early 15th century France.

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Detail from May

Detail from September

The Limbourg Brothers

  • Their work displays courtly refinement .

  • …mixed with every day reality

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The Limbourg Brothers

  • The three brothers died, probably of the plague, in 1416.

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