Visual Arts and the Gothic
Visual Arts and the GothicINTRODUCTION
The dominant style of architecture in Europe from the twelfth century to the sixteenth century was first classified as "Gothic" by art critics and architects such as Giorgio Vasari and Sir Christopher Wren in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, respectively. The term was applied disparagingly, derived from "Goth," the common term for the fourth- and fifth-century Tuetonic invaders who were viewed as cruel barbarians. It is commonly held that the style originated in France c. 1100 with the Abbey Church of Saint-Denis, designed by Abbot Suger of Saint Denis. The Gothic style in architecture is characterized by vaulted ceilings, "flying" buttresses, and pointed arches, and stems from the desire among medieval architects to create earthly structures that reflected a sense of inspired, divine beauty. Gothic sculpture, which also began in France during this same period and appeared largely as decorative elements adorning Gothic structures, reflects the inspiration of the divine, but incorporates as well the beginnings of a humanist approach, with figures engaged in a search for meaning in their daily lives. Gothic period sculpture retained the religious and theological themes of the Romanesque period that preceded it, but focused closely on the depiction of mortal figures as pious and physically beautiful. Gothic sculpture became more and more naturalistic as the style spread through Europe, and included celebrations of the humanity (rather than the divinity) of such revered religious figures as the apostles, the Madonna, and Jesus Christ.
Gothic painting began sometime during the early thirteenth century in France, England, and then Germany, and toward the end of the thirteenth century in Italy. The four forms of painting to which the delicate and linear, yet vibrant and lush Gothic style was applied were frescoes, panel paintings, manuscript illumination, and stained glass. As with Gothic sculpture, Gothic painting and stained glass were largely commissioned to enhance Gothic architecture, with the exception of manuscript illumination, which grew out of a movement toward a more secular society, the growth of cities, the expansion of trade, the founding of universities, increased literacy, and the expansion of the bourgeois class. Art was no longer limited to works commissioned by church and aristocratic patrons, and as artists were increasingly required to obtain membership in a trade guild, their works became shaped by their participation in apprenticeships with established artists.
The Gothic style fell out of favor during the sixteenth century, with the dawn of the Renaissance. The Gothic Revival period in art and architecture began near the middle of the eighteenth century in England, and was characterized by an interest in exploring the same human-divine (or supernatural) connections found in the works of Gothic-period artisans. The Romantics' interest in classicism spurred an interest in studying the past, but rather than the Romantics' focus on the ancient Greeks to study democratic ideals, the nationalism of the participants in the Gothic Revival led them to concentrate on their own heritage. The desire to define and (sometimes) glorify the ideals of "Old Europe" by erecting structures and producing artwork in the medieval Gothic style ran parallel to this same desire as expressed in Gothic literature. Horace Walpole's Gothic cottage, Strawberry Hill (c. 1750–76) in Twickingham, England is one of the most famous examples of Gothic Revival architecture, and has been equally admired and disparaged by commentators for centuries. Other dominant figures in the Gothic Revival in England include architect A. W. N. Pugin, art historians and critics Batty and Thomas Langley, and designer Richard Bentley.
Gothic Revival art and architecture in the United States were heavily influenced by the literature of Gothic writers, particularly the novels of Sir Walter Scott. Major American Gothic Revival architects included Alexander Jackson Davis and Ralph Adams Cram. American Gothic painters, such as Washington Allston, David Gilmour Blythe, and Thomas Cole depicted the darker side of the American cultural and natural landscapes.
Tragic Figure in Chains (painting) 1800
Belshazzar's Feast (painting) 1817–43
Baptisery, Florence, Italy [sculptor] (bronze doors) c. 1329–36
Campanile of the Florentine Cathedral Florence, Italy [sculptor] (marble reliefs) 1337–40
Cathedral of Notre Dame at Chartres, France [architect] (cathedral) c. 1194–1220
Arnolfo di Cambio
Santa Croce, Florence, Italy [architect] (cathedral) c. 1294–1310
Santa Maria del Fiore, Florence, Italy [architect] (cathedral) c. 1296–1310
Palazzo della Signoria, Florence, Italy [architect] (cathedral) c. 1299–1310
Abbotsford [architect] (residence of Sir Walter Scott) 1812–15
David Gilmour Blythe
Art versus Law (painting) 1860
The Hideout (painting) c. 1863
Tabletop of the Seven Deadly Sins (painting) 1485
The Garden of Earthly Delights (triptych painting) c. 1500
The Temptation of St. Anthony (triptych painting) c. 1500
The Last Judgment (triptych painting) c. 1504
Expulsion from the Garden of Eden (painting) 1828
Ruined Tower (painting) c. 1836
Ralph Adams Cram
St. Thomas's Church, New York City [architect] (church) 1906–14
Fourth Presbyterian Church, Chicago [architect] (church) 1911–37
Swedenborgian Cathedral at Bryn Athyn, Pennsylvania [architect] (cathedral) 1913–17
The Substance of Gothic: Six Lectures on the Development of Architecture from Charlemagne to Henry VIII (art history) 1917; second edition, 1925
Alexander Jackson Davis
Glen Ellen, Maryland [architect] (residence of Robert Gilmor III) c. 1832
Robert De Luzarches, Thomas de Cormont, and Regnault de Cormont
Cathedral of Amiens, France [architects, c. 1220–35, c. 1240–80, and c. 1280, respectively] (cathedral) c. 1220–80
Jean D'Orbais, Jean (le) Loup, Gaucher de Rheims, Bernard de Soissons, and Robert de Coucy
Notre Dame de Rheims, France [also known as Rheims Cathedral; architects] (cathedral) c. 1211
Master Elias of Dereham
Salisbury Cathedral, England [designer] (cathedral) c. 1220–80
The Nightmare (painting) 1781
Hanns von Burghausen
Church of Sankt Jakob at Straubing, Germany [architect] (cathedral) c. 1395
Church of Heilig Geist at Landshut, Germany [architect] (cathedral) c. 1407
Franciscan church at Salzburg, Germany [architect] (cathedral) c. 1409
Henry of Reynes
Westminster Abbey, London, England [first architect] (cathedral) c. 1245
Batty and Thomas Langley
Ancient Architecture Restored and Improved (art history) 1742; second edition published as Gothic Architecture Improved, 1747
Pisa Baptisery Pulpit, Pisa, Italy (sculpture) 1259
Arca di San Domenico in San Domenico, Bologna, Italy (sculpture) 1264–67
Altar of St. James in Pistoia Cathedral (sculpture) 1278
Siena Cathedral Pulpit, Siena, Italy (sculpture) 1265–68
A. W. N. Pugin
Contrasts (art history) 1836; second revised edition, 1841
Apology for the Revival of Christian Architecture in England (art history) 1843
St. Augustine's Church, Ramsgate, England [architect] (church) c. 1844
St. Edmund's College Chapel, Ware, England [architect] (church) c. 1844–53
Tomb of Philip the Bold, Duke of Burgundy (sculpture) c. 1389–1406
The Well of Moses (sculpture) c. 1395–1403
Chapel of Chartreuse (portal sculptures) c. 1397
Suger of Saint Denis
Abbey Church of Saint-Denis, France [architect] (cathedral) c. 1127–44
Maurice de Sully
Cathedral of Notre Dame de Paris, France [first architect] (cathedral) c. 1163
Horace Walpole, Richard Bentley, John Chute, and others
Strawberry Hill, Twickenham, England [designers and architects] (Walpole's residence) c. 1750–76
William of Sens
Canterbury Cathedral, London, England [architect] (cathedral) c. 1175–78
JOHN HENRY PARKER (ESSAY DATE 1849)
SOURCE: Parker, John Henry. "The Renaissance, and Jacobean Gothic." In An Introduction to the Study of Gothic Architecture. 1849. 14th edition, 1902. Reprint, pp. 212-16. Wakefield, England: EP Publishing, 1978.
The following excerpt is from the 1902 edition of Parker's comprehensive study of the history of Gothic architecture, originally published in 1849. In it, Parker surveys the precursors to the nineteenth-century Gothic Revival.
After the time of Henry the Seventh the style loses its purity; indeed, at that time we find Italian features introduced, though sparingly, among the true Gothic, and these become more numerous in the reign of his successor. In foreign countries the Classical or Pagan styles were revived at an earlier period than with us. The French call it the style of the "Renaissance." The Elizabethan style is a singular mixture of Gothic and Italian details; it is almost confined to domestic buildings, but may occasionally be found in additions and alterations of churches, as at Sunningwell, Berkshire.
In the time of James the First a strenuous effort was made to revive the Gothic style, more especially in Oxford, and although the details are poor and clumsy imitations, the general effect is frequently very good.
Of this period the Schools are a good example, especially the vaulted room called the "Pig Market," Lincoln College Chapel is also a very favourable specimen of Jacobean Gothic, as it is often called. The choir of Wadham College Chapel is another very remarkable example, the design and details of which are so good that it would appear incredible that it could be of this period, but for the fact that the weekly accounts kept by the clerk of the works for the foundress are preserved among the records of the college, and leave no room for doubt on the subject. It is still more extraordinary that the windows of the hall and ante-chapel were erected at the same time, week by week, by another gang of men: the inferiority of taste displayed in them would make them appear at least fifty years later. At first sight it would appear impossible that these two buildings, so very different in style, can be of the same period, but we must remember that there was always "an overlapping of the styles." Some people would build in the old-fashioned way, and others in the new-fashioned way, so that for the space of perhaps five-and-twenty years a building may be in the style of the fathers or of the sons. The old-fashioned style went out of use gradually, not suddenly; this is the case now, and it has always been so.
The cast window of Jesus College Chapel, Oxford, as seen from the Turl, might very well be supposed to be the work of the fifteenth century, if we judged by the design only. Oriel College Chapel, erected at the same time, is in very inferior taste. Specimens of fan-tracery vaulting of this period are numerous in Oxford, chiefly over the entrance porch or gateway of the colleges; but by far the most elegant and remarkable example is the vault over the staircase to the hall of Christ Church: this was built about 1640, as appears from the evidence of Antony Wood, who was living at the time, and from the royal arms in the vault having Scotland quartered in them. The elegance of the design of this vault springing from the slender pillar in the centre is much and justly admired, but an examination of the details of the work shews that it is extremely shallow and poor; it is an evidence of how much may be done by good design even with bad detail.
In London, the hall of the Archbishop's Palace at Lambeth, and Middle Temple hall, copied at Lincoln's Inn in 1860, may be mentioned as good examples of this imitation.
Another attempt at the revival of Gothic was made in the time of Charles the Second; it was still less successful in the details, but even then many of the designs were good. There are many towers of this period of very good proportions, though of very clumsy details. The towers of Westminster Abbey may perhaps be cited as an instance, for although the detail is wretchedly bad, the general effect at a distance is good.
ON THE SUBJECT OF …
SUGER OF ST. DENIS (1081–1151)
A highly capable administrator, Suger, abbot of St. Denis and royal adviser to King Louis VI, was very successful in rebuilding the fortunes of St. Denis. He recorded his activities in Liber de rebus in administration sua gestis (Book on the Things Accomplished during his Administration). In 1127 he set about reforming the abbey and the lives of its monks, who had acquired a reputation for worldliness under Suger's predecessor. The most visible and lasting result of his energetic reforms was the restoration, under his supervision, of the abbey church. The existing church had been erected about four hundred years earlier and had fallen into disrepair. The restored church would become a model for all of Europe and for the new architectural style, Gothic. It featured innovations like ribbed vaults, the predominance of pointed arches, and the use of rose windows and other instances of stained glass; some of these innovations are attributed to Suger himself. The restoration involved a lengthy three-stage process. In 1144 the final stage was completed, and the choir was dedicated to St. Denis. In contrast to the darker, less-open churches of Romanesque style, the choir magnificently exhibits the potentials of glass and light. In his Liber de rebus in adminsratione sua gestis Suger records the inscription on the doors of the church, typical of the symbolism of the new Gothic style, with an aesthetic based on Dionysian Neoplatonic theory: "The noble work is bright, but being nobly bright it should brighten the mind, allowing it to travel from [earthly] light to the true light, where Christ is the true door."… In addition to his career as abbot and royal advisor, Suger was a minor historian, composing biographies of Louis VI and Louis VII. He died at the age of seventy on 13 January 1151.
SOURCE: "Suger of St. Denis." In World Eras, Vol. 4: Medieval Europe (814-1350), pp. 91-3. Farmington Hills, Mich.: Thomson Gale, 2001.
It is remarkable also that the chancels built at this period are as large and deep as those of any earlier period; for instance, the chancel of Islip, Oxfordshire, built by the celebrated Dr. South1. The idea of the divines of this period, under whose directions these churches were built, appears to have been that the chancel was the place for the celebration of the Holy Communion, and should bear the same proportion to the body of the church as the number of communicants to the whole congregation. These churches were also usually furnished with credence-tables2, and lecterns, many of which remain.
Even during the eighteenth century, when every kind of taste was at the lowest possible ebb, the people seem to have still retained a lingering wish for the imitation of Gothic or Christian forms, and many rude attempts may be seen in our country churches: and although the architects and builders considered it necessary to repress this taste, and make everything in the pseudo-Grecian or Pagan style, still the love for the Gothic would peep out here and there. The spire is essentially a Gothic feature, unknown to Classical art; yet many spires were rebuilt, and even new ones built, during this period. The spire of All Saints' Church, Oxford, a fine example3, was built from the designs of Dean Aldrich, soon after 1700, and notwithstanding the purely Italian character of the building, there is a sort of Gothic tracery in the tower windows. The same curious and evidently unintentional mixture may be observed in the tower windows of the church of St. Clement Danes, Strand, which are of a common Gothic form.
Towards the close of that century arose the school of Horace Walpole and Batty Langley, which, however ridiculous it may appear to us now, served to keep alive the taste for Gothic forms, and paved the way for the revival which has taken so glorious a start in our own day, and to the improved character of which "The Oxford Society for Promoting the Study of Gothic Architecture" materially contributed, by acting on the minds both of the architects and of their patrons, and enforcing upon them the necessity for the careful study of ancient examples4.
1. This historical example was unfortunately destroyed in 1860 (?), by what is falsely called restoration, which usually means the total destruction of every original feature and the substitution of the wretched improvement of some modern architect, who entirely despises and ignores the history of his art.
2. So called from the Italian credenza, a side-board.
3. This elegant and interesting spire was taken down in 1873, and rebuilt, being much out of repair and supposed to be dangerous.
4. The Oxford Architectural Society, established in 1839, was the earliest in the field, the Cambridge Camden Society was very nearly simultaneous with it, and the idea was rapidly taken up and followed subsequently in numerous other places; still it is only just to give Oxford the credit of having originated the movement. Upon the whole, this movement has done much good, although accompanied by much evil, occasioned by the exuberant zeal of young men eagerly setting about the "restoration" of their churches before they knew the proper mode of doing it, and before either architects or workmen were prepared for the work. In consequence of this unfortunate haste, many valuable specimens of ancient art have been irreparably destroyed, instead of being carefully preserved as models for future ages. At the time that the movement for the revival of the old English architecture began, it was almost impossible to get workmen to execute the details of it with any tolerable accuracy, all the prejudices of their education in their trade were against it. Much credit is due to Mr. Blore for his perseverance in establishing a school of workmen. This idea was afterwards taken up by others, and more recently the Architectural Museum was formed to supply the workmen with models, chiefly by the support of Mr. A. J. B. Beresford-Hope, M.P., who had been one of the leaders of the Cambridge Camden Society.
The Oxford Society in 1860 changed its title to the "Oxford Architectural and Historical Society." The object of this change is to connect the study of architecture with that of history, which now forms part of the course of study pursued at the University. It is obvious, on a very little consideration, that the architecture of every people is an essential part of its history, although it has hitherto been entirely neglected by historians. As the Oxford Society is now under the patronage of the Professors of Modern History and of Ecclesiastical History, we may venture to expect that this long neglect will be remedied, and that the history of architecture will form a regular part of the studies of the University.
LINDA BAYER-BERENBAUM (ESSAY DATE 1982)
SOURCE: Bayer-Berenbaum, Linda. "The Relationship of Gothic Art to Gothic Literature." In The Gothic Imagination: Expansion in Gothic Literature and Art, pp. 47-71. Rutherford, N.J.: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1982.
In the following essay, Bayer-Berenbaum explores the common elements of and connections between the Gothic in art and in literature.
Some critics have alluded to a superficial correspondence between Gothic architecture and literature, such as an analogy between the winding, subterranean hallways and the secret recesses of the mind, but the relationship between the two art forms is far more fundamental. Gothicism in art, as in literature, expresses a coherent aesthetic and philosophic perspective. The different aspects of Gothic art can be explained in terms of this underlying principle, and direct parallels can be drawn between Gothic techniques in art and in literature.
The origins of Gothic architecture can be traced back to a particular style of ornamentation, and even in these early designs we detect the restless energy that characterizes Gothicism in both architecture and literature. In literature this energy fuels the compulsion that drives Gothic characters to pursue the objects of their curiosity or desires; it fosters a restlessness that leads them to wander into the realms of the unknown, and gives them the requisite strength to defy social prohibitions. In his work The Paradox of Cruelty, Philip Hallie emphasizes this type of drive: "Down to his core, the Gothic villain or the Devil he embodies is restless, ever-active energy, energy always intensified by single-mindedness."1 This same frantic dis-ease is visually apparent in the linear design of early Gothic ornament and later in the Gothic cathedral.
The earliest evidence of Northern ornament appears on the tombstones of Teutonic graves and subsequently in illuminated manuscripts and decorative carvings. This "linear fantasy"2 is characterized by certain intertwining motifs, in earlier specimens the dot, line, and ribbon, and later the curve, circle, spiral, zigzag, and S-shape. The repertoire of motifs is extremely limited, but a great variety of combinations occurs. The shapes are knotted and twisted together in a frantic, springy, undulating pattern. They separate from one another, run parallel, and then cross again in a maze of latticed activity, producing "a fantastic spaghetti-like interlace"3 "whose puzzle asks to be unraveled, whose convolutions seem alternately to seek and avoid each other, whose component parts, endowed as it were with sensibility, captivate sight and sense in passionately vital movement."4 The restlessness of the design is reminiscent of the sleepless, puzzled, tortured souls who populate the Gothic novel and of the equally devious and allusive reality their twisted minds contemplate. This compulsion and lack of peace characterize the Gothic in all forms, preventing relaxation and the lapse into partial awareness. Gothic nervousness quickens the senses as more of the mind becomes awake to more of the world. Even in its embryonic state, Gothic art displayed the type of agitation that would continue to appear in Gothic architecture and literature.
The Gothic line can be described as both violent and unnatural, for it does not flow rhythmically back and forth in any sort of organic pattern. We could almost say that the Northern line is supernatural rather than natural, that it has surrendered to the fury of spirits dwelling within it, which drive it frantically first one way and then another in ecstatic, relentless activity. Wilhelm Worringer speaks of the unnatural quality of the Gothic line when he contrasts early Gothic ornament with Classical ornament. He describes Classical ornament as an extension of our sense of harmony. Classical man chooses the proportions within and around himself that he finds most pleasing and consciously, carefully applies them to his art.
On the other hand, the expression of Northern ornament does not directly depend upon us; we are met rather by a vitality which appears to be independent of us, which challenges us, forcing upon us an activity to which we submit only against our will. In short, the Northern line does not get its life from any impress which we willingly give it, but appears to have an expression of its own, which is stronger than our life.5
Worringer illustrates his psychological analysis of line with an example from children's drawings. We can easily distinguish between the playful scribbling made by an idle youngster and the erratic, forceful, angry scribbles made by a disturbed child. We also know in ourselves the difference between the control exerted when doodling pleasurably and the desperation in frustrated scratchings. In the latter case we are overtaken by our emotions, and the course of our lines seems to follow a dictate of its own. In this sense Gothic ornament appears more emotional and less controlled than Classical ornament.
Worringer terms the Northern line superorganic rather than simply nonorganic, indicating that the line surpasses measured configurations.
When once the natural barriers of organic movement have been overthrown, there is no more holding back: again and again the line is broken, again and again checked in the natural line of its movement, again and again it is forcibly prevented from peacefully ending its course, again and again diverted into fresh complications of expression, so that, tempered by all these restraints, it exerts its energy of expression to the utmost until at last, bereft of all possibilities of natural pacification, it ends in confused, spasmodic movements, breaks off unappeased into the void or flows senselessly back upon itself.6
A force overcoming nature must be beyond nature, and so we speak of the supernatural in Gothic line. The theme of the unnatural or supernatural is certainly fundamental in Gothic literature, as is the sense of obstruction in the ordinary course of events. If we describe the Gothic line in art as repeatedly checked in the flow of its movement and thus strengthened by its need to seek devious resolution, we have visually approximated the excess of energy bred by repression in the Gothic novel. Irresolute hopelessness, lack of escape, surrender in the face of despair, and an eventual turning upon the self are typical attitudes in Gothic literature. The Gothic character submits to the will of superior powers, be they internal or external, spirits or fate.
Finally, Worringer speaks of "supersensuous activity" in Gothic art and of a need to be "freed from the direct feeling of thraldom to reality."7 Worringer's choice of words in Form in Gothic, as well as Andrew Martindale's in Gothic Art, Marcel Aubert's in The Art of the High Gothic Era, or Charles Moore's in The Development and Character of Gothic Architecture, is remarkably applicable to Gothic literature when we consider that these art historians did not deal with Gothic literature or that literary critics had not distinguished any connection between Gothic art and literature beyond the use of the same word, which was considered an accident of etymology. Yet these art critics' descriptions belie a more basic correspondence. Gothic art, like Gothic literature, suggests an expanded reality when it threatens to break through the confines of linear space in its twisting inward and outward. In the absence of restriction, the intensity of movement in Gothic ornament is actually a picture of the intense, wide-awake souls incarnate in Gothic novels.
A total expansion of reality is impossible if we accept the limitations of a purely physical world. It is for this reason that Gothicism in literature stresses the spiritual, the penetration of the natural by the supernatural. Admittedly, it is more difficult for a comparable interpenetration of the physical and spiritual in a material art form as concrete as sculpture or architecture, but Gothic art has used every technique possible to minimize its physical restricitons. In other words, Gothic art attempts to dematerialize its composition in order to spiritualize its material components. The result achieved in art, as in literature, is the creation of a greater single reality in which the spiritual and physical merge.
In Northern ornament, once again, the convolutions of the line threaten the confines of physical space and can thus be interpreted as asserting the spiritual. The line does not appear to be a product of its space; it defies containment. Whether we speak of the line as emotional, psychological, or spiritual, a dimension beyond the physical is implicit.
Gothic architecture incorporated the spiritual quality of the Northern line into its entire structure, as well as into the decorative, spiral, plant tendrils adorning the capitals or the complicated carvings inside and outside the cathedral. In order to minimize the heavy quality of stone and stress its spirituality, Gothic architecture adopted flying buttresses and pointed arches to facilitate a towering, vertical structure unimpaired by internal supports. As a result, solid wall space could be reduced and great windows accommodated. The height and the open spaces achieved counteract the natural weight of stone, and the thrust of steep pinnacles opposes the pull of gravity. The joining of pillars to the cross ribs of the vaults through attached columns draws the structure up in a sweeping movement. The pillars do not appear to be supporting weight or to be pressing down, but rather soaring upward. Similarly, the outer towers do not seem to burden the buttressing but rather to shoot skyward. If we speak in terms of active carrier and passive burden, these are "standing, not lying, buildings."8 The structure of the Gothic cathedral, like the plot of the Gothic novel, is dominated by action, by both the tiny, frenetic movement in ornamentation or detail and the larger, sweeping, rising movements of construction or plot.
Another form of dematerialization appears within the intricate filigree carvings that cover the walls like a spider-web, the flowing fan tracery on vaults and windows, and the clutter of ornament on exterior walls, arches, portals, and towers. These carvings are often so incredibly delicate that it is difficult to believe they are actually made of stone. One carving at the Cloisters in New York brought there from a French cathedral depicts the Crucifixion of Christ, a crowd of people, and an entire city in more than thirty layers of overlapping perspective all within a cup-shaped oval little bigger than a walnut! Matter has been challenged here in that the stone seems to have dissolved into a tiny, magical world. In the whole of the Gothic cathedral, weight gives way to levitation. The capitals of columns, indeed the entire building, has lost its Romanesque heaviness; we could say it has been disembodied. Within the interior of the cathedral, a third spiritual effect is achieved by the stained glass windows, which create a sense of illusion through the colors and patterns they cast upon the stone.
The Gothic cathedral is designed to create a spiritually altered experience for those who enter, its great height and monstrous proportions dwarfing the viewer. The building is grossly out of proportion with human beings and seeks to emphasize their diminution in the face of larger and greater forces. The architecture shocks the viewer out of his normal perception of himself and distorts the magnitude of his surroundings, rendering the worshiper, like the victim in Gothic literature, at the mercy of supernatural forces within and beyond the self. The victim finally submits to these forces and to a changed perspective on reality. The longer one remains within the Gothic cathedral, the harder it is to project a human perspective. The structure ceases to appear abnormally large while the visitor perceives himself as abnormally small. This shock effect is not unlike that produced in Gothic literature, encouraging a keener perception of the self and the environment and an altered relationship between the two.
Gothic architecture evokes the world of the spirits in another way, which is at once more direct and more superficial than either its dematerialization or its altered proportions. The gargoyles and other carvings on the building designed to frighten away evil spirits are an obvious allusion to divine malevolence. The presence of pagan symbols on religious buildings also underscores a psychological connection between a sense of God and a sense of the grotesque, between religion and Gothicism.
The gargoyles also express an interest in psychology paralleling the psychological emphasis in Gothic literature. In his book Gothic Architecture and Scholasticism, Erwin Panofsky explicitly connects this sculpture with a renewal of interest in psychology. Insofar as the plant or animal in Gothic carving came to be considered an organism in itself rather than merely a copy of the idea of a plant or animal, Gothic art cultivated both individual variation and a closer study of nature. This naturalism can be seen in the individual species of vegetation and foliage appearing on the capitals of columns and in the extensive variety of flora adorning the entire building. In contrast to the inorganic treatment of nature in Classical art, the plants and animals in Gothic sculpture are very much alive. "Leaves and buds spring from growing stems, fruits depend naturally from their branches, animals live and leap."9 An interest in particular variation is expressed in animal and human figures (or in combinations of the two) by particular facial expressions or body gestures that convey a range of psychological states from anger, hatred, fear, and pain, to joy or ecstasy. According to Panofsky, the perspective interpretation of space in these carvings also involved a subjectiv-ism.10 Accurate perspective facilitated the naturalistic portrayal of individual forms as opposed to a symbolic equivalent for all forms. Extreme subjectivity, to the point of distortion, is comparably present in Gothic literature.
The subjective realism in Gothic sculpture led to both individualism and sensualism.
It is something new and stupendous in medieval ideas that the divine is no longer sought in non-sensuous abstractions, which lie beyond all that is earthly and human, in a realm of supernatural in-variables, but in the center of the ego, in the mirror of self-contemplation, in the intoxication of psychical ecstasy. It is an entirely new human self-consciousness, an entirely new human pride, that deems the poor human ego worthy to become the vessel of God. Thus, mysticism is nothing but the belief in the divinity of the human soul, for the soul can look upon God only because divine itself.11
A self-conscious egoism and a reinsertion of the divine within the human is displayed in Gothic literature through the self-consciousness and egocentricity of its characters and through its general descendental mood. Besides human deification, the negative depiction of humanity and divinity (as seen in Gothic villains) is not totally absent in Gothic art, either. It is immediately apparent in the grotesque aspects of Gothic carving, but also in a progressive divisibility in Gothic architecture, the separation into smaller and smaller parts, that may in a hidden way hint of a breakdown, of decomposition, of individualism to the point of isolation. "The Northern individualizing process lead … to self-negation to self-contempt. Individual character is here felt to be something negative, in fact, even something sinful."12 Hence the mystical need to transcend the self and the tragic inability to do so in the context of Gothic descendentalism.
The grotesque element in Gothic art, in gargoyles and carvings and even in altarpieces, is probably the most obvious parallel between Gothic art and literature. As was the case in Gothic literature, the grotesque in Gothic art is not achieved by an outright departure from reality but by a distortion of it or by unusual combinations. Naturalism is not really abandoned. In Moore's words:
A remarkable quality of the grotesque creations of Gothic art is the close and accurate observation of nature which they, no less than the images of real things, display. However fabulous the imaged creature may be, the materials out of which he is made are derived from nature. Whether it be vertebra or claw, wing or beak, eye or nostril, throat or paw—every anatomical member displays an intimate familiarity with the true functional form, and an imaginative sense of its possible combinations with other members.13
The horror in these creatures is not otherworldly but disturbingly familiar; it is the more frightening for its fusion of good and evil, beauty and ugliness.
The Gothic refusal in literature to be limited to the beautiful or the moral is likewise a part of Gothic art.
The representation of physical beauty being, with the Gothic carver, subordinated to the purpose of enforcing that the soul is more than the body, and of illustrating the doctrine of the salvation of the soul by the goodnes of life, and the loss of the soul by evil life, it was necessary that beings and things not beautiful should enter into his compositions. The evils that beset the lives and souls of men had to be in some way set forth, no less than the good things he is permitted to enjoy. The unhappy lot of the wicked had to be figured as well as the felicities of the good. Hence conspicuous elements in Gothic sculpture, especially after the beginning of the thirteenth century, are the monstrous and the grotesque … and these elements have a value apart from their moral significance, as affording contrasts to the forms of beauty.14
Moore contrasts the principle of "inclusion" in Gothic art with that of "selection" in Classical art. The Greek artist selected the beautiful and rejected the ugly or imprecise, whereas the Gothic artist sought to represent the greatest vision and thus favored a principle of addition rather than elimination, indicating that beauty may coexist with imperfection in the wider range of existence. The principle that Moore calls inclusion Panofsky terms synthesis and totality, a totality rendered even more effective by the simultaneous subdivision in Gothic art. A greater breadth and greater vision—inevitably a vision of infinity—permeates both Gothic literature and art.
The inclusion of the ugly may also be related to the Gothic esteem for power. Moore noticed the importance of power in Gothic art. "This distinction between beauty of expression and power of expression is immediately applicable to the whole character of the two stylistic phenomena of Classic and Gothic art."15 "Classical architecture culminates … in beauty of expression, Gothic architecture in power of expression; the former speaks the language of organic existence, the latter the language of abstract values."16
Just as Gothic architecture amplifies the intensity of reality, it expands its range by simultaneously exploring inward and outward, the minute and the immense. The tiniest of decorations are located within a towering edifice, and fragile pieces of colored glass are set in stone. The small and delicate aspects of Gothic architecture direct our attention inward toward an infinity of tinier and tinier divisions, progressive divisibility pointing toward a world within worlds too small to be seen. During the height of the Gothic development supports were divided into main, major, minor, and subminor shafts; the tracery of windows, blind arcades, and triforia were subdivided into primary, secondary, and tertiary profiles and millions of ever-increasing complexity; and the arches and ribs were split into a series of moldings. These progressive divisions contrast with the enormous height and size of the exterior and the open, boundless interior, which direct our attention upward and outward toward an infinity of larger and larger proportions, toward the world beyond worlds too large and distant to be seen. The expansion in either of these directions challenges the mind to imagine the unimaginable.
In its erosive sense, divisibility in Gothic art may suggest fragmentation, disintegration, and decay, but in a cumulative sense, multiplication and repetition create the effect of infinite complication. With the ceaseless repetition of towers and pinnacles, the compounding of moldings and shafts, and the elaboration of lacelike spokes of tracery in windows, portals, arches, and buttressing, variety and complexity replace simplicity and contribute to the predominant sense of movement in Gothic art, a dynamism that parallels the fast-moving action of plot and the pervasive emotional agitation in the Gothic novel.
The great within toward which Gothic architecture points in its tiny intricacies and divisions-within-divisions is analogous to the great within in Gothic literature—the psychological recesses of the mind, the remote secrets of the unconscious. The great beyond in Gothic architecture suggested by greater and greater proportions and by the upward, vertical thrust can be compared to the great beyond in Gothic literature—the world of the supernatural, of forces beyond reason, knowledge, and control. Gothic architecture juxtaposes extremes of size, weight, and mass in much the same way that Gothic literature juxtaposes extremes of color, sound, setting, and character. (Gothic sculpture of the Middle Ages and the foliage and animals that ornamented the cathedral were often painted in simple, contrasting colors, as were the decorative borders of illuminated manuscripts.) Sharp contrasts can also be seen texturally in the sculptured drapery on figures where the ridges are pronounced with deep hollows between them.
A contrast in thrust is operative in the flying buttresses where, in a sense, the building has been built too high to support itself. An overextension of height leads to an excessive outward pressure that must be countered by the inward pressure of the flying buttresses with added weight from the towers. A juxtaposition of excessive thrusts maintains the structure rather than an initial, self-contained equilibrium.
Persistent repetition is a key technique in Gothic art contributing to a sense of infinity. Repetition is crucial to any form of art, be it in a repeating color scheme, basic linear patterns, or selected motifs, but in Gothic art repetition is less modified. In Classical art, repeated lines and forms usually appear in reverse, creating a mirror image to complement the original and conveying a sense of completion and serenity. Hurried, mechanical repetition is always avoided in the Classical. In Gothic art, however, a ceaseless pounding of identical strokes suggests the infinite persistence of a particular form. Such reappearance at regular intervals creates the type of immediacy that Edgar Allan Poe produced through auditory repetitions, such as the ticking of a clock, the dripping of water, or a pounding heart. In Gothic architecture vertical lines repeat themselves from pillar to pillar, and in Northern ornament and Gothic sculpture repetition continues without accentuation or pause, building to a state of frenzy. Some critics consider this exalted hysteria the distinguishing characteristic of Gothic art. Every inch of available space is covered with ceaseless activity. Gothic art is never still as it pushes for greater visual awareness. "It uses the tumult of sensations to lift itself out of itself."17 This is the same intoxication and indulgence displayed in Gothic literature.
A strong movement propels the entire structure of Gothic architecture both vertically and horizontally. Pointed arches obviously accentuate an upward motion, yet they also contribute to a longitudinal direction in that they make possible the vaulting of oblong areas. (With the rounded arch only square areas could be vaulted.) Furthermore, with the use of pointed arches, both the bays and the main aisles could rise together. The addition of ribs to cross vaulting (and the more important structural innovation of having the ribs bear the weight of the vaults) also created a sense of linear movement and produced the illusion of rising height at the center point where the sectroids meet. The attached columns that join the pillars to the ribs give even heavy pillars a sense of soaring movement as the eye is led upward to the peak of the vault. The body of Gothic architecture has "taut sinews and pliant members … without any superfluous flesh or any superfluous mass"18 like the lean, bony, angular characters whose quick, furtive movements and dramatic actions hurry the pace in Gothic novels. The double movement in Gothic architecture can be contrasted with the single movement in earlier church architecture. Artistically, the early Christian basilica had one definite goal—the altar. The Gothic cathedral moves both toward the altar and toward heaven (although the vertical movement is clearly stronger). The simplicity of the basilica with its single, tangible goal gives way in the Gothic to a less definite, infinite location.
In a philosophical if not visual manner, the use of perspective in the interpretation of space, mentioned earlier in connection with the grotesque, lends "visual expression to the concept of the infinite; for the perspective vanishing point can be defined only as the projection of the point in which parallels intersect."19 Intellectually, the inclusion of endless variety in the representation of different plants and animals also points toward infinity by informing the viewer of the unending variety of God's creation. These carvings "induce a sense of infinity by permitting the beholder to submerge his being in the boundlessness of the Creator Himself."20
Beyond the suggestion of infinity, repetition functions as an organizing principle in Gothic art that replaces symmetry. In Northern ornament there is little attempt to harness the activity of the line or force it to conform to the rules of balance and proportion. There is rarely a center in these ornaments, and when a center is present, the movement is peripheral rather than radial. (The eye follows the pattern round and round on the periphery.) In the eccentric Northern ornament the eye is led through a labyrinth without the pattern of a self-contained whole. "Every point in this endless movement is of equal value and all of them combined are without value compared with the agitation they produce."21 Asymmetry communicates a living dynamism; it is not absolute, like a geometric figure, and is lifelike in its irregularities. Gothic architecture is also markedly asymmetrical; the building is without a center; one side need not mirror the other. Just as the line in Gothic ornament does not circumscribe a space, so too in Gothic architecture lines indicate movement rather than encompass an area. Space is not shaped and enclosed but dissected. The internal volume is not defined by firm walls or shaped by an arching vault, for Gothic architecture gradually perfected a rudimentary skeleton of piers, arches, and buttresses that freed the walls from structural support and thus from their inert massiveness.
In Gothic literature plot and characters are often stereotyped and repetitive. We follow them through a maze of ceaseless complications that seem to defy organization as well as the laws of probability. The plot structure itself is asymmetrical insofar as it is often difficult to locate the climax toward which the action builds and from which it declines. A rapid palpitation prolonged uninterruptedly replaces development. In the Gothic novel the process rather than the outcome is crucial. (Try to remember the resolution in The Castle of Otranto, The Mysteries of Udolpho, or even Dracula.)
Both Gothic art and Gothic literature are not self-contained. Symmetry and centricity create a sense of order and completion. We see it all; all is controlled. Gothic creation, however, is "on the way"; it is incomplete. The work of art spreads out from itself at will and goes where the forces of chance or fate may take it. In the end there is no pattern, no answer. The process of life for the Gothic soul is beyond reason, and contact with life takes place beyond the confines of orderly illusions or restrictive limitations. Gothicism tells people that they must surrender to the process of living and to the forces of an uncertain future. In this surrender one is heedless of the balancing principles of art or society. The goal is the process itself, an intensified perception of a limitless reality.
1. Philip Hallie, The Paradox of Cruelty (Middleton, Conn.: Wesleyan University Press, 1969), p. 67.
2. Wilhelm Worringer, Form in Gothic (London: G. P. Putnam's Sons, Ltd., 1927), p. 41.
3. Andrew Martindale, Gothic Art (New York: Frederick A. Praeger Publishers, 1967), p. 140.
4. Lamprecht, quoted in Worringer, Form in Gothic, p. 41.
5. Worringer, Form in Gothic, p. 42.
7. Ibid., pp. 44-45.
8. Wilhelm Worringer, Form Problems of the Gothic (New York: G. E. Strechert and Company, 1912), p. 97.
9. Charles Herbert Moore, The Development and Character of Gothic Architecture (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1890), p. 24.
10. Erwin Panofsky, Gothic Architecture and Scholasticism (New York: Meridian Books, 1960), p. 16.
11. Worringer, Form Problems, p. 139.
12. Ibid., pp. 144-45.
13. Moore, Development and Character, p. 266.
14. Ibid., p. 265.
15. Ibid., p. 51.
16. Ibid., p. 87.
17. Worringer, Form in Gothic, p. 73.
18. Worringer, Form Problems, p. 120.
19. Panofsky, Gothic Architecture, p. 17.
20. Ibid., p. 19.
21. Worringer, Form in Gothic, p. 54.
AGNES ADDISON (ESSAY DATE 1938)
SOURCE: Addison, Agnes. "Romanticism and the Gothic Revival." In Romanticism and the Gothic Revival, pp. 144-52. New York: Richard R. Smith, 1938.
In the following essay, Addison provides an overview of the Gothic Revival movement in Europe and the United States during the nineteenth century.
If there had been no Romantic Movement, there would have been no Gothic Revival. If the classic spirit, which is content with gradual and continuous growth, had continued throughout the eighteenth century, the architectural style of the nineteenth century would have been modified Renaissance. But as romanticism, with its spirit of discontent and love of change, disrupted the natural evolution of history and architectural styles, the nineteenth century resulted in a period of eclecticism. The two most important styles of the Romantic period were connected with the two dominating ideals of the nineteenth century, democracy and nationalism. The Greek Revival was the expression of the former, and the Gothic Revival of the latter. And even as democratic idealism was in large measure superseded by imperialistic nationalism, so the Greek Revival was followed by the Gothic Revival.
The whole history of the Gothic Revival in England from the time of Batty Langley until the present is closely connected with the history of romanticism. No architectural style has been less associated with aesthetics and abstract principles of art. That would require more objectivity than is compatible with the romantic spirit.
In the eighteenth century the artistic interest in the Gothic was confined to decoration. At that time it was almost wholly divorced from Christianity. It was used for garden architecture and for dwellings. What could be more romantic than a sham ruin when romantic was defined as fantastic and fictitious?
Nothing is more displeasing to a classicist than a ruin, for he enjoys the completed whole. On the other hand, nothing is more pleasing to the romantic temperament, which likes the unfinished, the incomplete, for then there is always the possibility of change. The following quotations well express the romantic attitude. The first was written by Shenstone in the middle of the eighteenth century, and the second by A. J. Downing in the middle of the nineteenth.
"Ruinated structures appear to derive their power of pleasing from the irregularity of surface which is variety; and the latitude they afford the imagination to conceive an enlargement of their dimensions, or to recollect any events, or circumstances appertaining to their pristine grandeur and solemnity."1
"It is but a mile from Newport to Carisbrook Castle, one of the most interesting old Ruins in England. It crowns a fine hill, and from the top of its ruined towers, you look over a lovely landscape of hill and vale, picturesque villages, and green meadows. The castle, itself, with its fortifications, covers perhaps half a dozen acres, and is just in that state of ruin and decay, best calculated to excite the imagination, and send one upon a voyage into dreamland."2
The eighteenth century was looking for something different rather than something new. It was not so interested in creation, as in adaptation. Therefore any artistic style which had been used before or elsewhere was pleasing. It was a century of talent rather than of genius; an age of refinement rather than of innovation. The Adam brothers refined Roman art and Batty Langley attempted to refine the Gothic. There was some scholarship, but more dilettantism. Eighteenth-century Gothic reflects all these characteristics.
A stanza from the Lay of the Last Minstrel by Sir Walter Scott sums up the purely romantic approach to the appreciation of a mediaeval building. The subjective, emotional reaction is of paramount importance, therefore,—
"If thou would'st view fair Melrose aright,
Go visit it by the pale moonlight;
For the gay beams of lightsome day
Gild, but to flout, the ruins gray."
About 1820 the attitude toward the Gothic changed. The architects, at least, instead of looking at the old buildings sentimentally began studying them carefully. The archaeological approach followed the emotional; instead of hiding the outlines of a Gothic building in trees and shrubs, they began drawing them mathematically to scale. The sentimental attitude has not completely died out even today and it continued throughout the last century. A. W. Pugin gives a good description of the tourist of about 1835. "… the third class are persons who go to see the church. They are tourists; They go to see everything that is to be seen; therefore they see the church,—id est, they walk round, read the epitaphs, think it very pretty, very romantic, very old, suppose that it was built in superstitious times, pace the length of the nave, write their names on a pillar, and whisk out, as they have a great deal more to see and very little time."4
ON THE SUBJECT OF …
WILLIAM BLAKE (1757–1827)
Romantic poet and artist William Blake had no formal schooling, but he learned to read and write at home. At the age of ten he was sent to Henry Pars's drawing school. The family could not afford further instruction in art, so at fourteen Blake was apprenticed to an engraver, James Basire. At one point during his apprenticeship, Basire sent Blake to West-minster Abbey to draw monuments that Basire had been hired to engrave; the Gothic atmosphere of the church influenced Blake's imagination and his artistic style. It was at this time that he began writing poetry. In 1779 Blake left his apprenticeship and enrolled briefly at the Royal Academy before setting out to make his living as an engraver. In 1787 Blake's favorite brother, Robert, died. Blake had been tending to Robert in his final illness and was with him when he died. Later Blake had a vision in which, he claimed, Robert visited him and showed him the technique of "illuminated writing," or relief-etching. This process consisted of producing a text and a drawing on a copper plate with an acid-resistant liquid; the plate was then dipped in acid, which ate away the untreated surfaces and left the text and drawing in relief; Blake would then print the design on paper and color it with watercolors. He used the method for all of his books, beginning in 1788 with There Is No Natural Religion, a collection of aphorisms. Blake exemplified the revolutionary spirit of the Gothic in both his written and visual artistic endeavors. Blake's engravings depicting Biblical themes are evocative of Gothic illuminated manuscripts, and his paintings in A Descriptive Catalogue of Pictures, Poetical and Historical Inventions (1809) anticipate the supernaturalism of the Gothic revival. In addition, Blake's writing, including The (First) Book of Urizen (1794), contains many Gothic elements, including doppelgängers, the supernatural, the demonic, and the treatment of socially taboo subjects.
Nevertheless, the archaeological and scientific interest in Gothic was beginning among a small group as early as 1820. The elder Pugin was drawing Gothic details to a mathematical scale. At the same time Rickman was trying to give a stylistic label to each phase of mediaeval building. The purely emotional appreciation of the Gothic was being replaced by a more minute and painstaking study of the architectural remains of the Middle Ages.
About a decade later in England there was a wave of religious feeling which manifested itself in various ways. Perhaps most important were the Tractarians at Oxford and the Ecclesiologists at Cambridge. Both felt that the only way to improve divine worship was to improve church planning, and that by making churches conform to the liturgy and rubrics, the services would naturally improve. The only known type of architecture which conformed to the old usage was the Gothic. Hence they advocated the revival of Gothic for religious reasons, and in the '40's a moral consideration was added to the appreciation of the Gothic.
It may seem strange that the Romanticists were content with the Gothic instead of creating a new style. But the eighteenth century did not want anything completely original, merely adaptations of many different styles. Chambers built a Chinese pagoda with gilt dragons in Kew Gardens. It was as much admired and marvelled at as Walpole's Gothic Strawberry Hill or the classical façades and interiors of the Adams.
"Variety's the very spice of life
That gives it all its flavour."
Those lines from The Task by Cowper, published in 1785, might well be the motto of the second half of the eighteenth century.
By the early nineteenth century and the beginning of the Romantic Movement, the Gothic had come to symbolize certain of the aims and aspirations of the period. No new art could have been more symbolic, more expressive of the nineteenth-century manifestation of the romantic spirit. Gothic was non-classical, closely connected with Christianity, with national history. It appeared to be fantastic, imaginative, irrational and emotional. They saw in it the reproduction in stone of the primeval forests. Almost every aspect of their new attitude toward art and life they saw in Gothic architecture. Therefore, naturally, the architects did not attempt to create a new style when an old one would most perfectly fit the taste of their clients. The Middle Ages as seen through romantic spectacles seemed very good to most people and they were content to have a Gothical house to live in, and later in the century, people felt morally better to worship in an Early Decorated church. No other architectural style would have suited the mediaevalists, so there had to be a Gothic Revival. An etching by Pugin well sums up one attitude of the period: one Gothic cathedral is worth more than ten Renaissance buildings: "They were weighed in the balance and found wanting."
In England the Gothic Revival was not dependent on the literature of the Romantic Movement to any great extent, for none of the greatest of the School, except Walter Scott, were interested in the Middle Ages. The reason for that was that Shakespeare and early ballads were no novelty to the English as they were to the Germans and French. In England, there had been no far-reaching classicism to stamp out the late mediaeval literature. Even in the Augustan Age Spenser was read and admired. Therefore the English Romantics, in their quest for change, could not turn to the authors whose work was always read. Instead, Wordsworth received mystic inspiration from Nature, Shelley and Keats from antique Greece, and Byron from the Orient. In England, there were two phases of the Gothic Revival: the secular revival of the eighteenth century which was more closely connected with the literature of the period; and the ecclesiastical revival of the nineteenth century which was connected with the reform of the Anglican church.
In France the literature of the Romantic Movement was more important in forming an interest in Gothic architecture, especially Chateaubriand's Le Génie, and Hugo's Notre Dame. But the classic tradition was so strong in France that they could not accept modern Gothic as a usable style, but contented themselves by restoring the mediaeval monuments, by archaeology and history.
In Germany, the spirit of the literature of the Romantic Movement and that which animated the building of modern Gothic, seem to be most closely connected, for both express the coming nationalism.
The Gothic Revival in the United States is an importation from England. At first it seems most incongruous, for it has not even the excuse of being a reminder of former national greatness. On reflection, both the Gothic Revival and the eclecticism of American architecture are seen to be true expressions of American history. The Colonies became a nation in the Romantic period, and romantic ideas were in large measure responsible for the formation of American ideals. The keynote of American civilization was given in the often quoted words of Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence. "We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and pursuit of happiness." That sentence might be called the epitome of romantic political thought, and it has molded the attitude of the citizens of the United States to the present day, and most especially that of the immigrants. It is by recognition of the fundamental romanticism of the United States that the present inconsistencies in its civilization become understandable. Love of change might better be the motto of the United States than e pluribus unum. So if this romantic attitude be accepted, it is not surprising that the romantic style of the Gothic Revival flourishes in the United States.
The most reiterated criticism of Gothic Revival architecture runs as follows: Architecture must conform to the spirit of the time in which it is built. It must conform to the main characteristics of the age in material, construction and design. The nineteenth century was an age of mechanical inventions, of the growth of democratic theory in government, of trade and industry, of materialism and agnosticism. It was as completely different from the Middle Ages as was possible in government, social conditions and religious feeling. Therefore every building of the Gothic Revival was false to the spirit of the age, and in consequence cannot be considered as good architecture. This criticism has grown out of a one-sided interpretation of the nineteenth century. It ignores the importance of the Romantic Movement.
As early as 1870 when Eastlake was writing his History of the Gothic Revival, people were beginning to feel that it was incongruous to erect buildings in a Gothic style in the nineteenth century. Eastlake, himself, writes, "At first it may seem strange that a style of design which is intimately associated with the romance of the world's history should now-a-days find favour in a country distinguished above all others for the plain business-like tenour of its daily life."6 And at heart, although he was a Gothic Revivalist, he did find it strange.
But thirty years earlier, when Pugin was writing his Apology for the Revival of Christian Architecture in England, the Gothic Revival was at its strongest and no such doubt of its fitness had entered his mind. He wrote as follows: "It will not be difficult to show that the wants and purposes of Civil Buildings now are almost identical with those of our English forefathers. In the first place, climate, which necessarily regulates the pitch of roofs, light, warmth, and internal arrangement, remains of course precisely the same as formerly. Secondly, we are governed by nearly the same laws and the same system of political economy. The Sovereign, with the officers of state connected with the crown,—the Houses of Peers and Commons,—the judges of the various courts of law, and form of trial,—the titles and rank of the nobility,—the tenures by which their lands are held, and the privileges they enjoy,—the corporate bodies and civic functionaries,—are all essentially the same as in former days. There is no country in Europe which has preserved so much of her ancient system as England."7
These two quotations shows the difference in attitude toward the Gothic Revival even during the nineteenth century. So long as the spirit of the Romantic Movement was prevalent, the Gothic Revival expressed the spirit of romanticism. But later, when that spirit was almost crushed out by Victorian materialism, the Gothic Revival was no longer a vital style and it did seem strange that England should be dotted with modern Gothic buildings.
But whether current taste says that the Gothic Revival is good or bad, it is at least one of the most lasting and tangible legacies of the Romantic Movement, and shows that the nineteenth century was not completely engrossed by Progress, Industry, Science and the Future, but, also, looked backward to discover the Middle Ages.
1. Shenstone, [William]. Essays on Men and Manners, p. 67.
2. Downing, [Andrew]. Rural Essays, p. 525.
3. Scott, [Sir Walter]. Lay of the Last Minstrel, Canto II, st. 1.
4. Pugin, Contrasts, p. 36.
5. Cowper, The Task, Bk. 2, l. 606.
6. Eastlake, op. cit., p. 2.
7. A. W. Pugin, Apology, p. 37.
Langely, Batty and Thomas. Ancient Architecture Restored and Improved. London, 1742.
Langley, Batty and Thomas. Gothic Architecture Improved. 2nd ed. of foregoing work with new title. London, 1747.
This is the first architectural work to be devoted to Gothic architecture since the Renaissance. It has been much criticized but it is a sincere attempt to analyze the styles of mediaeval architecture. His historical theories have all been proved wrong. He thought that the Gothic, or Saxon, as he preferred to name it, style was formed before the Danish invasions. Yet, as a pioneer and example of the mid-eighteenth century fad for the Gothic, it is important.
Pugin, A. W. Contrasts. London, 1836. 2nd revised edition, London, 1841.
One of the most brilliant and stimulating books written by an architect, glowing with the fiery zeal and enthusiasm of a convert to Rome. The central theme that the world and art were good before the Reformation and the Renaissance perverted religion and aesthetics has since been often echoed by Catholic historians. The plates contrasting fifteenth and nineteenth-century architecture are as good propaganda as the text.
Pugin, A. W. An Apology for the Revival of Christian Architecture in England. London, 1843.
The first book points out in what a bad state architecture is and the second shows how it can be improved by a sincere and conscientious rival of "Christian" styles.
Eastlake, Charles L. A History of the Gothic Revival. London, 1872.
The first and only book giving a detailed history of the Gothic Revival in England. Absolutely indispensable.
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ON THE SUBJECT OF …
ALEXANDER JACKSON DAVIS (1803–1892)
Alexander Jackson Davis was a leading figure of the nineteenth-century Gothic revival in American architecture. Picturesqueness was predominant in all Davis's works, including his design for Glen Ellen (1832), the Maryland residence of Robert Gilmor III. Yet in his last major project, an unsuccessful submission in the 1867 competition for the New York City Post Office, he designed a metal and glass structure which clearly presaged twentieth-century "functional" concepts. Far from being contradictory, however, both picturesqueness and functionalism were from the first inherent in the American—as distinct from English or French—Gothic revival. In America, Gothic revival architecture never challenged the Roman or Greek revival in mass popularity; indeed, its associations were fundamentally "anti-establishment." Gothic was an "arty" style, associated with the idea of the "natural man." There was always something eccentric about it: a typical example was the exaggerated asymmetry and anticlassical proportions of Davis's H. K. Harral house in Bridgeport, Conn. (ca. 1846; demolished). Such stylistic self-consciousness inevitably encouraged self-conscious formalism—emphasis on the "naturalness" of Gothic forms and structure as an end in itself—and thence to the kind of "functionalism" exhibited in Davis's 1867 Post Office design. For historical reasons, however, the picturesque side of Gothic revival architecture predominated in America so that its chief legacy was the Arts and Crafts movement of about 1890 to about 1910, prefaced by the Romanesque of H. H. Richardson and climaxed by the early work of Louis Sullivan and Frank Lloyd Wright. Combining something of both trends, Davis has claim to be the most representative of all American Gothic revivalists.
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KERRY DEAN CARSO (ESSAY DATE DECEMBER 2002)
SOURCE: Carso, Kerry Dean. "Diagnosing the 'Sir Walter Disease': American Architecture in the Age of Romantic Literature." Mosaic 35, no. 4 (December 2002): 121-42.
In the following essay, Carso demonstrates how Gothic literature influenced Gothic Revival architecture in the United States, particularly the designs of architect Alexander Jackson Davis.
When a client commissioned American Gothic Revival architect Alexander Jackson Davis (1803–1892) to design a house, the first thing Davis wanted to know was his client's reading habits. Davis wrote to one client, "It is impossible for me to tell what expression to give the exterior that will answer your own beau ideal unless I am better acquainted with your temper! That is, whether you read Shakespeare more than Thomson; Moore more than Collins; or Homer at all; either in the Iliad or Odyessy [sic]; or whether you read the great book of Nature" (emph. Davis's; Brendel-Pandich 79). Although Davis does not mention Ann Radcliffe or Horace Walpole here, he very well could have, because on Davis's bookshelf, along with Boydell's Shakespeare library, were a number of Gothic novels that he read on a regular basis.
Gothic novels and historical romances, such as those written by Sir Walter Scott, were devoured with pleasure by an avid reading audience. Walpole wrote his novel The Castle of Otranto as a method of escapism, a way of "exchanging what is called the realities of life for dreams" (letter to George Montagu, 5 January 1766, Correspondence X. 192). Recent critics have argued that Gothic literature is not an escapist form of literature—a way for readers to revel in nostalgic representations of an idealized past—but rather a literature reflective of the historical and cultural forces of contemporary life. For instance, in Gothic America: Narrative, History and Myth, Teresa A. Goddu argues that American Gothic literature should be read within an historical and racial context, rather than as an escapist literature. My interpretation negotiates between these two apparently conflictive approaches. I argue that Gothic literature does transport its reader to imaginary realms and bygone eras of castles and superstitious awe, and that people read Gothic novels to escape from the humdrum reality of real life, but, like any form of cultural production, Gothic literature cannot help but engage with the time in which it is written. These two interpretations do not have to be mutually exclusive.
What is clear is that Gothic novels and historical romances influenced the architects and clients of American architecture quite seriously. Indeed, "works of the imagination" (as Davis labelled them in his catalogue of books) profoundly affected American architecture in the heyday of Gothic Revival design (the 1830s and 1840s). Scott's novels were particularly widely read and admired. In Europe, as in the United States, Scott's fiction and his home Abbotsford had a large influence on later European architecture, as critic Charles L. Eastlake acknowledged in the nineteenth century (115).
ON THE SUBJECT OF …
L. N. COTTINGHAM (1787–1847)
Architect Cottingham became interested in the preservation of medieval architecture and in the design and construction of structures built in the Gothic style while studying Westminster Hall and the Chapel of Henry VII in his early thirties. Cottingham's passionate defense and promotion of Gothic Revival architecture departed from the majority of English architects and scholars, who favored Classicism. Cottingham's archeological and preservationist approach to architecture was unique and influenced both his contemporaries and his successors. While most of his original architectural work has been destroyed or restored in a contrasting style, Cottingham's role in preserving medieval structures and the education of his colleagues and the public about Gothic and Gothic Revival architecture had a lasting impact on nineteenth-century English architecture. His work exerted a tremendous influence on later artists and scholars, including A. W. N. Pugin and John Ruskin.
For the most part, architectural historians have failed to examine the complex interrelationships between Gothic Revival architecture and Gothic literature. One notable exception is William Pierson, who acknowledges the influence of Scott and Walpole (who both built influential Gothic Revival houses) in his important book American Buildings and Their Architects: Technology and the Picturesque, The Corporate and the Early Gothic Styles. But Pierson never mentions Gothic novelists such as Ann Radcliffe and Charles Maturin, both of whom held a prominent place on the reading lists of Gothic Revival architects and clients alike. In the end, formal analysis takes precedence over cultural history in Pierson's approach. Besides Pierson's book, there are three other major architectural histories on the American Gothic Revival in this period: Phoebe Stanton's The Gothic Revival and American Church Architecture: An Episode in Taste, 1840–1856; Calder Loth and Julius T. Sadler Jr.'s The Only Proper Style: Gothic Architecture in America; and Wayne Andrews's American Gothic: Its Origins, Its Trials, Its Triumphs. Stanton's book is limited to ecclesiastical Gothic and is now three decades old, while The Only Proper Style and American Gothic are aimed at a popular audience.
In general, the study of nineteenth-century Gothic Revival architecture has been limited to formal analyses and attempts to see the style as prefiguring later architectural movements. About Gothic Revival architects such as Davis and Richard Upjohn, architectural historian Talbot Hamlin writes: "Creation, not nostalgia, was their brightly burning torch" (3). Hamlin highlights how these architects were innovators in the new materials of glass and iron. Often, architectural historians attempt to place Gothic Revival buildings into a modernist continuum, as if the style's relationship to modernism is the only way in which it can be redeemed. Epitomizing this kind of analysis is Vincent Scully's book The Shingle Style and the Stick Style: Architectural Theory and Design from Richardson to the Origins of Wright. In this seminal book, Scully argues that Andrew Jackson Downing's advocacy of wooden cottages, often in a Gothic Revival mode and harmonizing with their rural environment, prefigured twentieth-century architecture. Inspired by Scully, James Early's book Romanticism and American Architecture argues that nineteenth-century Romantic functionalist theory, especially the work of A. J. Downing, influenced Modern architects, and Frank Lloyd Wright in particular.
My approach in this essay is different. Rather than analyze Gothic Revival architecture in light of proto-modernist innovations, my aim is to place the style in its historical and cultural context. Examining American romanticism in architecture in light of the contemporaneous Gothic novel-reading craze reveals new interpretative possibilities. My goal is to recreate the intellectual climate of the period. In this sense, my approach to the Gothic is revisionist.
In the past few decades, Gothic literature has experienced a renaissance of sorts. Scholarly books and articles on the Gothic have proliferated, while paperback editions of long-forgotten Gothic novels have become available. With the waning popularity of Gothic novels in the second quarter of the nineteenth century came obscurity. It was not until the 1920s and 1930s when Gothic literature became a subject for serious scholarly study, beginning with Edith Birkhead's The Tale of Terror: A Study of the Gothic Romance and Montague Summers's The Gothic Quest: A History of the Gothic Novel. These pioneering works were followed by Devendra Varma's The Gothic Flame: Being a History of the Gothic Novel in England. Because of its irrationality and mystery, the Gothic novel lends itself to psychoanalytic interpretations. One of the best-known psychoanalytic studies of American Gothic is Leslie Fiedler's Love and Death in the American Novel (first published in 1960). In the 1970s and beyond, feminist scholars have begun examining Gothic literature, focussing on women writers and women readers. Recently, a wide range of approaches including poststructuralism, queer theory, postcolonial theory, and Marxism have been applied to the Gothic genre with provocative results. With this new interest and the elevation of Gothic literary studies, we can now look at the effect of Gothic literature on other cultural expressions, including art and architecture.
But, even with this recent explosion of Gothic criticism, scholars have failed to juxtapose Gothic novels and dramas with archival architectural sources to explore the interrelationship between literature and architecture in the United States in the first half of the nineteenth century. My goal is to reveal these connections. The scholars who have rescued the Gothic novel from literary history's dust heap have provided cultural historians with a base from which to examine the sweeping influence of this significant literary genre. In the United States, Gothic novels and Scott's historical romances (which were inspired by Gothic pioneers Walpole and Radcliffe), had an enormous impact on architecture in the period between 1800 and 1850. The groundwork in Gothic literary scholarship allows us to move beyond literature to examine how the Gothic seeps into other forms of artistic creation.
One of the earliest American architects to enjoy Gothic novels was Benjamin Henry Latrobe (1764–1820). Although born in Great Britain and educated in Europe, Latrobe immigrated to the United States at the age of thirty-one, arriving in March 1796. About three months after relocating to Virginia, Latrobe wrote in his journal that he found Radcliffe's descriptions of buildings so "successful" that he "once endeavored to plan the Castle of Udolpho from [Radcliffe's] account of it and found it impossible" (Latrobe 166).
Latrobe began experimenting with Gothic architectural forms for residential design in the United States in 1799. Latrobe's Gothic work includes Sedgeley (built for William Crammond near Philadelphia in 1799 and considered the first Gothic Revival house in the United States); the Baltimore Cathedral design (unexecuted; 1805); Christ Church in Washington, DC (1806–07); the Bank of Philadelphia (1807–08); and St. Paul's in Alexandria, Virginia (1817). But, overall, Latrobe's Gothic output pales in comparison to his rational neoclassical efforts such as the Bank of Pennsylvania (1799–1801). Although Latrobe's landscape paintings display an intense interest in the picturesque and his interiors (such as the south wing of the United States Capitol, 1804–06; altered c. 1818–27) betray these leanings (Cohen and Brownell 15-24), in general, his Gothic Revival buildings are not full-blown picturesque. Indeed, his Gothic Revival designs are symmetrical with superficial Gothic detailing. For example, Sedgeley is a geometric form gothicized by the placement of pointed arch windows in the pavilions that protrude from the corners of the house. Despite this Gothic touch, there is little mystery or surprise in store for the observer of Latrobe's Gothic creations. Although he clearly read Radcliffe's books and was quite possibly influenced by them, he did not translate the mysterious, rambling architectural spaces of her stories into his own architecture.
Other American architects, too, dabbled in Gothic Revival design before the 1830s. Some notable examples include Maxmilian Godefroy's St. Mary's Seminary in Baltimore (1806); Charles Bulfinch's Federal Street Church in Boston (1809); and the unexecuted design for Columbia College (1813) by James Renwick Sr., engineer and father of the architect James Renwick. Daniel Wadsworth, who designed for himself a Gothic Revival villa called Monte Video (c. 1805–1809) near Hartford, Connecticut, explained that, to him, the Gothic style was not inherently menacing as are the castles and convents of Gothic novels: "There is nothing in the mere forms or embellishments of the pointed style […] in the least adapted to convey to the mind the impression of Gothic Gloom" (qtd. in Andrews 38, emph. Wadsworth's). His house bears out this belief; Gothic details appear as an afterthought, a decorative motif rather than a programmatic agenda.
It was not until the 1830s and 1840s that American Gothic Revival architecture came of age. The most prominent designer of Gothic residences in this period was Davis. Davis was born in New York City in 1803 and, during his boyhood, lived in New Jersey and New York. When he was sixteen, he moved to Alexandria, Virginia, to learn a trade with his older brother Samuel. Davis worked as a type compositor in the newspaper office. Besides work, his four years at Alexandria were filled with two of his favourite activities: reading and acting. An amateur actor who performed in several plays while he was in Virginia, Davis was a voracious reader as well. His two pocket diaries from this period, preserved at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, are filled with youthful exuberance. Elaborately illustrated (Davis was an aspiring artist as well), these diaries reveal an acute interest in Gothic fiction and dark drama. Often, Davis would begin an entry with an illustration from a text, which would then be excerpted in his own handwriting. Among the dramas that he read and illustrated were Maturin's Bertram: or the Castle of St. Aldobrand and Heinrich Zschokke's Abaellino.
Maturin was an Irish Gothic novelist and dramatist who corresponded with an encouraging Scott. After reading Maturin's drama Bertram, Scott wrote that the character of Bertram had a "Satanic dignity which is often truly sublime" (qtd. in Lougy 42). Starring Edmund Kean, Bertram opened on 9 May 1816 at the Drury Lane Theatre in London, with the support of Lord Byron, who was impressed with the play. Bertram and Maturin's Gothic novel Melmoth the Wanderer were young Davis's favourites (Donoghue). In one of his pocket diaries, Davis made an illustration of the play's first act, showing a ship tossed on a stormy sea in view of a Gothic convent. On the shore are monks kneeling in prayer for the safety of the ship, which is captained by Bertram, the hero-villain of the play. The setting of the play is quintessentially Gothic from the "rock-based turrets" (3) of the convent to the moonlit "terrassed rampart" of the castle of Aldobrand (26). Davis copied an excerpt from the play into his diary and as the budding actor included Bertram in his list of recitations.
Heinrich Zschokke's Abaellino is a German drama that was translated and adapted to the American stage by William Dunlap and opened in New York on 11 February 1801. A popular play, it was performed in New York for the next twenty-five years and was also produced in Philadelphia, Boston, Albany, Charleston, and other American cities. Like Bertram, Abaellino is a fascinating Gothic hero-villain. Davis chooses Act I, Scene I to illustrate in his journal. In Davis's drawing, Abaellino sits sullenly in a "mean apartment," as it is described in the play. On the table are "a Bottle and Glasses, Chairs" (3). Such is the extent of the stage directions. Davis greatly elaborates this meagre description by adding what appear to be instruments of torture and weapons hanging on the wall. Alongside these mediaeval-looking implements are a shelf and more bottles, which hint at the wanton excess of the bandit lifestyle (do they contain poison? Liquor?). The figure of Abaellino is seated off-centre, a compositional choice that emphasizes the room rather than the figure. A Gothic representation, Davis's visualization of the bandit's chamber suggests the potential cruelty and perversity of the outlaws. One potential source for Davis's drawing is the stage set from a performance of the play in which Davis acted.
While he was a youth in Alexandria, Davis engaged in amateur theatricals and became interested in stage design. He dreamed of becoming a professional actor. Davis and his brother Samuel took part in the Philo-Dramatic Society, a group that performed plays in Alexandria. In his diary, he kept a list of his performances, which included Shakespearean tragedies (Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, King Lear) and contemporary pieces (Douglas, Lovers' Vows, Abaellino, and Venice Preserved). In the same diary in which Bertram and Abaellino appear, he illustrates "Bed Scene in Othello." Davis's illustration filters the Shakespearean scene through contemporary Gothic, emphasizing the mysterious flicker of the nightstand candle and the inky blackness of unknowable architectural spaces. Again, it is possible that Davis's representation of Othello derives from contemporary performances of the play that he witnessed. In the spring of 1823, on his way to New York City, Davis stopped in Baltimore where he made an attempt at professional acting by auditioning with a group of players from North Carolina. He was not selected, so he moved on to Wilmington, Delaware, where he performed "Rhetorical Entertainments" to support himself. Again, in Philadelphia and in New Brunswick, New Jersey, he attempted acting, but to no avail. These youthful experiences were just the beginning of Davis's lifelong interest in the theatre. Throughout his life, he advised builders on acoustics and sight lines in theatre design (Donoghue).
At the age of twenty, Davis moved to New York City, and his fascination with the theatre continued. In the evenings, he frequented the theatre and was on the free list at both the Park Theatre and the Castle Garden Theater in 1826 and 1828 (Donoghue). He also expressed his love of drama in his artistic work. In 1825, he completed a study for a proscenium featuring Egyptian columns and Greek bas-relief sculpture and numerous portraits of actors in character, including "Brutus in the Rostrum" and "Mr. Kemble as Roma" (Rebora 27).
That so early in his life Davis was fascinated with the theatre is significant to his later Gothic Revival architectural creations. The dramatic images he drew for his youthful diaries display his acute interest in stage design and scenography. Indeed, Gothic Revival architecture is inherently theatrical, a quality often commented upon by architecture critics. For instance, architectural historian William Pierson declares that Strawberry Hill "is a stage set. It was meant to create a special kind of environment, to accommodate the taste and vision of the owner" (Pierson 107, emph. Pierson's). Davis often used trompe-l'oeil materials to create theatrical effects, substituting plaster for stone. Davis's houses, then, become stage sets, in which the owners' mediaeval fantasies, inspired by Gothic romances, can take flight.
While still in Alexandria, Davis's sensible older brother bristled at what he perceived to be the younger Davis's useless pastime of reading Gothic books. Later in life, Davis wrote to William Dunlap about himself in the third person for Dunlap's History of the Rise and Progress of the Arts of Design in the United States: "Like another Franklin, strongly addicted to reading, he limited himself to the accomplishment of a fixed task, and being a quick compositor, he would soon complete it, and fly to his books, but not like Franklin, to books of science and useful learning, but to works of imagination, poetry, and the drama; whence, however, he imbibed a portion of that high imaginative spirit so necessary to constitute an artist destined to practise in the field of invention" (Dunlap 210). Davis's brother condemned such reading and turned Davis's attention to "history, biography and antiquities, to language and the first principles of the mathematics" (211). His brother's concern was perhaps warranted: one British critic lambasted Maturin's Bertram for its "rotten principles and a bastard sort of sentiment," while another felt that the play excited "undue compassion for worthless characters, or unjust admiration of fierce and unchristian qualities" (Ranger 16). His brother's admonitions taught the young Davis that reading Gothic novels was a frivolous activity. From the evidence of his diaries, it appears that Davis took little heed of his brother's warnings. In fact, he becomes a life-long reader of Gothic novels and plays.
The architectural allure of Gothic literature fascinated Davis. As a young man, Davis was known to "pass hours in puzzling over the plan of some ancient castle of romance, arranging the trap doors, subterraneous passages, and drawbridges, as pictorial embellishment was the least of his care, invention all his aim" (Dunlap 211). Any Gothic novel of the late eighteenth century may have been the subject of his artistic dreaming, but most likely he is referring here to either Walpole's The Castle of Otranto or Radcliffe's The Mysteries of Udolpho, two of the most popular and influential of the Gothic novels. Davis's catalogue of books show that he owned both books. One of his early architectural drawings from age fifteen (1818) survives at the Avery Library at Columbia University. The image depicts a partly ruinous labyrinthine space with a multitude of pointed arches leading to mysterious staircases (perhaps inspired by Giovanni Battista Piranesi's Carceri). Light filters in through barred windows. The architectural space of this dungeon is inherently unknowable. This drawing shows his early interest in the Gothic underworld, which is described in detail in The Castle of Otranto. The castle of Otranto contains intricate subterranean passages that lead from the castle to the church of St. Nicholas, and through which the virtuous Isabella is chased by the lustful Manfred.
That the future Gothic Revival architect delighted in Gothic romances comes as little surprise, since architectural space is a pre-eminent concern of writers such as Walpole and Radcliffe. Indeed, in Udolpho, the castle plays such an important role that it almost transforms into a freethinking character in the text. When the heroine Emily first views Udolpho, the castle "seemed to stand the sovereign of the scene, and to frown defiance on all, who dared to invade its solitary reign." The mood evoked by the mysterious mediaeval architectural setting is crucial to the genre. Emily looks at the castle with "melancholy awe" and almost expects to see "banditti start up from under the trees." Illuminated by the setting sun, "the gothic greatness of its features, and its mouldering walls of dark grey stone, rendered it a gloomy and sublime object" (226-27). Such descriptions no doubt piqued Davis's architectural curiosity.
As an adult, Davis remained faithful to his early love of Gothic novels. To Radcliffe's The Romance of the Forest he gave the highest praise. His day book indicates that he spent 22 April 1848 rereading Radcliffe's novel. Around the same time, he also reread Oliver Goldsmith's The Vicar of Wakefield. In his day book, in the margin next to these entries, he had scribbled "considering forgetfulness of these works a fault." It is likely that Davis was reading his edition of Ballantyne's Novelist's Library. Both The Romance of the Forest and The Vicar of Wakefield were in this collection. Indeed, by owning this collection, Davis had in his library all of Radcliffe's books, as well as Walpole's The Castle of Otranto, all of which he carefully notes in his catalogue of books. And he made a point to remember these early influences even in the course of his busy architectural practice in 1848, when he was at the height of his popularity as a designer of Gothic villas for wealthy clients.
The popularity of Radcliffe, "the Queen of Ghost Stories and Subterranean Horror" (as one of Scott's contemporaries called her), along with her "numerous train of imitators," gave way in the early nineteenth century to Scott's brand of historical romance (qtd. in Robertson 31-32). Scott turned from writing poetry to writing novels with Waverley, the first in a long succession of historical novels that enchanted his readers in both Great Britain and the United States. Among his more than twenty novels are Guy Mannering, Rob Roy, The Heart of Midlothian, The Bride of Lammermoor, Ivanhoe, and Redgauntlet. Scott was the first major historical novelist; his popularity outlived him and continued long after his death in 1832. Mark Twain later derisively labelled American interest in the Middle Ages "The Sir Walter Disease" (Twain 501).
Scott's books were republished in the United States soon after they appeared in England. Boston publisher Samuel Goodrich gives us a sense for Scott's renown on this side of the Atlantic: "The appearance of a new novel from his pen caused a greater sensation in the United States than did some of the battles of Napoleon, which decided the fate of thrones and empires. Everybody read these works; everybody—the refined and the simple—shared in the delightful trances which seemed to transport them to remote ages and distant climes" (qtd. in Hart 74). Goodrich reported that one of his younger sisters memorized the long poem The Lady of the Lake and "was accustomed of an evening to sit at her sewing, while she recited it to an admiring circle of listeners" (69). Goodrich's sister was not the only American reading Scott by the fireside. Davis also recorded such pleasant pastimes in his journals. On a visit with friends in October 1841, Davis recorded in his letterbook that he and his hosts, Mr. and Mrs. James, "passed the evening in agreeable conversation, and reading Scott and Shakespeare" before retiring to bed at 11 p.m. On 15 October 1848, he was engrossed in Waverley (see Davis, Day Book). Indeed, Davis's catalogue of books shows that he owned all of the Waverley novels, and his day book indicates that he read them often.
Scott cannot be considered a Gothic novelist in the same way that his predecessors Walpole and Radcliffe are. Scott's genre is historical romance, but the influence of the Gothic is omnipresent in his work. From his earliest days and throughout his life, Scott read tales of terror. In 1808, in his "Ashestiel Autobiography," he wrote of a youthful taste for "the wonderful and terrible, the common taste of children, but in which I have remained a child even unto this day" (qtd. in Robertson 52). He contributed to Matthew Lewis's Tales of Wonder; wrote reviews of Gothic novels, including Maturin's Fatal Revenge in 1810 and Mary Shelley's Frankenstein in 1818; and composed studies of individual Gothic authors Walpole, Radcliffe, and Clara Reeve for Ballantyne's Novelist's Library.
In 1812, after the success of his three poems and before he began writing his Waverley novel series, Scott purchased 110 acres, upon which he built his elaborate Gothic castle (1812–1815; enlarged in 1819). He named his new home Abbotsford after the monks of Melrose Abbey. The architect was William Atkinson. Abbotsford has been described as "an asymmetrical pile of towers, turrets, stepped gables, oriels, pinnacles, crenelated parapets, and clustered chimney stacks, all assembled with calculated irregularity" (Pierson 292). Visitors flocked to Abbotsford to see the author and his residence first-hand, and, according to Thomas Carlyle, Abbotsford soon "became infested to a great degree with tourists, wonder-hunters, and all that fatal species of people" (qtd. in Pierson 290). Included among the tourists was notable American Robert Gilmor III (1808–1874), who later returned to the United States with visions of Abbotsford and its charming host prominent in his fertile imagination.
Gilmor was the nephew of the well-known Baltimore art collector Robert Gilmor. In 1828, Gilmor graduated from Harvard and received a diplomatic appointment that took him to Europe from 1829 until 1830. When his father died in 1830, the young Gilmor returned to the United States. His travel diary, now at the Maryland Historical Society, details his visits to France, Italy, Switzerland, England, Scotland, Ireland, and Wales. On 24 May 1830, Gilmor visited Strawberry Hill, "the famous residence of Walpole" (Gilmor, 24 May 1830), as he (Gilmor) called it.
Horace Walpole bought Strawberry Hill, a small house overlooking the Thames River in Twickenham, in 1748. In 1754, he created the Strawberry Hill Committee, including himself and designers Richard Bentley and John Chute. (Other architects also contributed to the design.) Over the course of the following decades, Walpole and his associates made additions to Strawberry Hill, creating a Gothic Revival castle unlike any building before it. The style, which has been called everything from "light Gothic," to "rococo Gothic," relied as much on whimsical inventiveness as on archaeological research into mediaeval architectural forms. For the overall affect, Walpole sought the "gloomth of abbeys and cathedrals" (letter to Horace Mann, 27 April 1853, Correspondence XX.372). He filled his castle with his collection of curiosities and opened it for viewing to the public.
Architectural historians often praise Straw-berry Hill for introducing asymmetry into British domestic design and historicism into the Gothic Revival. But it is also important for another reason: the castle inspired Walpole to write his Gothic novel The Castle of Otranto in 1764. In A Description of the Villa of Mr. Horace Walpole, Walpole writes that Strawberry Hill is "a very proper habitation of, as it was the scene that inspired, the author of The Castle of Otranto" (iv). One June morning, Walpole awoke from a dream: "I had thought myself in an ancient castle (a very natural dream for a head filled, like mine, with Gothic story) and that, on the uppermost bannister of a great staircase, I saw a gigantic hand in armor" (letter to William Cole, 9 March 1765, Correspondence, I.88). That evening, Walpole sat down to write The Castle of Otranto. The setting of the story, as Walpole tells us in the preface, is "undoubtedly laid in some real castle" (Preface to the 1st ed. 8); indeed, as W.S. Lewis has shown, the rooms at Strawberry Hill and those in the pages of The Castle of Otranto correspond (88-90). Read by British and American readers alike, The Castle of Otranto enjoyed popularity long after Walpole's death in 1797. When Gilmor visited Strawberry Hill in 1830, the castle was in the possession of Walpole's heir, the Earl of Waldegrave.
Upon arriving at Strawberry Hill, Gilmor admired the "superb pile," and especially enjoyed the company of his hosts, the Earl of Waldegrave and his wife. About the castle, Gilmor wrote:
Tis in the most beautiful Gothic (light) style. Much cut up into small rooms, none, except the long picture gallery being large. Some of the ceilings beautifully gilded others beautifully fitted in wood or scagliola. But all things, wainscottings,—door—fireplaces—all Gothic. […] These same rooms crammed—most literally crammed—with chef d'oeuvres of Antient and modern paintings, statuary, sarcophaguses, Bronzes and silver carvings of Benvenuto Cellini and others. […] In this superb cabinet of curiosities for such the gothic castle deserves to be called, I strolled delighted.
(24 May 1830, emph. Gilmor's)
Gilmor is most affected by the fact that he is in the actual building in which Walpole wrote his Gothic tale, The Castle of Otranto. About that evening he wrote: "We retired about 11—I to my nice little Gothic chamber where I slept most soundly till […] next morning. Lord W and I breakfasted together in the superb gothic library—where the Castle of Otranto was written." Gilmor clearly relishes the proximity to Walpole and to the place where the first Gothic novel was written. On 28 May 1830, Lady Waldegrave opened to Gilmor "all the precious cabinets" of Walpole, bringing the young Gothic enthusiast that much closer to the fascinating figure of Walpole (Gilmor).
Three months later, on 18 August 1830, Gilmor actually met a great novelist: Scott. Upon meeting the "Great Enchanter," Gilmor was struck by his countenance in which beamed "all that genius which his voluminous and highly interesting works indicate." The next day, Gilmor went to Abbotsford, where Scott led him through his "splendid castle." Gilmor admired Scott's library and armoury, "the finest things of the kind" he had ever seen. The highlight for Gilmor was his visit to Scott's "little sanctum sanctorum, a snug place from which have emanated those great works which have so long enchanted the world" (Gilmor). Again, what most impressed Gilmor was his proximity not just to the novelists themselves but also to the fiction he loved.
Scott entertained Gilmor on rides through the countryside with storytelling. On one occasion, Scott recounted the ending of his novel The Bride of Lammermoor, and on another, Gilmor himself recited a couplet from Scott's poem The Lay of the Last Minstrel. An aspiring poet, Gilmor, like Davis, was an avid reader of Scott's works. Gilmor has been described as having "an almost fanatical passion for the romances of Sir Walter Scott" (Donoghue).
Perhaps it was a love of Gothic fiction that brought Gilmor and Davis together when the former returned to the United States in 1830. In 1832, Gilmor commissioned Davis and his partner Ithiel Town to design for him a castellated residence on the Gunpowder River near Baltimore. Gilmor named the house Glen Ellen, after his wife Ellen Ward (with the additional association of Scott's Ellen, the heroine of The Lady of the Lake); the addition of the word Glen gave the name a Scottish ring (Pierson 292). During the design process, Davis reduced the height of the house from two stories to one storey. Crenellated towers and ornate pinnacles vertically interrupt the horizontal massing of Glen Ellen. The half-octagonal bay on the west façade features delicate tracery. Davis called Glen Ellen the "first English Perpendicular Gothic Villa [in America] with Barge Boards, Bracketts, Oriels, Tracery in Windows, etc." (Schimmelman 155). The executed design is significant in American architectural history as the first consciously designed asymmetrical American house since the seventeenth century.
On 21 September 1832, not long after Gilmor's return in late 1830 or early 1831, Scott died. Two weeks later, on 5 October 1832, Davis makes his first notes on Glen Ellen in his day book. Perhaps Gilmor may have conceived of Glen Ellen as a tribute or romantic memorial to his genial host at Abbotsford (Snadon 93). Indeed, as William Pierson has shown, the plans of Abbotsford and Glen Ellen both display a progression from left to right of octagonal corner turret to octagonal bay to square corner tower (Pierson 295). Davis also designed a ruined gatelodge for the Glen Ellen estate, reminiscent of Scott's beloved Melrose Abbey, a ruined mediaeval structure near Abbotsford (Schimmelman 155).
But Abbotsford is not the only source for Glen Ellen. Gilmor was very impressed with the rococo Gothic he saw at Strawberry Hill, and the interior decoration of Walpole's residence becomes the inspiration for the exterior ornamentation at Glen Ellen (Snadon 95). The battlements, pinnacles, towers, and pointed arch windows all recall Strawberry Hill, and the long rectangular parlour mirrors Walpole's mediaeval gallery (Brendel-Pandich 70-71). Both Abbotsford and Strawberry Hill are sited along rivers; it is significant, then, that Gilmor chose a site for Glen Ellen on the Gunpowder River, twelve miles north of Baltimore (Snadon 101).
While Town, Davis, and Gilmor were clearly indebted to Walpole and Atkinson, Glen Ellen is quite unlike anything that had come before it in American architecture. Most striking is its adoption of the complete Gothic program: it is asymmetrical in plan and elevation; its rooms are of disproportionate sizes; its ornamentation is both whimsical and reliant on recognizable mediaeval architectural forms. Glen Ellen is certainly not a repetition of Benjamin Henry Latrobe's and Daniel Wadsworth's earlier forays into the Gothic Revival style for domestic architecture. Unlike Sedgeley and Monte Video, where Gothic Revival ornament appears as an afterthought, Glen Ellen wears its mediaeval styling in a more assertive manner. Here Town and Davis enlisted the picturesque element of surprise; the beholder of Glen Ellen views a shifting façade with unexpected tower protrusions and heavily ornamented bay windows. Although light and airy Glen Ellen lacks the gloom of Radcliffe's architectural spaces, the architects do create a villa in which the element of surprise is paramount.
What is most significant about Glen Ellen is its conception as a place of fantasy, a literary indulgence to whet the Gothic appetite of its well-travelled owner. That Glen Ellen imitates the façade of Abbotsford or the interior ornamentation of Strawberry Hill is important; but more momentous is the idea of Glen Ellen as a retreat into the mediaeval world popularized by Gothic novels and historical romances. Finding particular architectural motifs at Glen Ellen inspired by specific literary passages in Gothic fiction is difficult (in part because Glen Ellen was demolished in the 1930s). But Glen Ellen is Gothic fiction transformed into stone, a constant reminder of its owner's preferred reading material. With Glen Ellen, Gilmor pays homage to his favourite writers, thus participating in the cult of the Gothic author. Although he is the first, Gilmor will not be the last to yield to his literary fantasies by creating a permanent reminder of his Gothic passion. Influenced by Gothic novels and historical romances, American writers James Fenimore Cooper and Washington Irving gothicized their houses (Otsego Hall and Sunnyside, respectively) after visiting Gothic sites in Europe. After Glen Ellen, Davis went on to design numerous Gothic Revival cottages and villas, including his masterpiece, Lyndhurst in Tarrytown, New York (1838; 1865).
Why were American architects, artists, and their clients so interested in mediaeval architecture? Their reading habits tell us a great deal. Mediaeval architecture plays a crucial role in Gothic novels and historical romances, leading some curious readers to visit mediaeval and Gothic Revival architectural sites related to their favourite novels. That American Gothic Revival architecture was closely related to the fictional works of writers such as Radcliffe and Scott is highlighted by a nineteenth-century observer's comments on a Gothic Revival building in New York City. Thomas Aldrich Bailey wrote in 1866 about the University of the City of New York (now New York University; original building demolished) on Washington Square: "There isn't a more gloomy structure outside of Mrs. Radcliff's [sic] romances, and we hold that few men could pass a week in these lugubrious chambers, without adding a morbid streak to their natures—the genial immates [sic] to the contrary notwithstanding" (Donoghue). Usually, though, the Gothic Revival buildings constructed in the United States in this period were anything but gloomy. Like Strawberry Hill, Davis's designs were light and airy, delicate rather than dark and massive (Davis does begin to experiment more with fortified castle designs in the 1850s). As Janice Schimmelman has argued, Scott's novels recast the Gothic architectural style, moving it away from the barbarism associated with the Middle Ages and toward a more domestic ideal. An American author who wrote at the same time as Scott sums it up nicely by saying, "A castle without a ghost is fit for nothing but to live in" (Schimmelman 19).
The links between Gothic literature and Gothic Revival architecture is certainly strong, beginning with Walpole's Strawberry Hill. Indeed, as Anne Williams has pointed out, Walpole's castle itself was in part inspired by Alexander Pope's poem Eloisa to Abelard. Architecturally, Strawberry Hill represents a pastiche of mediaeval forms, knitted together by lath and plaster rather than traditional Gothic stonework. Walpole and his committee on taste ignored mediaeval building methods to create a whimsical building, more a work "of fancy than of imitation," as Walpole admits (letter to Mary Berry, 17 October 1794, Correspondence XII.137). It is Walpole's residence that inspires him to write the first Gothic novel, The Castle of Otranto, in 1764. In the first preface, written anonymously, Walpole states that the author seems to describe certain parts of a presumably real castle: "The chamber, says he, on the right hand; the door on the left hand; the distance from the chapel to Conrad's apartment: these and other passages are strong presumptions that the author had some certain building in his eye" (8, emph. Walpole's). The building the author had in mind was his own castle, Strawberry Hill. From the very beginning, the Gothic Revival is a phenomenon that crosses modern disciplinary boundaries. Therefore, the Gothic as an aesthetic movement should not be studied in isolation, as the work of architect Davis indicates.
That American architects and clients read Gothic literature and historical romances changed the course of American architecture. When Davis first became a practising architect, neoclassicism, and the Greek Revival in particular, held sway. But Davis and his clients, their imaginations full of Gothic stories, transformed American domestic architecture, creating neo-mediaeval fantasies in stone unlike anything that had come before.
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ANDREW MARTINDALE (ESSAY DATE 1967)
SOURCE: Martindale, Andrew. Introduction to Gothic Art, pp. 7-15. London: Thames and Hudson, 1967.
In the following essay, Martindale offers an overview of the forms and periods of Gothic art, and how "Gothic" has been variously defined.
It is traditionally held that Gothic art makes its debut with the patronage of the Abbot Suger, of the monastery of St Denis near Paris. Suger ruled from 1122 to 1151, and during the period of his abbacy a start was made on the rebuilding of the abbey church. The decoration and architecture of this building contained features which were to make it important and influential in the development of French art; and it is with this development and with its effect outside the territory of its origin that the first part of this book is concerned. This is one of the great transition periods in the history of European art. It was a period of intense experiment, unevenly and untidily distributed. But by c. 1250, European art had been transformed, and in all media what might be called a recognizably Gothic style was in the process of emerging.
It is always wise to be cautious in the use of the word 'Gothic'. The hunt for 'Gothic charact-eristics' is hampered from the start by the vague and imprecise nature of the term. As is well known, it was first applied to art in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries in a derogatory sense to denote art which possessed in general a pre-Renaissance and non-Italianate appearance. It was never a precise descriptive word, since it was coined by men who were uninterested in making it precise. It meant, in effect, 'barbarian'. At the time of the Gothic revival in the eighteenth century it ceased to be abusive, and became merely descriptive of all medieval art up to the time of the Italian Renaissance. Subsequent to this, at the beginning of the nineteenth century, a large section was split off at one end to be labelled 'Romanesque' or 'Norman'. Thus, by a rather unsatisfactory process of elimination, 'Gothic' came to describe that art which was produced between the Romanesque and Renaissance periods.
This period actually extends for at least two hundred years, and during this time, not unexpectedly, European art underwent so many changes that it is hardly possible to divine a 'Gothic style' underlying the whole process. Insight into these changes is moreover hampered by one serious lack. To trace the changes in art in any detail almost inevitably entails some comment on the apparent purpose of the artists. The processes of artistic creation are hard enough to divine even in cases with copious documentation. In medieval studies, the lack of documents containing useful comment on actual works of art even by interested spectators—let alone practising artists—is almost complete. Renaissance writers, rightly or wrongly, thought that they knew what art was about and what artists were trying to do, and educated people made it their business to be interested in the subject. Medieval artists appear to have escaped this type of interest, but, as a result, the art historian is deprived of a very important and illuminating source of information. There are almost no explanations by contemporaries of works of art around them.
This feature creates such a deep division between the writing of medieval and post-medieval art history that some comment is worth while. The exaltation of art and the artist is, and has been for about four centuries, a common feature of western European culture. One might perhaps think that this is an attitude immutable and unchanging, but in fact it is one which was entirely alien to the Middle Ages. There can be little doubt that people did on occasion exercise intelligent patronage in the arts. But there is no sign that a sustained interest in art and artists was anything but exceptional. The main reason for this must have been that anyone passing through any form of academic training was instilled with certain prejudices which made such an interest very difficult to sustain.
The influence of the Schools was felt particularly in two ways. In the first place, there was a prejudice against any occupation involving manual work—against the so-called mechanical arts, among which painting, sculpture and building were certainly numbered. This prejudice can be traced back to Aristotle but it was incorporated into the teaching of the Christian Church, which set contemplation above action, thinking above performing, and, after the example of Christ, Mary above Martha. Artificers were not worth serious thought; and neither were their artefacts, or, at least, not for any inherent characteristics which they might possess.
One here passes to the second important strand of scholastic thought which inhibited perceptive thinking about art. Material things, it was taught, were of value only in as far as they revealed some aspect of the eternal world and of the nature of God. The roots of this attitude are also to be found in the ancient world, particularly in the writings of Plato and later in those of the neo-Platonists. To these writers, the highest task of man was to attempt to know the truth which resided in the eternal world. Christian thought was profoundly affected by this outlook, and Christian philosophers came to teach that the visible world was only worthy of attention to the extent that it reflected and revealed some aspect of the Divinity. This automatically created a division between matter and its revealed content. As John Scotus Erigena, the ninth-century scholar, wrote, 'We understand a piece of wood or stone only when we see God in it'. Earlier and later examples of this type of thought are not difficult to find, and it will be apparent that reflection of this kind effectively excluded all appreciation of style in art. Art derived its importance from what it represented and not how this was achieved.
It would be wholly unrealistic to suppose that, because this type of approach to art was the recommended one, all educated people adopted it to the exclusion of any other. There is every reason to suppose that more recognizably normal attitudes to art existed, if only because they were specifically ridiculed by Christian writers. St Augustine was very firm with those who professed an instinctive enjoyment of music, saying that this placed them on a level similar to birds. True appreciation consisted in knowing the intervals and consonances and understanding in them the reflection of the divine harmony of the universe. John Scotus, already mentioned, makes it clear that looking at an object with what today would be called a collector's eye was frowned on because it almost certainly invoked cupidity and avarice. This general attitude or prejudice cannot have prevented people from entertaining views about artists and exercising preferences. But it did effectively prevent them from publicizing their preferences in writing; and it effectively prevented the growth of any sort of tradition of informed comment on art.
One therefore enters a period of art history deprived of two important classes of evidence. Almost nothing is known during the Middle Ages of people's reactions to art. There are no accounts of how a monastic chapter reacted when faced by three different designs for a new abbey church. It was probably much like any modern committee, but one does not know for certain. The second lack is more serious since it concerns the individual artists and works. Almost no biographical material exists. For instance, William of Sens, one of the great names of English twelfth-century architecture, had no biographer. Nothing is known about his training from direct contemporary testimony or early life—where he was born, where he travelled, what other buildings he was responsible for apart from Canterbury Cathedral, and so on. This is true of most of the names in medieval art; and usually, of course, not even the names survive. This means that much medieval art history becomes a rather depersonalized study. The historian has perforce to deal in 'Schools', by which he means rough groups of monuments which appear to have a stylistic affinity. This is an unavoidable misfortune, to be deplored the more because it leads on the one hand to accounts of works of art as if they were 'untouched by human hand', or rather by 'human foibles'; and on the other hand, to a great deal of sentimental nonsense about the 'anonymity' of medieval artists which is best relegated to the pages of romantic fiction. It also results in misleading discussions on the 'meaning of Gothic art', about which, by the nature of the surviving literary evidence, we can never know very much.
We can, however, gather up some of the shreds of evidence that remain concerning attitudes to art. In practice, medieval patrons appear to have approached art in an ordinary business-like way. From the mid-thirteenth century contracts begin to survive, and these sometimes specify another work to be used as a model for the undertaking involved. The exemplar is found set up as a point of reference for beauty as well as size, and this at least suggests what one would expect, namely that medieval patrons knew what they liked and were anxious to have their requirements met. Alberti, the fifteenth-century scholar and architect, wrote the following advice to architects: 'Lastly, I advise you not to be so far carried away by the desire of glory rashly to attempt anything entirely new or unusual…. Remember … with how much grudging and unwillingness people will spend their money in making trial of your fancies.' This advice would seem to be entirely appropriate at almost any period in history, not excluding the Middle Ages, and to all forms of art.
Addiction to sight-seeing is not a modern phenomenon but has probably always existed. At its lowest level, it seldom does any service to art. But at an intelligent level it must in the Middle Ages have helped the circulation of ideas and objects. Pilgrimages and diplomatic missions provided fruitful possibilities from which people returned armed with both ideas and souvenirs. Rome was, of course, at all times much visited, and there is a series of medieval handbooks on the sights to be noted. The Abbot Suger, we know, cast envious eyes on the marble columns of the Baths of Diocletian, but in the end contented himself with imitating the Roman basilicas by including a small portion of mosaic on the west front of St Denis. The Bishop of Winchester, Henry of Blois, bought a number of antique statues while on a visit to Rome in 1151 and sent them home to Winchester. The Abbot of Westminster, returning from the Court of Rome in 1269, brought back men and materials to construct a marble pavement in the new church of Westminster after the Roman manner.
Not much is known about local arrangements for dealing with sight-seers. But it is perhaps worth noting that in the Monastic Constitutions compiled for Christchurch, Canterbury, in the third quarter of the eleventh century, special provision was made for sightseers wishing to see the domestic quarters of the monks. The duty of showing people round was entrusted to the monk responsible for receiving guests. Presumably all monasteries of any splendour or size found similar arrangements necessary.
It was observed above that by c. 1250 a European Gothic style was beginning to emerge. Books of this nature are liable to get entangled in definitions of 'Gothic', and in order to avoid this, something should be said at the start about the position taken in this book. 'Gothic art' has here been taken in the first instance as that art which was developed in the Île-de-France and northern France between c. 1140 and 1240. It is the art of an area taken over a rather long period of development and the story to be followed concerns the process by which other areas of France and other countries surrounding France came by degrees to accept the idea that it was desirable to copy this art. In this story, the reign of Louis IX (1226–70) forms a central point. In most countries before this time, the influence of France and, by this definition, the Gothic style of art, is confused. Questions concerning what is or is not Gothic are difficult and occasionally acrimonious. The first chapter of this book deals with this developmental period. An attempt is made to sketch out events in the north of France and around Paris and then to set alongside this the art of other countries in order to see at what point these came to be affected by Gothic ideas.
During the period covered by the second chapter, 1240–1350, the position clarifies briefly. During the reign of Louis IX, there was a sudden wave of enthusiasm for north-French artistic ideas both in the peripheral areas of Frence itself and outside. This emerges with particular clarity in architecture but it is true of all the arts. From this time, Paris became an important European centre of fashion and art.
The third chapter deals with what is perhaps the joker in this art-historical pack—Italian art. The Italian resistance to orthodox French Gothic art as it materialized around 1240 seems to have been considerable. Italian artists were certainly impressed by particular details of French art. But at no point did any Italian try to build a rayonnant cathedral or to carve a French type of portal; and not until the fourteenth century are there signs of anyone imitating the dainty style associated with the court of Louis IX. Such resistance arouses a certain admiration, but makes it impossible to deal with Italian Gothic art at the same time as that of Germany or England.
The final chapter is concerned with the period c. 1350–1400 throughout Europe, and including Italy. There appears to have been an increased exchange of ideas across the Alps during that period which lends some justification to this grouping. Certainly the Parisian painters showed more and more awareness of Italian art. The one unexpected phenomenon during these years was the sudden emergence of Prague as a centre of curious hybrid culture, when it became for a comparatively short time the centre of the empire and the seat of the imperial court.
The historian of art is usually held to be under some obligation to explain his subject-matter as the emanation of the age with which he is dealing. Art may be a reflection of the human spirit, but it is notoriously difficult to explain how the spirit of an age renders inevitable the type of art which is produced during that age. There is always a residue of doubt left at the end which leads one to reflect that in history nothing is inevitable until it has actually happened. To try to explain artistic form in terms of history seems to be an occupation of doubtful value. It is, of course, easy enough, and illuminating, to reverse something of this process and to use art to throw light on history. Every major work of art is an expression of some aspect of the people and society that produced it. It is not fanciful to see the power of a monastery reflected in a great monastic church. The splendour of the east end of St Denis in Paris will tell us a great deal about the Abbot Suger who built it, just as the bareness of the abbey church of Fontenay will illustrate general propositions about the austerity of St Bernard and the early Cistercians. Likewise, the sumptuous fittings of the surviving medieval basilicas in Rome form an appropriate background to claims of the thirteenth-century papacy. Art, in fact, has and had a function both then and now as a background against which major events were played out and against which they may still be imagined.
But can one deduce from the surviving evidence why a particular individual in a particular society produced a particular form of art? This would lead to a complex line of speculation which sought a connection between the history of changing forms and the flux of ideas. There are, on the other hand, certain quite obvious ways in which ideas influence the content of art. Emile Male began his book on thirteenth-century art by saying that 'art in the Middle Ages is a script'. Every large and complicated assembly of art represents a certain amount of book-work on the part of somebody; this applies to secular as well as religious art. A cathedral portal was almost certainly worked according to a programme laid down by a scholar—probably a canon—and its significance is generally to be apprehended through some text with which the man was familiar. To this extent, such art will express some aspect of contemporary thought, and in its content will be the product of its historical background.
Art is also to a large extent the product of economic circumstance. The raw material and the labour have to be obtained and paid for, and expensive art (most good art is expensive) appears in places where funds are available. The most obvious instances of this are to be found in architecture—by far the most expensive of the arts. Architecture on a large scale flourished mainly in areas where commerce flourished. This means that in almost any century during the Middle Ages, the greatest concentration of important building activity in Europe is to be found in the vicinity of a line drawn on the map from Bologna to London, allowing a slight divergence to take in the Rhine Valley. This was the central 'corridor' of European trade, and the presence of money is obvious from the amount of significant architecture.
The directness of this dependence emerges when one considers the sources tapped in order to raise money for church building. The bishop, of course, almost always contributed, if the work was a cathedral. The ruling chapter might divert funds from revenues to aid the work. But many of the means depended directly on the presence of a large quantity of people with surplus money. Indulgences were sold, and gifts were solicited in return for perpetual prayers for benefactors. Offerings were taken from pilgrims at shrines and the relics were taken on a tour of the surrounding countryside and even farther afield. Local confraternities were organized in the area to raise funds, and the perennial box or trunk was left in evidence for people to drop contributions into. All these devices depended for their yield on ready access to money. A tour of the relics through an area populated only by impoverished peasants was not going to help the church fabric even though it might help the peasants.
ON THE SUBJECT OF …
EDWARD GOREY (1925–2000)
In Gorey's darkly drawn alphabets and picture stories, the comic and macabre combine in a unique mix of sophisticated nonsense. Despite the fact that the cast of characters in his quaint vignettes include hapless and unfortunate children who meet their demise in his singular alphabets—"G is for George smothered under a rug; H is for Hector done in by a thug"—and the child-eating Wuggly Ump, young people as well as adults respond gleefully to Gorey's morbid sense of humor. Gorey's black and white pen and ink images expose a shadowy corner of our collective memory, conjuring up a shroud of Victorian darkness sparingly highlighted by Edwardian innocence: dapper young men in striped jackets and straw boater hats play croquet amid the bleak, desolate landscape of an isolated country estate; proper young children are left unattended by maids and nannies to wander amid the suffocating shadows of dark hallways and forgotten rooms; bustled, corseted ladies in lace and veils stand primly about; and diaphanous damsels, beaded and bobbed, lounge languorously on musty, overstuffed Victorian furniture. There is always an impending threat, sometimes unmentioned and unseen, but more often brought to life in Gorey's typically menacing but never overstated manner. The elements of childhood terror—the bad dream that wakes us from a sound sleep, the irrational fears we laugh at in the cheerful light of dawn but that become darkly oppressive when conjured up alone at night—these are the ingredients of Gorey's art. Wordplay is used to great effect in tempering the pall of malevolence that would otherwise over-whelm Gorey's Gothic tales. The author's nightmarish world is rendered less threatening when the hapless victims of his calamitous plots carry silly names: Maudie Splaytoe, the ballet dancer who meets a tragic end in The Gilded Bat (1966); vapid Miss Scrim-Pshaw, the menacing Throbblefoot Spectre; and others, residing in such places as Wunksieville, Weedhaven Laughing Academy, or Penwiper Mews.
One change in the nature of buildings erected began to take effect during the period covered by the first chapter of this book. Much of the major building is cathedral architecture. With certain obvious exceptions (St Denis in Paris is one), monastic church building dwindled in importance. This does not in itself denotes some sort of monastic decline, but probably means that by 1200 the greater monasteries had on the whole got churches with which they were satisfied. By contrast, many towns were not satisfied with their chief ecclesiastical buildings, and were willing to pay a great deal in order to make it possible for the bishop and chapter to replace them. The years 1140–1250 were a period in which it became possible to build churches the size and height of which had not been known since the fall of the Roman Empire. The initial driving force behind these various enterprises must have gathered part of its momentum from civic pride.
One further development had important consequences for art during this period, namely the growth of the universities and the increasing demands of scholarship. This slow process which was spread across the twelfth and thirteenth centuries produced an increasing demand for texts, and this demand came to be satisfied by workshops of scribes working independently of monastic scriptoria. The era of commercial book-production had dawned. This type of production did not, of course, necessarily involve high-quality artistic endeavour. The point at which illumination became primarily a secular craft carried out by professionals is harder to judge. There were still eminent monastic scriptoria in Italy during the fifteenth century. But the change had already begun in the twelfth.
PAUL WILLIAMSON (ESSAY DATE 1995)
SOURCE: Williamson, Paul. Introduction to Gothic Sculpture 1140–1300, pp. 1-7. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1995.
In the following essay, Williamson analyzes the cultural, philosophical, and theological traditions that contributed to the popularity of Gothic sculpture during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries.
The Context of Gothic Sculpture
In the middle of the twelfth century the prestige of the great monasteries was unchallenged, the most influential religious and intellectual figures being powerful monks such as the Benedictine Abbot Suger and the Cistercian St Bernard of Clairvaux. Artistic endeavour was, as ever, dominated and controlled by its principal patrons, and at this time the monastic houses provided the greatest opportunities for employment. By 1300 all this had changed. The intervening century and a half witnessed not only events of pivotal importance for the history of European civilisation but also saw a fundamental shift in the perception of man's relation to God, propagated by great thinkers such as Albertus Magnus and St Thomas Aquinas and spread through the agency of the new universities. Towns grew in size, communications and literacy improved, and better technology—including the development of the deep plough and the introduction of the windmill—revolutionised farming methods, bringing a new prosperity which provided the wherewithal for a vast increase in building. By the late twelfth century the traditional monastic orders seemed irrelevant to the lives of the growing urban populace, and a plethora of more accessible new sects—some heretical—had sprung up. It was because of their ability to channel popular support in their own direction, away from these dangerous minorities, that the mendicant orders of the Franciscans and Dominicans were able to exert control so quickly over both the laity and the papacy.
Throughout this period the Pope struggled to retain a position of pre-eminence. His temporal power was increasingly undermined by ambitious leaders and forced alliances and conflicts, first with the Hohenstaufen then with the Angevins. The growing power of Capetian France, set in train by the advances gained by Philip Augustus (1180–1223), culminated in the ignominious 'Babylonish Captivity', when the papal court was transferred to Avignon in 1307. Various attempts were made to unite the Christian community, either by decree—such as the Fourth Lateran Council, convened by the brilliant and successful Innocent III in 1215—or by military muscle-flexing against an outside enemy. Crusades were one of the most effective ways of doing this as they offered both spiritual profit (through indulgences) and material gain; the Fourth Crusade, which ended with the disgraceful sacking of Constantinople in 1204, was only the most notorious of these adventures. The granting of indulgences, used so effectively to finance many of the cathedrals constructed in the thirteenth century, reached a climax in 1300 with the first Roman Jubilee (the Anno Santo). This was the brainchild of the beleaguered Pope Boniface VIII, but rather than signalling a celebration of unity it represented nothing less than a desperate final attempt to raise money, not from wealthy individuals but from the public at large.1
The Jubilee was created to harness popular devotion to St Peter, the first saint of Christendom. As a phenomenon, a fixed point in time, it was no more than the essence of a well-established ecclesiastical practice. The standing of every cathedral was dependent on the status of its relics or patron saint, and it was in the interest of any bishop to forge strong links between his church, the civic authorities and the populace. Very few churches had the aristocratic financial support that Cologne Cathedral, for instance, could muster, and instead there was the expectation that contributions would come from a broad spectrum of society. It should never be forgotten how central the cathedral was to the life of the medieval citizen, although it is as well to recognise that most contemporary accounts of the relations between town and chapter were compiled by ecclesiastical chroniclers and are necessarily one-sided. The most well-known illustration of the common devotion of the populace is the celebrated episode of the hauling of plaustra (carts filled with building material) by people from all walks of life to help with the construction of Chartres Cathedral in around 1145, an event that was copied elsewhere and again at Chartres itself after the fire of 1194. It has been pointed out that this dedication on the part of the people may not always have been disinterested, as the spending by pilgrims at the time of the Chartres Fair accounted for a large proportion of the town's annual income. Nevertheless, it was important to approach the collecting of building funds with sensitivity, especially in straitened times: the mass rebellion against the chapter of Reims Cathedral in 1233 was a reminder that Christian charity had its limits.2
The cathedral also dominated the thirteenth-century town by dint of its sheer size. In a society unused to large buildings the visual effect of a church of Lincoln Cathedral's dimensions can only be imagined. The silhouettes of these structures would have been visible for miles around, dwarfing the shops and domestic buildings in their shadow and acting as magnets for visitors. When the faithful approached the cathedrals more closely they would have noticed, as we do today, that the architecture was articulated by sculpture; and stepping through the main portal, perhaps sculpted with the Last Judgement or the Coronation of the Virgin, they would have been confronted by the figured choirscreen with a painted triumphal cross above. At every turn, in every chapel, they would have seen images of the Virgin and Child and numerous saints, and their progress through the church would have been punctuated by architectural sculpture both ornamental and figurative. How did all this strike the medieval spectator and how was the sculpture understood?
It has long been recognised that one of the most important results of the so-called 'Twelfth-century Renaissance' was to change the common man's attitude to God. The medieval humanism of St Anselm, Master Eckhart and others encouraged philosophers to re-discover the individual and to analyse the relationship between the soul and God. Through the joint channels of the new universities and preaching to the masses, new light pierced the darkness of a blind faith invariably centred on a frightening eschatology. The translation of classical texts—especially Aristotle—in the century between 1150 and 1250 provided a corpus of rational treatises which trickled down into public consciousness, and this independence of thought, of unbiased enquiry, began to permeate the arts. The spirit of scientific curiosity which stimulated the production of herbal manuscripts, for example, allowed the sculptors of Paris, Bourges and Reims, and later at Southwell, to experiment with the carving of naturalistic leaf forms; and the remarkable and epoch-making heads at Reims, grimacing and grinning with a verisimilitude unknown in the twelfth century, are no less eloquent evidence of a new fascination with physiognomy and the mental condition.3
Man was freeing himself from a fear bred through ignorance, and the church needed to appeal to an audience quite different from that to be found in the monasteries. No generalisation can escape the criticism of the specialist, but there is something to be said for a view that sets the typical Romanesque Last Judgement tympanum—perhaps exemplified by Conques—against the Gothic topos at Reims  as an illustration of the changes which took place. In the former Christ sits in Majesty, the Damned to his left, the Blessed to his right, in a straightforward image of the Judgement Day, offering no hope to the sinner. Although at Reims the figure of Christ is still awesomely omnipotent, the prospect of Salvation is emphasised by the presence of the interceding figures of the Virgin and St John to each side of Christ and a reduction in the size of Hell at the bottom right. This comparison could be repeated, using different examples and gaining similar results, but the point has been made.4 As God, through Christ, was made to appear more human and more forgiving, so the Virgin assumed an increasingly important rôle as his caring mother and as an intercessor for mankind. The cult of the Virgin grew up as a result of the Queen of Heaven's perceived position at Christ's side, and between 1150 and 1300 this public devotion was also manifested in an expansion of Marian iconography—the appearance of the Coronation of the Virgin on the tympanum being perhaps the most conspicuous development—and the creation of an unprecedented number of statues of the Virgin and Child.5
Starting off simply as images of the Virgin, in due course many of these cult statues came to be worshipped in their own right, despite the warnings against idolatry issued by Durandus and several other thirteenth-century commentators. Miracles were often reported in connection with statues of the Virgin, especially at sites of pilgrim-age, and in this general climate it is hardly surprising that there should be stories of statues acting as intermediaries or even coming to life.6 One of the most celebrated fables of this period, the story of Theophilus and his pact with the Devil, invariably shows the former praying before a figure of the Virgin  in the hope that his plea for mercy would be rewarded. Many other miracles of this type are recounted in Gautier de Coincy's Miracles de la Sainte Vierge and illustrated in the mid thirteenth-century Cántigas of Alfonso X El Sabio in the Escorial, and a comparable episode is played out on the trumeau socle of the Judgement portal on the north transept of Reims Cathedral . Similar incidents were recorded in connection with figures of the Crucified Christ.7
If these single images offered the greatest emotional and spiritual attraction to the medieval onlooker, the sculptures of the portals were the means by which instruction and moral exegesis were passed on. The sculptures on the outside of the Gothic church provided the approaching public with its first experience of Christian doctrine made visible, while inside the building, narrative programmes in stained glass replaced the wall-paintings and historiated capitals which had fulfilled the same rôle in Romanesque structures. It will be seen that what distinguished the iconographic schemes on the earliest Gothic portals, at Saint-Denis and Chartres, from their predecessors was the amount of thought that went into their creation, and it is self-evident that their value as tools for teaching was recognised by influential theologians. Both Abbot Suger and Thierry, the Chancellor of the School of Chartres in the middle of the twelfth century, seem to have played an important part in the development of the portal as a bearer of intellectually coherent messages, and at the beginning of the following century another chancellor of Chartres, Peter of Roissy, apparently used the decoration of the right-hand portal of the north transept to rebut contemporary heresies.8 Elsewhere, 'site-specific' iconographic programmes were also planned—most notably on the transepts of Notre-Dame in Paris in the middle of the thirteenth century—which would have had a special resonance for a particular audience.9
The cathedral was often at the centre of the town, usually next to the market, so was uniquely well-placed for social gatherings. The deep porches of the more ambitious churches would have provided shelter for large numbers of people and could be used in a variety of ways. The ubiquitous subject of the Last Judgement on Gothic portals, often with the supporting figures of Virtues and Vices and Wise and Foolish Virgins, would serve as an especially appropriate backdrop to the dispensation of justice, as was the case at León Cathedral. Here, from an early date, a column set on the front of a Gothic canopied tabernacle was placed between the piers to the left of the Judgement portal . Its function is literally spelt out by the inscription Locus Appellacionis carved on its front face, and the arms of León and Castile appear below.10 Presiding over this symbol, in the niche behind, is the seated figure of King Solomon, and a later personification of Justice, holding a sword and scales, has been inserted among the jamb figures of the adjacent doorway. León was not an isolated case, and it is known that trials were also conducted in the area of the south transept of Strasbourg Cathedral, in the west porches of the Minster of Freiburg im Breisgau, Saint-Urbain at Troyes, and elsewhere.11
The centrality of the cathedrals and lesser churches to medieval society is also illustrated by the numbers of workmen involved in their construction and embellishment. At the peak of the great period of rebuilding, roughly speaking in the years between 1180 and 1250, no member of society living within reach of a cathedral undergoing construction would have been untouched by the work, and a good proportion would have been actively engaged on it. Peasants and other unskilled workers normally employed in the fields might have been called upon to carry wood or stone to the building-site, but once the material had arrived it was handed over to the specialist mason, usually described as a cementarius, lathomus, maçon or tailleur de pierre in contemporary documents.12 In the absence of any qualifying descriptions referring unequivocally to carvers of figures in the period before about the middle of the thirteenth century, one cannot assume that the masons responsible for sculpting the jamb figures and reliefs on Gothic portals were specialists in that area. It may well have been the case that such people existed, but it is more likely that they formed part of a masons' lodge charged with a wide variety of stone cutting.13 One of the most significant developments in the production of sculpture throughout Europe in the period with which this book is concerned is the emergence of the specialist ymagier tailleur during the thirteenth century, a profession at first limited to the making of smaller images—predominantly in wood—and not part of the building trade. By 1300 such specialists were also engaged in the making of monumental sculpture.
The Making of Gothic Sculpture
The mason-sculptor of the Early Gothic cathedral was of course subordinate in all he did to the master mason or architect, who in turn was answerable to a body of canons charged with the supervision of work.14 Once the design of the portal, for instance, was worked out, the selection of stone blocks was made and the sculptors set to work in the masons' yard. The freestone used for architectural sculpture was almost always the same as for the rest of the building.15 It is probable that for large figures instructions were sent to the quarry to hew blocks of the appropriate size, but in numerous instances there is evidence that the sculptors made do with the ready-cut blocks already available. On the west portal of Rochester Cathedral of around 1170 the jamb figures were made from two separate pieces joined together below the knee , and the same feature is visible in the thirteen century on at least four of the life-sized figures of the Wells west front; in Germany, the statues of Ecclesia  and Synagoga in the Paradise porch at Magdeburg Cathedral are also constructed in this way, and Arnolfo di Cambio had to piece together two blocks of marble before carving the seated Virgin and Child for the façade of the Florence Duomo .16 Occasionally two figures from the same ensemble are carved from different stones, as was the case in the famous Annunciation group in the Westminster chapter house [305-6]: the choice of Caen limestone for one and Reigate sandstone for the other goes some way towards explaining the different condition of the two pieces.17 It also illustrates the pragmatism of the Westminster masons, who would obviously have been aware that the sculptures were destined to be painted. In other instances different types of stone may have been selected in the recognition that some were more amenable to detailed carving than others: this would appear to be the case on the now-dismantled canopy tomb from Sawley , of about 1275–80, where the angels are carved from a fine limestone but the sections of roll-moulding are sandstone.18
The block was reduced with a variety of tools, ranging from a mason's axe—to rough out the basic shape of the figure—to different types of chisels, drills and points. No working drawings by Gothic sculptors have survived, and it is likely that most carving was done directly on to the block, which had first been marked out.19 The marks of the larger flat chisels have often survived on the backs of the sculptures, while the herringbone patterns of the finest claw chisels sometimes remain, usually hidden under paint. Although the fine grid of ridges left by the claw chisel would often have acted as a suitable foundation for the application of a ground for pigmentation it was nonetheless the usual practice to finish the carving by rubbing the surface down with files or rasps, and it is this smooth appearance that is now most often encountered. A telling illustration of the different stages of carving a relief is provided by the recently uncovered back face of the mid-twelfth-century lintel at Saint-Germain-des-Prés in Paris. Intended as a relief of the Last Supper—finally completed on the other side—this shows the carving progressing from barely blocked-out figures on the right to a virtually finished head on the far left.20
Two different stages of carving can be seen in a stained glass window at Chartres, of about 1225 . On the right a sculptor uses a mallet and chisel on a propped-up semi-carved crowned figure (comparable to a king on the north transept porch) while a second workman stands at rest, lifting a glass to his lips. It can be seen that the figure has reached the intermediate stage between blocking out and the carving of fine detail, and the facial features have not been completed. On the left the same sculptor has almost completed the figure—note the detailed finish of the head—and is shown using a long flat chisel or scraper to refine the drapery folds. On finishing life-sized statues such as this the sculptor would sometimes hack out the back of the figure—as at Wells and later at Exeter—to reduce the weight and make it easier to lift into position. The sculptures were also frequently given numbers or other assembly marks to ensure correct installation.21
There can be no doubt that large jamb figures and much of the relief sculpture associated with portals or other ensembles were almost invariably made on the ground in the masons' yard, and not carved in situ. Confirmation of this is provided by occasional evidence of sculptures being cut down, presumably at the point of installation, because of inconsistencies in measurement. The lintels on the south portal of the west façade of Chartres Cathedral were shortened on the right side and the bottom voussoirs truncated for this reason, and it can be seen that many reliefs constructed of more than one block of stone were divided compositionally to take into account the fact that each slab was carved separately.22 On the other hand it is as well to be aware of the practice of reusing portals within a later architectural context, an occurrence which happened surprisingly frequently and which often involved the adaptation of the earlier composition to its new setting. The most celebrated instance of this is the installation of the largely twelfth-century St Anne portal in the early thirteenth-century façade of Notre-Dame in Paris, but other examples are to be found at Bourges Cathedral (the north and south lateral portals), Dijon (Saint-Bénigne), Laon Cathedral (the right portal of the west front) and Ávila Cathedral (the north portal, formerly on the west façade).
After the sculptures had been installed, the scaffolding would have remained in place while they were painted. Before passing on to this vital component of Gothic sculpure, it should also be pointed out that just prior to the final stage it is likely that some more carving was done and joints were filled. Certain parts of the portal were more likely to be carved in situ than others, especially those architectural features which formed an integral part of the construction, such as archivolts; and although there is overwhelming evidence that the vast majority of figured voussoirs were carved in the masons' yard and constructed on site, this was not always the case. In chapter three it will be seen that the two portals of the Lady Chapel at Glastonbury Abbey were in position but unfinished in 1189; the carving of the archivolts of the south doorway—which was clearly being executed in situ—had barely started by this time, only two of the scenes being partially indicated on the second order . It is possible that when work came to a halt the decorative programme was completed in paint in the hope that carving might be resumed at a later date. This was not to be the case on the south portal, although the figured archivolts of the north doorway were eventually carved in around 1220.23 Another probable instance of carving après la pose may be found in the north porch of the collegiate church of Candes-Saint-Martin on the Loire (c. 1240–50). Here the jamb figures were worked from rectangular blocks set into the wall (some of these still remain outside the porch), and the architectural sculptures—the voussoirs, the demi-angels above the heads of the jamb figures, the spandrels of the canopies which enclose them, and the bosses—were seemingly in the process of being carved in situ before being left in an unfinished state, perhaps because funding had ceased .24
The painting of stone sculpture would usually have been carried out by specialists rather than the sculptors who had taken the work to its penultimate stage. This is indicated by the Paris guild regulations (gathered together by the provost of Paris, Etienne Boileau, in around 1268) which list how such ymagiers paintres (sic) should conduct themselves. It is also apparent from the few thirteenth-century accounts of payments made to individuals for painting sculptures, such as that of April 1253 at Westminster Abbey, 'to Warin the painter for painting 2 images with colour—11s'.25 The sculptures were first treated with a sealant or insulation layer, usually of animal or fish glue or casein, to counteract the porosity of the stone, and to this was added a ground—often of gypsum or lead white with a drying medium—upon which the paint would be applied. In some cases, as at Lausanne Cathedral and on a number of sepulchral effigies, the ground was built up and modelled (or cast and applied) before being painted, giving the surface a detailed finish difficult to achieve in carved stone.26 The original coloured aspect of Gothic sculpture is now difficult to reconstruct in the mind's eye and very few external sculptures retain any visible remains of pigmentation. A fortunate exception is the Lausanne south porch [88, 89], where recent conservation work has revealed the astonishingly high quality of the painted decoration.27 However, many of the major monuments of Gothic sculpture are beginning to yield something of their original coloured appearance to conservators prepared to make painstaking inspections of their weathered surfaces, and considerable traces of paint have been discovered on the Royal Portal at Chartres, at Etampes and Bourges, the west façade and Kings' gallery at Notre-Dame in Paris, the gabled porch of Ferrara Cathedral, and elsewhere.28
Sculptures made for interior settings usually preserve their colouring more completely than those outdoors. Of these, it is the sculptures in wood which offer the largest sample of polychromed work. As already noted, there were guilds of ymagiers-tailleurs in Paris from at least the early thirteenth century, and the regulations laid out in Etienne Boileau's Livre des Métiers give clear instructions as to how wood (and ivory and bone) sculptures should be made and how they should be painted, so as to protect patrons from inferior workmanship. These imagers worked in small ateliers, with only one apprentice; the regulations go into some detail over the training of the latter (which should take at least seven years) and continue with advice on the correct procedures for carving figures and crucifixes:
None may or should work on a holiday observed by the town, nor at night, because darkness does not allow the work of our profession, which is carving.
None in the profession above may or should make a figure (ymage) or crucifix, or any other thing pertaining to the Holy Church, if he does not make it of the appropriate material, or if it has not been ordered by another, by a cleric or some man of the Church, or a knight or nobleman, for their use. And this has been established by the master of the guild because one of our number had made works which were blameworthy, and the master was held responsible.
No workers in this profession may or should make a crucifix or figure which is not carved of a single piece. And this has been ordained by the master of the guild because one of our number had made figures and crucifixes which were neither good nor proper, because they were made of many pieces [in the margin is added: No workers in this profession may or should make a figure of more than one piece, excepting the crown, if it is not broken during carving, then one may make it good; and excepting the crucifix, which is made of three pieces, the body of one piece and the arms. And this has been established by the master of the guild because one of our number had made figures which were not well constructed, good or proper, because they were made of many pieces].29
Two guild masters were appointed by the King to oversee the standards established by the guild regulations, who were empowered to levy fines for any infringement. The general regulations connected with the painting of sculpture were similar to those for the ymagiers-tailleurs, although the painters were allowed to take on as many apprentices as they liked  and to work at night; consistent with the regulations for the sculptors the most detailed comments were concerned with the technical side of the work. Hence:
No figure painters should or may sell something as gilded, where the gold is not applied to silver; and if the gold is applied to tin and is sold as gilded, without saying the work is faulty, then the gold and the tin and all the other colour should be scraped off; and whosoever has sold such a work as gilded should remake it in a good and legal manner, and pay a fine to the King according to the judgement of the provost of Paris.
If figure painters apply silver over tin, the work is faulty, if it has not been ordered as such or declared at point of sale; and if it is sold without saying, the work should be scraped, and made good and legal, and a fine should be paid to the King in the manner stipulated above.
No faulty works of the profession above should be burnt, out of respect for the saints, in whose memory they were made.30
There is no reason to doubt that other major centres in Europe also had guilds and regulations of a similar type at this date, although it is not until the following century that documentary evidence emerges. Variations obviously existed from country to country, so that in Italy, for instance, crucifix figures were frequently made from five pieces: the arms, legs and torso—including the head—being carved separately and fitted together prior to being painted.31 Different types of wood were used throughout Europe, depending on local availability, with a preponderance of oak and walnut in the North and pine or poplar in Italy and Spain, and as a general rule the heartwood was removed from large sculptures to prevent splitting.32 If the common complaint in connection with stone sculpture is that most of it has been stripped of its original colour, the major impediment to the appreciation of wood sculpture is overpainting. Wood sculptures, especially cult statues, were regularly repainted from the Middle Ages onwards (see pp. 113-14), so that their present colouring is often very different from that intended. Inevitably, the later layers of paint—in some cases up to twenty separate applications—distort and coarsen the subtle original relationship between the carved and the painted, but as more sculptures are conserved an increasingly clear picture is emerging of the consummate skill of the statue painters.33
Finally, something should be said about the size of the workshops. By the end of the thirteenth century all the evidence points to a common pattern, moving away from the great masons' yards of the cathedrals towards comparatively small workshops, some based in one place, others peripatetic. This was of course at least partly to do with the reduction in the number of large-scale sculptural programmes and a subsequent change in patronage. Around 1300 there was nothing to compare with the volume of work generated by the decoration of Reims or Wells cathedrals, and the new methods of employment, exemplified by the 'taskwork' payments pioneered in the mid century at Westminster Abbey, favoured small groups of sculptors, moving from one job to the next. The équipe assembled by the Parisian master mason Etienne de Bonneuil in 1287 to travel to Uppsala Cathedral in Sweden was therefore probably typical, and his arrangements for payment reflect the increasing professionalism of the workshop leaders. An excerpt from the contract bears this out:
To all who will see this letter, Renaut le Cras, Provost of Paris, gives greeting. We make known that before us appeared Etienne de Bonneuil, to be master mason and master of the church of Uppsala in Sweden, proposing to go to said country as he had agreed upon. And he acknowledged having rightfully received and obtained advance payment of forty Paris livres from the hands of Messrs. Olivier and Charles, scholars and clerks at Paris, for the purpose of taking with him at the expense of said church four mates and four yeomen (bachelers), seeing that this would be to the advantage of said church for the cutting and carving of stone there. For this sum he promised to take said workmen to said land and to pay all their expenses …34
It is of interest to compare this document with the slightly earlier agreements made between the operarius of Siena Cathedral and Nicola Pisano in 1265–7 for the Siena pulpit (p. 248). Although referring to very different commissions, both sets of documents vest responsibility for the completion of work in one man, the leader of a small team. In their own ways they reveal the beginning of a trend towards independence, setting the agenda for the development of artists in the fourteenth century.
1. R. and C. Brooke, Popular Religion in the Middle Ages: Western Europe 1000–1300 (London, 1984), 153-5. A succinct account of the rise of the mendicant orders and their relationship to the Papacy is to be found in G. Barraclough, The Medieval Papacy (London, 1968), 127-40.
2. For the 'cult of carts' see T. G. Frisch, Gothic Art 1140–c.1450. Sources and Documents (Englewood Cliffs, N.J., 1971), 23-30, and B. Ward, Miracles and the Medieval Mind: theory, record and event 1000–1215 (London, 1982), 150-3. The importance of Chartres Cathedral for the generation of income for the townspeople is laid out in O. von Simson, The Gothic Cathedral: Origins of gothic architecture and the medieval concept of order (3rd ed., Princeton, 1988), 166-9. For Reims see B. Abou-el-Haj, 'The urban setting for late medieval church building: Reims and its cathedral between 1210 and 1240', Art History, XI (1988), 17-41.
3. There is of course a vast literature on the development of learning and philosophy in the twelfth and early thirteenth centuries but the essays contained in R. L. Benson and G. Constable, with C. D. Lanham (eds), Renaissance and Renewal in the Twelfth Century (Oxford, 1982), the brilliant selective observations by R. W. Southern, Medieval Humanism and other studies (Oxford, 1970), and a percipient article by G. B. Ladner, 'The life of the mind in the Christian West around the year 1200', in The Year 1200: A Symposium (New York, 1975), 1-23, provide an introduction to the field. A more general survey is given by J. H. Mundy, Europe in the High Middle Ages 1150–1309 (London and New York, 1973).
4. See M. H. Caviness, '"The simple perception of matter" and the representation of narrative, ca. 1180–1280', Gesta, XXX (1991), 48-64, esp. 48-9, who, by pointing out the similarities between such exemplars, demonstrates the dangers of a too facile approach to the separation of 'Gothic' from 'Romanesque'.
5. P. Verdier, Le Couronnement de la Vierge. Les origines et les premiers développements d'un thème iconographique (Montreal, 1980); P. Schine Gold, The Lady and the Virgin. Image, attitude and experience in twelfth-century France (Chicago and London, 1985), 43-75.
6. See the illuminating discussions in T. A. Heslop, 'Attitudes to the visual arts: the evidence from the written sources', in J. Alexander and P. Binski (eds), Age of Chivalry: Art in Plantagenet England 1200–1400 (exh. cat., London, 1987), 26-32, and M. Camille, The Gothic Idol: Ideology and Image-making in Medieval Art (Cambridge, 1989), 197-241.
7. V. F. Koenig (ed.), Gautier de Coincy, Les miracles de la Sainte-Vierge (4 vols, Geneva, 1955–66); J. Guerrero Lovillo, Las Cántigas: Estudio arqueológico des sus miniaturas (Madrid, 1949), 266-82. The precise interpretation of the Reims trumeau socle remains unclear (W. Sauerländer, Gothic Sculpture in France 1140–1270 (London, 1972), 482).
8. See p. 39. A note of caution in regarding certain Romanesque schemes as responses to current heresies is sounded by W. Cahn, 'Heresy and the interpretation of Romanesque art', in Romanesque and Gothic. Essays for George Zarnecki (Woodbridge, 1987), I, 27-33.
9. See p. 153. Again, for a judicious commentary on the twelfth-century spectator, see W. Cahn, 'Romanesque sculpture and the spectator', in D. Kahn (ed.), The Romanesque Frieze and its Spectator (The Lincoln Symposium Papers) (London, 1992), 45-60.
10. F. B. Deknatel, 'The thirteenth century Gothic sculpture of the cathedrals of Burgos and Leon', Art Bulletin, XVII (1935), 339-40.
11. See pp. 57 and 195. A similar function can also be traced as far away as Stary Zamek in Lower Silesia in around 1260 (P. Crossley, 'Kasimir the Great at Wiślica', in Romanesque and Gothic, op. cit., 46-7).
12. See D. Knoop and G. P. Jones, The Mediaeval Mason (2nd edition, Manchester, 1966); R. Recht (ed.), Les bâtisseurs des cathédrales gothiques (exh. cat., Strasbourg, 1989); and the individual case studies of different French cathedrals in D. Kimpel and R. Suckale, L'architecture gothique en France 1130–1270 (Paris, 1990). An excellent study by C. R. Dodwell, 'The meaning of "Sculptor" in the Romanesque period', in Romanesque and Gothic, op. cit., 49-61, is of use for the earlier part of the thirteenth century.
13. Knoop and Jones, op. cit., 74-5; for the case of Exeter Cathedral around 1300 see J. A. Givens, 'The fabric accounts of Exeter Cathedral as a record of medieval sculptural practice', Gesta, XXX (1991), 112-18.
14. Von Simson, op. cit., 228-29.
15. E. Farrell and R. Newman, 'The materials of Gothic sculpture' in D. Gillerman (ed.), Gothic Sculpture in America. I. The New England Museums (New York and London, 1989), ix-xxi.
16. For Rochester and Wells see W. H. St John Hope and W. R. Lethaby, 'The imagery and sculptures on the west front of Wells cathedral church', Archaeologia, LIX (1904), pls XXXVI (Rochester), XXVII (N.78), XLII (S.22), XLVII (N.44), XLIX (N.74).
17. P. Williamson, 'The Westminster Chapter House Annunciation group', Burlington Magazine, CXXX (1988), 123-4, and idem., 928.
18. Idem., Northern Gothic Sculpture 1200–1450 (Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 1988), 43 (cat. nos 5-8).
19. The drawings by Villard de Honnecourt are more likely to be records of sculptures he had seen than working sketches: for these see H. R. Hahnloser, Villard de Honnecourt. Kritische Gesamtausgabe des Bauhüttenbuches ms.fr 19093 der Pariser Nationalbibliothek (2nd ed., Graz, 1972).
20. P. Plagnieux, 'Le portail du XIIe siècle de Saint-Germain-des-Prés à Paris: état de la question et nouvelles recherches', Gesta, XXVIII (1989), 21-9. For an analysis of the tool-marks on certain sculptures in Regensburg Cathedral see F. Fuchs, 'Beobachtungen zur Bildhauertechnik an den mittelalterlichen Skulpturen des Regensburger Domes', in Der Dom zu Regensburg. Ausgrabung—Restaurierung—Forschung (Munich and Zürich, 1990), 237-47. On tools see P. Rockwell, The art of stoneworking: a reference guide (Cambridge, 1993), 31-68 and pls 1-10.
21. In the case of Reims see H. Deneux, 'Signes lapidaires et épures du XIIIe siècle à la cathédrale de Reims', Bulletin Monumental, LXXXIV (1925), 99-131, and now, most comprehensively, R. Hamann-MacLean and I. Schüssler, Die Kathedrale von Reims, Die Architektur (Stuttgart, 1993), I/1, 261-94; I/2, figs 349-77; I/3, pls 167-8.
22. See, for instance, the tympanum from St Cäcilien in Cologne . These prefabricated blocks were not always installed correctly (or did not always fit together accurately in situ), as may be seen in one of the angels in the Lincoln Angel choir (A. Gardner, The Lincoln Angels (Lincoln Minster Pamphlet (First Series), 6, 1952), fig. S.5).
23. See p. 107 and pl. 164.
24. L. Schreiner, Die frühgotische Plastik Südwestfrankreichs (Cologne-Graz, 1963), 106-12, 162-4.
25. H.-B. Depping (ed.), Réglemens sur les arts et métiers de Paris, rédigés au XIIIe siècle, et connus sous le nom du Livre des Métiers d'Etienne Boileau (Paris, 1837), 157-9 (see also the comments of M. Blindheim, Main trends of East-Norwegian wooden figure sculpture in the second half of the thirteenth century (Oslo, 1952), 92). A later edition may also be consulted: R. de Lespinasse and F. Bonnardot (eds), Histoire Générale de Paris. Les métiers et corporations de la ville de Paris. XIIIe siècle. Le Livre des Métiers d'Etienne Boileau (Paris, 1879). It should be noted that a separate guild existed for Maçons, Tailleurs de pierre, Plastriers and Morteliers (for its regulations see Depping, op. cit., 107-12). For the Westminster reference see H. M. Colvin (ed.), Building Accounts of King Henry III (Oxford, 1971), 228-9.
26. A. Brodrick, 'Painting techniques of Early Medieval sculpture', in Romanesque: stone sculpture from medieval England (exh. cat., Leeds, 1993), 18-27.
27. E. Deuber-Pauli and T. A. Hermanès, 'Le portail peint de la Cathédrale de Lausanne: histoire, iconographie, sculpture et polychromie', Nos monuments d'art et d'histoire, XXXII (1981), 262-74; V. Furlan, R. Pancella and T. A. Hermanès, Portail peint de la Cathédrale de Lausanne: analyses pour une restauration (Lausanne, n.d. ); T. A. Hermanès and E. Deuber-Pauli, 'La couleur gothique', Connaissance des Arts, no. 367 (September 1982), 36-45.
28. O. Nonfarmale and R. Rossi Manaresi, 'Il restauro del "Portail Royal" della cattedrale di Chartres', Arte Medievale, 2nd series, I (1987), 259-75; di Matteo and P.-A. Lablaude, 'Le portail polychrome de Notre-Dame d'Etampes', Monuments historiques, 161 (January-February 1989), 86-90; R. Rossi-Manaresi and A. Tucci, 'The polychromy of the portals of the Gothic cathedral of Bourges', Preprints of the ICOM Committee for Conservation 7th Triennial Meeting, Copenhagen, 10-14 September 1984, 84.5.1-4; M. Chataignère, 'Etude technique de la polychromie', in A. Erlande-Brandenburg and D. Thibaudat, Les sculptures de Notre-Dame de Paris au musée de Cluny (Paris, 1982), 121-3; R. Rossi Manaresi and O. Nonfarmale, Notizie sul restauro del protiro della cattedrale di Ferrara (Bologna, 1981). For an overview see R. Rossi Manaresi, 'Considerazioni tecniche sulla scultura monumentale policromata, romanica e gotica', Bollettino d'Arte, XLI (1987), 173-86.
29. Translated from Depping, op. cit., 156-7.
30. Ibid., 158-9.
31. For a typical Central Italian example of around 1230–50 see P. Williamson, The Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection: Medieval sculpture and works of art (London, 1987), cat. no. 13.
32. See Williamson, op. cit., note 18 (1988), 14-16.
33. For an exemplary investigation into a Mosan Virgin and Child of about 1270, with a coloured illustration showing its evolution through eight different paint schemes, see R. Didier, L. Kockaert, M. Serck-Dewaide and J. Vynckier, 'La Sedes Sapientiae de Vivegnis: étude et traitement', Bulletin de l'Institut royal du Patrimoine artistique, XXII (1988/89), 51-77.
34. Frisch, op. cit., 56-7.
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ON THE SUBJECT OF …
WASHINGTON ALLSTON (1779–1843)
Allston, America's first important painter of the romantic movement, created landscapes, historical scenes, and literary pieces that exude dramatic terror as well as quiet mystery. Allston was in Paris in 1803 and 1804, and in Rome from 1804 to 1808, where he became acquainted with poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge and author Washington Irving. Allston returned to America in 1808 and stayed in Boston, occupying the very room that the painters John Copley and John Trumbull had used. In 1811 he sailed with his wife to England, where she died in 1815. Among the paintings of this second English period were the Angel Releasing St. Peter from Prison (1812) and the Dead Man Revived by Touching the Bones of the Prophet Elisha (1811–13), both developed into scenes of Gothic suspense. Allston returned to America (where he would remain for the rest of his life) in 1818 and took up residence in Boston. In Europe, Allston had painted scenes of either a dramatically bizarre or a sweetly joyous nature, treating emotional subjects openly, and exploring themes of supernatural salvation. His American paintings are usually more intimate and smaller in scale than those done in Europe. The heroic Belshazzar's Feast (1817–43) was out of keeping with the more subdued mood of the American period. This huge canvas, begun in Europe, was taken up, put down, and taken up again at the end of Allston's life but never finished. Allston was preparing to work on the figure of the King on the day of his death. The image of the prophet Daniel interpreting the handwriting on the wall haunted Allston to the point that he found himself unable to undertake other commissions. Allston's insistence that colors and forms could produce psychological reactions in the spectator, regardless of the subject of the painting, anticipated the work of James McNeill Whistler and the thinking of early-twentieth-century theoreticians of non-objective painting. Allston was the first American painter to draw more from the workings of his personal inner vision than from external reality.
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Barnes, Carl F., Jr. "The Gothic Architectural Engravings in the Cathedral of Soissons." Speculum: A Journal of Medieval Studies 47, no. 1 (January 1972): 60-64.
Studies the material culture and folk art in the medieval French Gothic Cathedral of Soissons.
Blum, Pamela Z. Early Gothic Saint-Denis: Restorations and Survivals. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1992, 187 p.
Discusses the nineteenth-century restoration of the Royal Abbey of Saint-Denis in France, and argues that contrary to the opinions of other experts, much of the original twelfth-century sculpture survived the restoration.
Bolton, Jonathan. "Empire and Atonement: Geoffrey Hill's 'An Apology for the Revival of Christian Architecture in England.'" Contemporary Literature 38, no. 2 (summer 1997): 287-306.
Explores Geoffrey Hill's use of poetry as a means of reconciling England's policies of imperialism and oppression of the lower classes with the opulence and grandeur of Gothic architecture in his sonnet sequence "An Apology for the Revival of Christian Architecture in England."
Eastlake, Charles L. A History of the Gothic Revival. London, 1872, n.p.
Earliest detailed study of the Gothic Revival in England.
Gaborit, Jean René. "General Notes." In Great Gothic Sculpture, translated by Carole Sperri and Lucia Wildt, pp. 177-84. New York: Reynal and Company, in association with William Morrow and Company, Inc., 1978.
Traces the progress of Gothic art and architecture in Europe from the twelfth century through the late nineteenth century.
Howard, Seymour. "Blake: Classicism, Gothicism, and Nationalism." Colby Library Quarterly 21, no. 4 (December 1985): 165-87.
Asserts that "[w]hat William Blake … made of Classic and Gothic art in his work is akin to the patriotic and personal interests of his contemporaries."
Hyman, Timothy. Sienese Painting: The Art of a City-Republic 1278–1477. New York: Thames & Hudson, 2003, 224 p.
Provides an overview of painting in Siena during the thirteenth to fifteenth centuries, including links to French Gothic architecture and Sienese Gothic art.
Jones, Peter Blundell. "Architecture as Mnemonic: The Accumulation of Memories around Morris's Red House." Nineteenth-Century Contexts 21, no. 4 (2000): 513-40.
Examines the role of memory in the Gothic Revival architecture of William Morris.
Marius, Richard C. "Goodbye to Gothic: On Finding Oneself in the Camp of the Enemy." Soundings: An Interdisciplinary Journal 79, nos. 1-2 (spring-summer 1996): 79-93.
Discusses themes and figures in architecture of Gothic cathedrals, as well as the treatment of folk craft, architecture, and French Gothic cathedrals in literature.
Masheck, J. D. C. "Irish Gothic Theory Before Pugin." Studies: An Irish Quarterly Review 70 (summer-autumn 1981): 206-19.
Discusses the Gothic Revival movement in Ireland during the eighteenth century and early nineteenth century.
Myles, Janet. L. N. Cottingham, 1787–1847: Architect of the Gothic Revival. London: Lund Humphries Publishers, 1996, 176 p.
Comprehensive study of the contributions of leading Mediaevalist architect L. N. Cottingham to the Gothic Revival in nineteenth-century architecture.
Ogden, Daryl. "The Architecture of Empire: 'Oriental' Gothic and the Problem of British Identity in Ruskin's Venice." Victorian Literature and Culture 25, no. 1 (1997): 109-20.
Studies John Ruskin's treatment of Gothic architecture in The Stones of Venice, and how this relates to British identity and orientalism.
Patrick, James. "Newman, Pugin, and Gothic." Victorian Studies 24, no. 2 (winter 1981): 185-207.
Discusses architecture by A. W. Pugin, and Cardinal John Henry Newman's relationship to the Gothic Revival movement and Tractarianism.
Toman, Rolf, editor. The Art of Gothic: Architecture, Sculpture, Painting, translated by Christian von Arnim. Köln, Germany: Könemann, 1999, 521 p.
Full-length study of the development of Gothic art forms worldwide throughout history.
von Simson, Otto. "Gothic Form." In The Gothic Cathedral: Origins of Gothic Architecture and the Medieval Concept of Order, pp. 3-20. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1956.
Illustrates the essential components of Gothic form as it applies to the architecture of cathedrals.