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FRENCH ART & ARCHITECTURE
"Art is the most passionate orgy within
Jean Dubuffet (1901-85), French
The Gothic style
grew out of the Romanesque in a surge of activity that began in the
mid-12th century. The increasing affluence of that period brought new
commercial centers into prominence. Mercantile interests sponsored
the construction of great cathedrals, thus giving the cities the
initiative in artistic innovation over the rural monastic and
pilgrimage churches that had dominated the preceding centuries.
Gothic art evolved in Northern France and spread throughout Europe,
becoming the universal style from the 13th through the 16th century.
Although the influence of Romanesque architecture had spread beyond
France, Gothic was the first French style to dominate Europe.
began with the construction of cathedrals in Noyon (begun c.1150-70)
and Laon (begun c.1160) and of the abbey church of Saint-Denis near
Paris. It continued to develop in churches close to Paris, at Senlis
(1153-84) and Sens (begun c.1140), and in the cathedrals of Reims
(begun 1210) and Rouen (begun after 1200). Saint-Denis, the most
important achievement of early Gothic architecture, was built on the
foundations of an earlier church between 1137 and 1144. The Abbott
Suger intended to make Saint-Denis a splendid showplace in keeping
with its function as the royal abbey church of France and burial
place of French kings.
In order to make
these Gothic churches larger, the ribbed vault, capable of spanning
large areas, was devised. Ribbed vaults were made loftier by
enlarging the clerestory zone and its windows to enormous size,
inserting a new zone, the triforium, below it, and supporting them on
an arcade of high piers lining the nave. To bear the greater stress
of these taller, broader interiors, and to create larger window
areas, a system of external supports or flying buttresses was
developed. This created a greater sense of unity between the spaces
of the nave and the adjacent aisles and ambulatory chapels. As the
builders became more sophisticated, they were able to achieve ever
grander effects at Notre Dame de Paris (begun 1163), Chartres
Cathedral (1145; rebuilt after a fire begun 1194), Amiens Cathedral
(begun 1220), the Sainte-Chapelle in Paris (begun after 1243,
completed 1248), and Reims. The windows were enlarged, not to lighten
the interiors, but rather for extensive use of stained glass, which
attained the height of its development in the late 12th and 13th
centuries at Chartres and the Sainte-Chapelle.
Both the exteriors
of these churches and certain interior elements were decorated with
elaborate sculpture. Facades were populated with large figures of
kings; portals were flanked by pillar-statues, called jamb figures,
of saints, angels, and apostles; and other parts of the building were
encrusted with decorative cusps, finials, and grotesque gargoyles.
Gothic sculptors took a revolutionary step beyond their Romanesque
predecessors in their conception of the figures as independent,
almost free-standing statues rather than as reliefs. From the
columnar verticality of the jamb statues at Chartres, Gothic
sculpture evolved quickly toward the sympathetic depiction of
character in the figures at Reims (c.1224-45). Gothic sculpture
became more sophisticated in the ensuing centuries. One of the finest
14th-century creations is the refined and mannered figure of the
Virgin that stands in the south transept of Notre Dame de Paris.
The "Joconde" database is a catalogue of drawings, stamps, paintings, sculptures,
photography and objects of art conserved in more than 60 museums throughout France. It
contains details on more than 130,000 works, dating from the 7th century to the present,
representing over 10,000 artists.
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