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: The Gothic Room


Minneapolis Institute of Arts



Institution Minneapolis Institute of Arts
Gothic was originally used as a term of opprobrium. It meant anything that was rude and barbarous. The term, however, is now used so generally, without any sense of disparagement, to describe the art of the period that intervened between the decline of the Byzantine and the Romanesque and the rise of Renaissance art, that one must, perforce, accept it. It is impossible to date any period of art with absolute accuracy. Art is always in a process of change, and the flourishing of any period of art is long anticipated by preliminary manifestations. But, in a general way, it may be said that the Gothic period includes, roughly, the XIII, XIV, and XV centuries. Italy, however, presents an exception. The tentative Gothic art of the XIII century in Italy soon gave place to the new movement founded upon enthusiasm for antiquity and enthusiasm for nature which we call the Renaissance. In the XV century, the Renaissance spread from Italy into the northern countries, and, in the XVI century, gained a triumphal ascendancy over the late Gothic style.Gothic art was essentially, although not exclusively, ecclesiastical. Its most complete achievement was the cathedral, where architect, sculptor and painter combined to create monuments which rank with the greatest achievement of human genius. Never has sculpture more nobly adorned architecture; never has architecture more beautifully expressed the hopes and aspirations of a people. Through architecture, Gothic art spread into other lands, to Germany, Flanders, Spain, and England, and even into Italy. During the XIII and XIV centuries, the highest development of Gothic art was attained in France, but, in the XV century, Burgundy and the merchant cities of Flanders gained pre-eminence. It took France many years after the battle of Agincourt in 1415 to recover from the exhaustion brought about by internal conflict and foreign wars. In the meantime, the rich cities of Flanders and the powerful Dukes of Burgundy offered the artist munificent patronage. If the artist lost something of the religious fervor and noble simplicity of the earlier periods, he was technically more skillful. Art was now more realistic than before. Not that the earlier artist did not observe nature! He embodied the fundamental truths but subordinated objective representation to the requirements of a monumental style.We reproduce on this page a view of one corner of the Gothic Period Room. At the left is the beautiful tapestry of two scenes from the story of Esther, forming part of the Charles Jairus Martin memorial Collection of Tapestries. This celebrated tapestry, formerly in the Morgan Collection, was woven in Flanders toward the close of the XV century. This century was the Golden Age of tapestry weaving, and in another tapestry of the Martin Collection, The Falconers, exhibited in this room, we have a superb example of the great decorative art of the middle of the XV century. The Falconers formed part, originally, of the famous set representing hunting scenes, belonging to the Duke of Devonshire and now in the Victoria and Albert Museum, which is universally considered to rank among the finest masterpieces of Gothic art.At the right, in the illustration, is a large statue in stone of the Virgin and Child, dating from the XIV century. In the XIII century, the Virgin is represented as Queen of Heaven, austere and majestic; but in this statue, instead of the severity of the earlier sculpture, we find a charming intimacy between Mother and Child, a humanity which lends its charm to all the work of this period. A fragment of a late Gothic tapestry, cut from some large hanging representing the Crucifixion, hangs behind the statue of the Virgin and Child. At the left is a small panel painting representing St. Francis receiving the stigmata. This painting, interesting as an illustration of the earliest stages of that great movement which has resulted in the pictorial art of our day, is by a pupil of Giotto of the Romagna school and was painted about 1330. As a pendant to this little picture, but not shown in the illustration, is an exquisite miniature from a book of hours painted in the atelier of Jean Bourdichon.Several examples of Gothic sculpture, both in stone and wood, are exhibited. Of the five pieces of German wood sculpture dating from the close of the XV century or the early years of the XVI century, the finest example is the Kneeling Saint, a production of the school of Ulm about 1500. Another fine pieces is the figure in low relief without background, attributed to Jorg Syrlin the Younger. A small statuette near the door into the Renaissance Room is a characteristic example of Flemish carving dating about 1500. French wood carving of the early XV century is represented by a statue of the Virgin and Child, which is particularly graceful in its flowing lines. A fine piece of stone carving of the same period is the Head of the Virgin, broken from a statue. This piece stands upon a small column, with an interesting foliage capital, that came from a cloister in the south of France and dates from the XIV century. In the middle of the room is a XV century well-head of Istrian marble that was originally in the Palazzo Zorzi in Venice. Although this is not Gothic but Renaissance in style it has a Gothic flavor that reminds us that the Gothic style flourished longer in Venice than in any of the other great Italian centers of art.Referenced Work of Art
  1. The Gothic Room
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Source: Joseph Breck, "The Gothic Room," <i>The Minneapolis Institute of Arts Bulletin</i> 6, no. 2 (February, 1917): 12-14.
Rights: ©MIA
Added to Site: March 10, 2009