Gothic Painting

Gothic painting was one of the artistic expressions of Gothic art, which developed in Europe between the 12th and 15th centuries. It was characterized by the predominance of religious themes, the appreciation of detail and a more realistic and expressive style.

Pintura gótica
Tríptico de Dresde – Van Eyck

By abandoning the Romanesque hieratism, the artists of the beginning of the 13th century initiated what was called “Gothic humanism”; inspired mainly by antiquity, they began to give a new importance to human representation and the expression of feelings.

In this context, the forms of representation underwent a radical change in all the figurative arts.

Gothic artists highlighted the human nature of Christ, the Virgin, the biblical characters and the saints through volume, proportions and plausible modeling of their bodies.

They tried to express feelings such as pain, hope, tenderness and adoration. However, to preserve their power of conviction, the image was still impregnated with an idealization that was still somewhat abstract.

The artistic production of the late Middle Ages was marked by the development of commissioned work.

This was due to the multiplication of princely courts and the emergence of a powerful bourgeoisie that began to imitate the lifestyle of the high aristocracy.

A true market for art and luxury objects emerged, such as goldsmithing (Limoges school) and tapestry (Flemish school).

Stages of Gothic Painting

Its evolution was divided into three stages:

  • Linear or French Gothic (13th century): It had a special importance within Gothic painting as it was characterized by the special emphasis on the lines that define the contours.
  • Italian Gothic (13th and 14th centuries): It had two great schools: Siena and Florence. It stood out for the depth of the works, the use of objective coloring and a greater precision and accuracy in the figures and representations
  • International Gothic (15th century): The Gothic painting of this period also called “Flemish Gothic painting” stood out for its realism and for the appearance of Flemish influences that mixed with French and Italian ones

Characteristics of Gothic Painting

Among the characteristics of Gothic Painting we can highlight the following:

  • Gothic paintings are very descriptive, details are valued. Landscapes are introduced in the paintings, giving importance to the naturalness of things.
  • Nature is valued, identifying God in it. The central theme remains religious. There is an increasing Naturalism, compared to the simplified and idealized paintings of the Romanesque.
  • Light is valued, stained glass windows and drawings with golden background proliferate. They broke with the hieratism and formalism of the Romanesque.
  • They tended to represent religious characters on a more human than divine plane, allowing them to show feelings and expressions.
  • There is more freshness, color and luminosity in the pictorial works.
  • The main objective of Gothic painting was still didactic, to bring religion closer to the illiterate population of the time.
  • Perspective was slowly introduced, creating more persuasive figures.
  • The techniques most commonly used are: tempera and oil, on panel painting and fresco on mural paintings.
  • The axis of symmetry is taken into account, with the elements oriented towards the center of the picture.

Representation of the Virgin

Initially represented in the cycle of Jesus’ infancy, the Virgin was associated in the context of official Christianity with all the important stages of Christ’s life.

Later, she was presented as the intermediary between men and God. Then, after being crowned by Christ, her image tended to be confused with that of the universal Church

It is difficult to specify the date of the first images where the Virgin appears. In the framework of official Christianity, the Virgin was represented in mosaics as an empress. She was represented with luxurious garments, sometimes golden, but more often purple imperial, like those of Christ.

 During the Romanesque period, the image of the reigning Virgin who presented the Child was spread. The Virgin was both Virgin-Church, image of wisdom, but also model of virtues, humility and devotion, praised by the monks. From the Gothic period onwards, her role as mediator and intercessor increased.

Main Authors of Gothic Painting

1.- Cimabue

Florentine painter of Gothic walls and panels, he inherited the Byzantine figurative culture that had dominated Italian art throughout the first half of the 13th century.

However, his works (destined for the most flourishing cities of his time in Italy such as Siena, Florence, Assisi, Pisa and Bologna) denote a clear innovative will with respect to tradition, giving his compositions a great refinement and paying attention to certain aspects of reality.

All this makes him one of the first great creators in the history of painting.

Most of Cimabue’s works have arrived very deteriorated to our days. The most important commission he received throughout his career was his participation in the mural decoration of the upper church of San Francesco in Assisi, affected by the earthquake of 1997.

2.- Giotto

Disciple of Cimabue, who paved his way for him, he is considered the inventor of realism. One of his main innovations lay in the systematic exploration of three-dimensionality, for the first time in the history of painting.

With the technique of fresco (painting on fresh plaster) Giotto achieved vivid and intense colors; he worked on the incarnation of faces, shadows of bodies, modeling folds and transparency of fabrics.

He was especially concerned with giving a human dimension to religious scenes, and for this he accentuated the expressiveness of gazes and simplified gestures and attitudes.

Thanks to his skillful realism, he was unanimously recognized as a precursor of modern painting, surpassing his master (Cimabue) in this respect.

Dante praised the talent of his friend Giotto in the following terms in his work “Divine Comedy”: “Cimabue thought he occupied a place with his painting and Giotto is now present in everyone’s mouth, so much so that he has overshadowed the glory of the other”.

Los depositorios de la Virgen

3.- Simeone Martini

In Siena, Simone Martini was recognized as a painter of advanced spatial sense and refined and exquisite taste (the “Sienese style”, in contrast to the “Florentine style”, his main rival at the time), capable of masterfully interpreting the wishes of his clients.

Commissioned to decorate a chapel in the lower church of the basilica of San Francesco in Assisi, and called by the king of Naples, Augustinians, Dominicans and Franciscans from central Italy, he ended his artistic career in Avignon, the city of the popes, as one of the most notable and influential painters of the 14th century.