Sunday, August 18, 2013

Blog is Closed

This blog will cease being updated.  Enjoy what's here.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

My Reflection on the Role of Light in Gothic Art and Architcture

People in the Gothic era thought of their cathedrals as a symbol or image of the "City of God" built on earth. Intellectual thinking and religious education was moving beyond just monasteries and religious pilgrimage sites into larger populated cities where universities started to flourish. Cathedrals were being built that "reached" for the heavens. Abott Sager, known for rebuilding the Saint-Denis Cathedral in France, wrote what was to become an insight to the inspiration for building of these great Gothic cathedrals. The "costly furnishings and light filled space caused him to delight in the beauty of the house of God." (Gardner p. 361). This marked a beginning of elaborate stained glass windows that allowed light to permeate into the churches.

The light weight of the developing rib vault allowed ceiling to soar higher and higher. Thus, the heightened outer walls became a perfect place to display narratives and teachings of the Bible in stunning color and light of the stained glass. The stained glass in most cases actually reduced the pure light of entering the church as it transformed the light into dramatic and colorful light that illuminated the religious messages that the religious leaders wanted to teach the public. The importance of the narrative stained glass became so important that churches were built with as little bulky wall possible and was replaced with intricate stone, lace-like patterns which served as the framework for the elaborate stained glass windows. This was a framework that would still provide the lessening support needed for the rib vaulted ceilings, but became a larger part of the window artwork. Thus walls were not merely covered with colorful paintings and art the window artwork actually replaced much of the walls. The light was transmitted and transformed by the windows into the places of worship. The belief was that that the light illuminating the cathedrals would enlighten the diverse congregations and pilgrims.

The height and "reach" to the heavens continued to grow higher and higher as the period progressed. This made the structures more prominent on their landscape and the visibility extended the "reach" to further distances and people. The towering height over the surrounding building in turn would allow more and more light to illuminate in high dramatic form the scriptures to enlighten the masses.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Gothic Light

Light was an important aspect of Gothic architecture. Light represented more and served a greater purpose than just being used as illumination. Oftentimes, large glass windows were used in Gothic cathedrals and allowed light to stream in inspiring those attending a service. However, not only was clear glass used but stained glass also. This was often considered by architectures to be more inspiring. The outside light would stream in through the windows and transform the look of the cathedral. This wasn't just "neat" or "cool" but was spiritual. The stained glass windows frequently were created with the subject of a Bible story as their theme. Because of this, when the light would come through the stained glass windows, even though the room was dim, the light became almost holy. This was considered a mystical and mysterious experience for those who attended the church. The stained glass was made from very bright colors and the stories etched into them were inspiring. Before this, many mosaics and paintings were used to tell stories and display the narratives of the Bible. Stained glass could have been considered more personal than the previous methods because people were in the midst of the light coming in; they weren't just looking at an image.
I have always liked stained glass and the effect it gives to a room. I've never thought about the light streaming through the glass as being a spiritual experience, but it's a neat thought. I can imagine the excitement when stain glass was beginning to be used in churches and can see the beauty the use of it added to Gothic cathedrals.

Gothic Light

Gothic cathedrals are far more than impressive in my opinion. The sheer size alone is just… flabbergasting, especially when taking into consideration the time period they were built in. Gothic architecture featured elements like the flying buttresses, arches, columns, carved reliefs, statues, and of course, stained glass windows on a scale that takes the breath away. The stained glass in particular is very characteristic of the Gothic cathedrals and utilizes light strikingly.

Lighting up the interior of such a massive building is definitely a feet, but I believe they made it an art. Light coming through the stained glass of the cathedrals is colored. Walking into cathedral through the dappled colored light is surely an experience in itself. During the time period, I can only imagine the awe people must have felt as they entered a building already freakishly amazing form the outside into the sea of color on the inside. To the faithful, this colored light would capture in some small tangible way the glory and magnificence of God and the beauty and purity of heaven.

Without the magnificent windows, the spaces between the columns and arches would be terrifyingly dark and unwelcoming, not the best image for a church. Plain glass windows would have been enough to light up the space, but the Gothic cathedrals’ element of color adds warmth and a certain feeling that couldn’t be felt anywhere else at the time for the everyday person. Being able to experience such a rich amount of color, walking through it and having it shine on their skin and clothes, must have been like experiencing a little piece of… well… heaven.

Light through stained glass in a building that is a giant sculpture in its own right creates an unmatched environment that brought people into a profound state of awe. Although, I wonder if the windows and the Gothic cathedrals as a whole were also a symbol of power and not simply faith. While they glorified God in a way, they were certainly not humble undertakings, but that’s an argument for another time.

Light in Gothic Architecture

Gothic architecture was developed from a Christian perspective. New concepts showed that God encompassed many things such as light. People wanted taller churches with more windows. The French Abbott Suger theorized God as the supernatural light transforming everything material and mortal into immateriality. Clerics wanted to create a new setting that was drawn toward light and purity that could be an image of heaven.

A cathedral nave flooded with light would have a dramatic effect on the faithful. Vast window space became a characteristic of the Gothic style and responded to one of the goals of a growing religion in the medieval era. The cloudy days and less intense summer heat of Western Europe allowed designers to develop a style that attempted to maximize interior light and uninterrupted interior heights. They developed a style that would provide larger windows to illuminate the interior of the building.

Another characteristic of the Gothic style was the use of light and the relationship between structure and appearance. Ribbed vaults were used to allow lighter materials to be placed between stone ribs to reduce weight. The weight of the walls and roof were supported by external flying buttresses. They used pointed arches and slender columns to lift the ceiling and to create overwhelming height.

Enormous stained glass windows allowed more light into the structures which added a sense of warmth and color. Not only did the stained glass illuminate the cathedral with bright-toned and colorful light but also fulfilled a narrative and illustrative purpose by representing Biblical events and the lives of saints.