Saturday, May 3, 2008

Discussion of the Role of Light in Gothic Art and Architecture

The new Gothic style of architecture became apparent with remodeling of the ambulatory and radiating chapels of the choir at the abbey church, Saint-Denis, France. The abbot was responsible for the commission of the style and all marveled at the result of light that entered through the windows. He called it lux nova, new light.

The vaults were changed from the Romanesque to gothic with the pointed arch, which allowed features of flexibility permitting vaulting of compartments of varying shapes. Pointed arches also allowed weight to be cast downward requiring less buttresses and removal of dark interior walls reducing masonry areas. The eye of an observer is thrust upward. Windows could be added in larger numbers and style. The church became soaring in height and much more sturdy. Light filled the interior enhancing the statuary, murals, icons and gold painted surfaces, marble columns and stone floors. Stained glass and the rose window were commissioned, which filtered the light adding a holy effect.

The lightness of the Gothic style affected teaching and likely new enlightenment was conceived by Thierry of Chartres, chancellor of the Cathedral School of Chartres. “The archivolts of the right portal, for example, depict the seven female Liberal Arts and their male companions represent the core of medieval learning and symbolize human knowledge, which Thierry and others believed led to true faith.”*

*Gardner’s ART through the Ages, Volume I, Twelfth Edition, Fred S. Kleiner, Christin J. Mamiya, page 363, right column titled The Royal Portal, last two lines continuing next page.

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