Germany Figurative Arts in Gothic Age Part I

Germany Figurative Arts in Gothic Age Part I

The French Gothic style can be said to be completely accepted in Germany around 1250, except in the most secluded areas, where it arrived very late. The universalism of the church and the superiority of French culture – which the German Empire, weakened by the local centrifugal forces, could not offer any resistance – opened Germany to the influence of French art. On the other hand, the rapid growth and affirmation of the local states and above all of the autonomous cities meant that local and regional peculiarities manifested themselves more than before: and therefore the Gothic does not present itself with a compact stylistic unity, but in innumerable variations and nuances of local schools. Between 1250 and 1400 the subdivision, both political and spiritual, of Germany takes place and continues to this day. The domain of Pure Gothic art lasted until about 1400, that is, until local traditions, submerged by the international stylistic wave, regained such strength as to determine a new stylistic phase, which while maintaining the Gothic language affirmed specifically German characters with greater energy. This late Gothic style can be considered transitional; but this vision of the whole, which is in accordance with the general development of European art, could be replaced by another which, taking into greater account the German artistic spirit, sees in the two transitional styles the peaks of national artistic activity, including a period of recollection under foreign guidance – the pure Gothic period (1250-1400) -, since these two transition periods actually surpass it in originality and abundance of works. The architecture of the Rhenish regions, which had already been the most active, now has some of the most important creations. In the cathedral of Strasbourg, whose eastern side still belongs to the transition and the plan of an even older period, the central body, completed between 1250 and 1275, shows the purest Gothic style; but the facade, completed after a long interval caused by the fire of 1298, was then irreparably damaged. The cathedral of Freiburg im Breisgau derives from that of Strasbourg, and is notable above all for the perforated tower. In the cathedral of Cologne (v.), Begun in 1248 and completed up to the choir only in 1322 (most of the central body belongs to the 19th century), the

In Thuringia the main artistic center was Erfurt. In Saxony, the most important work of this period is the completion of the Magdeburg and Halberstadt cathedrals. In Swabia Wimpfen, Esslingen and Salem on Lake Constance constitute as many centers of artistic activity; Strasbourg, on the other hand, exerts its influence on Rottweil and other smaller towns. A historically important group is given by the churches with naves of equal height, such as the chapter church of Herrenberg, the church of the Virgin in Esslingen, the church of the Holy Cross in Gmünd: in them the Gothic verticalism is attenuated thus preparing the late Gothic, perhaps not without the influence of Austrian Cistercian architecture. In Franconia, where some important buildings stand in the old bishopric (church of St. Mary in Wiirzburg, superior parish church in Bamberg), Nuremberg stands out, autonomous, rich and industrious, favored by the Luxembourg dynasty, with its churches of San Lorenzo, della Vergine, San Sebaldo. In Bavaria, in addition to the votive church of Ettal, singular for its concentric plan, the cathedral of Regensburg is noteworthy, begun in 1275, but continued very slowly: its plan, of the French type, became in the region, where the Gothic reached with very faint reflections, model of the late Gothic style.

Meanwhile, regions that have hitherto remained secluded are beginning to participate in the development of architecture, such as Austria, Bohemia and Northern Germany, which created, using brick as a building material, a gothic style of its own, in which more surface and surface predominate. masses. This architectural variety developed at the end of the thirteenth century and throughout the fourteenth century, coinciding with the beginnings of the Hanseatic League and with the expansion of the Teutonic Order in Prussia. Typical examples for the Hanseatic region are the churches of St. Mary in Lübeck, Rostock and Stralsunda, the church of the Cistercians in Doberan, the cathedral of Schwerin; for Lower Prussia, the church of the Chorin convent and the cathedral of Frankfurt on the Oder; for the territory of the Teutonic Order, the church of S. Maria in Gdansk and the Frauenburg cathedral. Offshoots of this style extend to Poland, Latvia, Finland.

Monumental sculpture is not linked to the grandiose works of the previous period. A new close union with French art, completely accepted, breaks the previous tradition, while the ideal impulse of art is lost: compared to the previous one, the new style is more elegant, but also empty. This is clearly seen in Strasbourg, which had an industrious school of carvers throughout Germany from the mid-thirteenth century to the mid-fourteenth century. Even in his sculptures the cathedral of Freiburg im Breisgau depends on that of Strasbourg, with a complex iconographic system rich in subtle meanings, so much so that it is obscure. The hollow and massive forms of some of his statues are a prelude to the style of the fourteenth century. At the end of the thirteenth century belongs the portal of the Virgins in Magdeburg, also under the influence of the masters of Strasbourg. The style of the fourteenth century, already fully expressed in the Apostles of the choir of the cathedral of Cologne, renounces any organic architectural element and tries to infuse the figures with the utmost spirituality. In Swabia – especially in Rottweil – sculpture opens the way progressively followed in Gmünd, in Augusta, in Ulm. A very fruitful school, with a purely bourgeois spirit, then developed with the great architectural activity of Nuremberg.

While monumental plastic is becoming impoverished and neither wall painting nor glass painting succeeds in gaining importance, two genres developed whose independence from architecture responded to the new habits of life: wood sculpture and panel painting, often associated in altarpieces with doors that soon became the main artistic furnishings of the German Gothic churches (altarpiece from the St. Peter’s Church in Hamburg, by master Bertram; Doberan altarpiece). To the fundamental sentiment of the fourteenth century corresponds the development of works of art of devotion, both painted and sculpted, then repeated continuously, the Pietà, the Ecce Homo, the Madonna della Misericordia, the group of San Giovanni with the Virgin. Their purpose is to act effectively on the viewer through their formal recollection and their spiritual concentration. Thus began, with the favor of the ecclesiastical tradition, that individualization of the work of art, which was also essential in Italian art of the time: the dependence on French Gothic begins to yield before the harbingers of the Renaissance that is being prepared in Italy.

According to, the last period of the German Gothic style, while on the one hand shows a process of dissolution and decomposition, like the “flamboyant” style in France and England, on the other hand it offers such a strong expression of national tendencies and capabilities to be said very special (“Sondergotik”). And it really would not do justice to its nature by persisting in wanting to see in it nothing more than that final phase of a style in which architecture and structure are resolved in whims of decoration. The renunciation of pure verticalism and the weakening of architectural robustness are instead the expression of a new sense of space, which is not analogous to that of the Italian Renaissance, but has some parallelism with it, or is affected by something, as in the individualism and in the naturalism of the figurative arts: in fact, when it is not already penetrated by the art of the Renaissance, the German Gothic style contains many traits derived from it. Then single Gothic forms will remain for a long time, up to the Baroque art. All the ideas and institutions of the Middle Ages, political or social and economic, religious and scientific, underwent a radical transformation, and the new spirit of the Renaissance was being prepared behind the apparently little changed facade of the medieval world.

Among the provinces that worked most actively in architecture, Swabia held the first place, where the Parler school had prepared the ground in Gmünd. Artists of this school had begun to build the choir of the parish church of Ulm in 1377: in 1392 Ulrich of Ensingen began the main body of this which was to become the largest Gothic church in Germany after the Cologne cathedral. The construction of the cathedral (huge for the small town) was started with the gigantic tower; continued by the sons and grandsons of Ulrico, only at the end of the fifteenth century was it provisionally finished by Matteo Böblinger. The contrast between architectural dryness and ornamental fantasy is singular and characteristic; thus the immeasurable greatness of the conception contrasts the inability to realize it.

Germany Figurative Arts in Gothic Age 1

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