Gothic movement begins to spread in Europe during the first half of the twelfth century. The colossal dimensions of religious architecture flourish throughout the Christian world in a common style called International Gothic.
Sculpture and painting, always carrying an eschatological message, constantly evoke the presence of impending death (in the Middle Ages life expectancy was about thirty years). The image is primarily intended to educate the faithful, who can not read and write, by transmitting a set of civic and moral rules that maintain the social balance in a society where power is often on the side of the stronger.
A LANGUAGE AT THE SERVICE OF RELIGION
Topics covered are from the Bible and the Gospels. The supports are the illuminated books, the altarpieces of the churches and the windows of the religious buildings. The colors are bright and strongly contrasted, often with an abstract golden background, creating an impressive effect for the viewer, for whom color is virtually absent from everyday life. For the inhabitants of the cities, life in the Middle Ages takes place in a brown, brown, gray environment … The only touches of blue, yellow or red that it could cross are found in the clothes reserved for the nobles and inside the churches.
The narration evoked in the image must be simple and accessible to all. The faithful, accustomed to the symbolism of the motifs used at the time, easily recognizes the object of the painting. The layout is sometimes even available in boxes in which the main character is represented at various important moments in his life. The unity of place and time will appear in the tables only with the rebirth and the invention of linear perspective.
Realism in the treatise of the characters is not the concern of the Gothic painter. The resemblance to a particular individual is considered by the Church as a sign of pride and vanity, which explains why no portrait before that of John II the good around 1360 has been found. The symbols used are often sufficient to identify the figures to which the subjects are attached: the cross or the stigmata for Christ, the halo for the saints, the keys for Saint-Pierre, etc … Their size depends on their social importance or spiritual. The Christ, the virgin or the saint who generally make the main subject of the work are represented larger than the other characters of second order.
The lack of lighting does not allow the volume to exist, the characters seem flat and poorly integrated into the background. Nevertheless the Gothic style pays particular attention to the decorative detail and offers an image with a soft and pleasant language to contemplate.
With the 14th century appear the first research on the depth but the illusion perspective remains false. The discovery of the mathematical rules necessary for its rigorous construction will be at the origin of the great artistic upheaval still to come but which is already announced in the novelty stylistic of the painter Giotto: he humanizes the characters by giving them an expressive face. The use of shaded shades allows him to bring a certain volume that makes his figures more realistic and more present.
In Italy, the current gives way to the Renaissance style from the first quarter of the XVth century while the Gothic continues its expression until about 1500 in France and in the countries of the north of Europe where the painting turns smoothly towards a resolutely new style while retaining certain aspects of the finishing movement.