The Gothic Style

The Coronation of the Virgin triptych, unknown maker, 1360-1370. Museum no. 143-1866

The Coronation of the Virgin triptych, unknown maker, 1360-1370. Museum no. 143-1866

In the 13th and 14th centuries, the making and buying of art was increasingly concentrated in towns and cities. In the area around Paris known as the Ile-de-France, a new style of art developed. Because of its supposedly Germanic character, this style was called ‘Gothic’, first by 16th-century Renaissance writers and again by 19th-century historians.

Its first patrons were bishops and abbots, but the power and sophistication of the new Gothic forms soon appealed to kings and nobles as well. At the same time, the knightly class was developing a more self-conscious identity. This was reflected in the growth of the ideals of chivalry and in a symbolic colour code – heraldry.

Outside France, Gothic art was at first associated with French political power, but in each country, artists and patrons found ways of adapting the style to their own aims and ideals. Gothic quickly spread throughout Europe, and versions of the style were still in use as late as the 1550s.

Gothic art in England

From 9 October 2003 - 18 January 2004, the V&A hosted the exhibition Gothic: Art for England 1400-1547, which looked at the influence of the Gothic style on the art of late medieval England. 

“[…] this is a period that is very much misunderstood and overlooked. It's misunderstood, I think largely because, ironically perhaps of Shakespeare's history plays, which have created an image to most of us of a bloody, strife-torn England, obsessed with dynastic feuding, and with war first with France and latterly in England and the Wars of the Roses. Probably I think the most familiar dates to people of the period are 1415 with the battle of Agincourt and 1485 with the battle of Bosworth, when Richard III was killed and Henry VII took the throne.

[…] these people - the crown, the nobles, the leading churchmen - were far from obsessed with dynastic struggles and their own positions. What they were are major patrons of the arts. There's also the misconception around that England was a provincial back water, isolated from the main European artistic currents in this period. […] English men and women commissioned the best they could acquire, not only at home but also abroad, from leading artists like Hans Memling, Holbein and also employed these people at home, like Torriginno. So England is very much in the mainstream of Europe.”

- Richard Marks, exhibition curator

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