France Sculpture and Painting in the Middle Ages

By | January 27, 2022

The vast architectural movement also brought with it the other arts, and first sculpture. The decline of sculpture after the end of the Roman Empire is connected with the end of paganism and the penetration of oriental ideas. It survives only in the ivory and goldsmith works (Sens casket, consular diptychs, ivory chair in Ravenna, Porta di S. Sabina in Rome). The Carolingian Renaissance succeeded for a moment in galvanizing its activity. After the 9th century, wooden statuettes, often covered with gold and jewels, decorated as reliquaries (statuettes of Santa Fede in Conques, Aveyron, 10th century) began to be modeled in the Auvergne. Also worthy of note are the works of Rhenish and Moselle founders: the gold frontal of the cathedral of Basel (1020; now in the Cluny museum), caskets, ivories, isolated pieces such as the tomb of Hincmar (9th century), and that of Adalbéron, recently exhumed in Reims. But the great sculpture has disappeared. We assist throughout the century. XI to the attempts to awaken this long dormant art. Sages, indeed very barbaric, appear in the Loire region (Orchaise, Bourgueil, Azay-le-Rideau) and more often in the Pyrenees (Saint-Paul-les-Dax, architraves of Saint-André in Sorède and of Saint-Genis-des -Fontaines, 1020). Add the rough capitals of Saint-Germain-des-Prés (around 1010) and Saint-Benoit-sur-Loire. All this is more than primitive, insignificant in relief, a thousand times further away from life than the poorest works of prehistoric man. The most curious monument is the tomb of Isarn, abbot of St. Victor (d.1048) now in the museum of Marseille.

According to, Cluny also had to take the lead in sculpture. The disappearance of its portal, which we know only through the drawings, is an irreparable loss. The splendid capitals of the choir, depicting the rivers of paradise and the gates of music, now collected in the Orhier museum, do not seem to predate 1130. Probably the first hearth of the great sculpture were numerous abbeys and priories of the Languedoc: Saint-Semin in Toulouse, La Daurade, Moissac, staggered on the road to S. Giacomo di Compostella or dependent on Cluny. Numerous remains of ancient works can be found. they had and certainly served as models. And in the Toulouse area, imbued with Romanism, under the aegis of the great humanist abbots of Cluny, sculpture probably reasserted itself earlier. The bas-reliefs of the Saint-Sernin choir are from around 1080; the cloister of Moissac existed in 1100, that of La Daurade is from 1105 and that of S. Stefano from 1117 (fragments in the Toulouse museum). Almost contemporary is the door Miègeville, in Saint-Semin; and the great Moissac portal cannot be later than 1125. Il Christ of Moissac, that of Beaulieu (Dordogne), the Ascension of Cahors, the tumultuous prophets of Souillac (Dordogne) are extraordinary and unsurpassed works. Another center of works that are also admirable is found in Burgundy: the most notable are the two tympanums and the marvelous series of capitals of Autun and Vézelay (circa 1125-30), and above all the capitals of Cluny, the apogee of the Burgundian Romanesque art. It was then that Suger called the southern masters to work on the church of Saint-Denis. They created, before 1114, the portal (known only from the drawings of Montfaucon) with figures leaning against the columns: the Gothic portal was born.

The first remaining portal of this kind, and perhaps the most beautiful, is the “portal of the kings” of Chartres (v.), So called for the prophets or kings of Judah depicted, which dates from 1130-60 at the latest. As soon as it appeared it made school: the portals of Mans, Étampes, Angers, Saint-Ayoul de Provins, Vermenton, Saint Loup-de-Naud (around 1180), the best preserved of all, are inspired by it, as well as the Sainte- Anne at NotreDame in Paris. The ancient partition of Braisne and the portal of Senlis close the series. The influence of Chartres also extended to southern France, where the two large portals of St. Trofimo d’Arles (v.) And Saint-Gilles (end of the 12th century) are an evident imitation even under their stupendous appearance of Roman bas-reliefs. In turn these works exerted a strong influence on the great sculptor of Parma, Benedetto Antelami (v.). A period of activity began with the reconstruction of the cathedral of Chartres after the fire of 1194. The triple lateral portals, completed in 1220, were once again the school of France. The prophets of that wonderful biblical poem which is the north portal were immediately imitated in Reims. Around 1240 an atrium was added to the north and south portals with a crowd of new statues, including some, The prophets of that wonderful biblical poem which is the north portal were immediately imitated in Reims. Around 1240 an atrium was added to the north and south portals with a crowd of new statues, including some, The prophets of that wonderful biblical poem which is the north portal were immediately imitated in Reims. Around 1240 an atrium was added to the north and south portals with a crowd of new statues, including some, STeodoro and Santa Modesta, wonderful. The cathedral of Chartres with its sculptures is, in a certain way, the summa of the French Middle Ages: it gives the measure of the highest moral and intellectual virtues achieved by France during the Crusades.

It was the heyday of the realm: and Reims with Amiens represents the classical age of Gothic sculpture. The statuary of the cathedral of Amiens (v.) Is above all notable for its homogeneous character. Certain statues of Reims, such as St. PeterSt. Paul, the Visitation group, could be believed to belong to antiquity. All the plastic decoration of Notre-Dame de Paris has disappeared, except that of the lunette. But towards the middle of the century. XIII the apostles of the Sainte-Chapelle inaugurate a new more picturesque, freer, more animated style, with more lively attitudes, more decisive projections, more pronounced shadows, in a word a more modern style, which is found in Reims, in the most popular, in the Queen of Shebaand in the enchanting angel called the Smile of Reims.

Painting contrasts with the magnificent flowering of architecture and sculpture. Romanesque art has left an impressive number of beautiful works in France, which are divided into two schools: that of Burgundy, kingdom of Cluny, which is inspired by the great tradition of Byzantium (frescoes of Notre Dame de Puy and Berzé-la- Ville); that of Poitou and Berry, where the popular tradition derived from Carolingian art reigns: the vòlta of Saint Savin (Vienne, 11th-12th century) is a masterpiece. Other frescoes cover the walls of the Poitiers baptistery (12th century) of Notre-Dame du Liget, of the churches of Vic and Montmorillon. Gothic architecture, by eliminating the walls, suppressed painting, or at least forced it to find a new expression: the painted windows. The oldest stained glass windows (choir of Saint-Denis, facade of Chartres, etc.) date back to the mid-century. XII, and they are of a great beauty. The 13th century stained glass windows begin in the nave of Chartres (Chartres has kept almost all of its stained glass windows). Other very important series of windows are in the Sainte-Chapelle in Paris, in Bourges, in Sens, in Lyons, in the choir of St. Stephen of Mans, in Rouen, in San Quintino in Auxerre (v.). Stained glass art has special needs; his optics require extreme stylization. Everything is sacrificed to the clarity of the composition and above all to the splendor of the coloring. Technical limitations prevent it from being an art of imitation: a stained glass window is above all a carpet of colors, a splendid decoration, a festival of lights. The passion for this

The art of stained glass invaded all the other fields of drawing. For it, the cathedral opens ever larger windows. We find his rose windows, his lozenges, his medallions, his conventional perspective on the miniatures of the salteries, on the ivory discs of the ointment boxes and mirrors; his cartoons enclosed in small geometric squares become a source of inspiration for the sculpture. The façade of Amiens is decorated with fifty scenes, representations of Genesis and the Seasons, which are only reminiscent of the stained glass windows. Quadrilobal medallions with figures cover the pillars of the south portico of Chartres, the gate of Lyon and that of Auxerre, etc. The plastic of Auxerre, belonging to the late thirteenth century, with scenes from Genesis, the parable of the prodigal son, figures of Hercules and Bass.

France Sculpture and Painting in the Middle Ages