Social & Economic Influences on Gothic Art & Architecture

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  • 0:01 Gothic Art & Architecture
  • 1:01 The Romanesque
  • 1:40 Romanesque to Gothic
  • 2:19 Kings & Churches
  • 3:37 Changing Styles
  • 4:43 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

The Gothic style redefined medieval Europe, but where did it come from? In this lesson, we'll explore some of the major influences that helped create the Gothic movement.

Gothic Art and Architecture

There's something that's just so cool about gargoyles. You can't deny that they look awesome and you kind of have to wonder where did this come from. How did art get to the point where people were like, yeah, we need gargoyles?

Well there's actually a fairly complex history leading up to the creation of these stone guardians, as well as the greater artistic movement they belong to called the Gothic. The Gothic period of art lasted from around the mid-12th to 15th centuries and was characterized by art and architecture that was ornate, elaborate, and big. Really the entire Gothic movement can be defined by monumental size and complexity but it didn't just happen. The Gothic style reflected some pretty substantial changes in European society. After all, you don't just design gargoyles without good reason.

The Romanesque

To understand the rise of the Gothic style, we have to go back just a bit. Before Gothic art emerged, the first really consolidated style in medieval Europe was the Romanesque, so called because it reintroduced some Roman architectural styles. Romanesque churches were big and displayed many symbols of wealth based on the rise of religious pilgrimages, journeys to sacred sites. Pilgrims traveled across Europe and these churches that contained holy relics became major destinations. So they started to accumulate wealth and use that wealth to embrace the arts.

Romanesque to Gothic

The Romanesque period elevated churches to prominent status and began to attract a lot of money as religion became the absolute center of daily life. With these changes in society, the Roman Catholic church grew in size, wealth, and power. When we think about the stereotype of the completely powerful Catholic church in medieval Europe, that really began with the Gothic era. Catholicism was at the center of European life and as the money kept coming in, churches continued to grow in size and ornateness leading to the creation of the Gothic style.

Kings and Churches

At the same time that the Catholic church was becoming a genuine political power, European kings were consolidating their own power, more clearly defining the borders of their kingdoms and trying to demonstrate their absolute power. The belief of the time period was that the right to rule was divinely granted, which meant that kingly power was legitimatized through religion. So, many European kings developed an inseparable relationship with the church.

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