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Good questions. Maybe private devotion became popular because of the slow trend toward humanism and individuals that would become the Renaissance? I think the rich would want to separate themselves from the poor during any era of suffering. Nobody wants to be around depressed people for too long, and the rich probably wanted to keep their air of perfection – which you can’t keep if people get to look at you too closely.
Most of the ornament in Gothic churches went into the architecture itself. The stonework became light and airy, looking like a holy gingerbread house with an emphasis on letting light in. The statuary no longer took center space, but was used to highlight the beautiful windows. Carvings surrounded the arches, and sat atop the gabled spaces above arches. All of this was public artwork.
Rulers and the rich were able to have their own churches built, or donate holy objects to existing churches. Louis IX built the Saint-Chapelle to house his own collection of relics in Paris, and a piece of the Virgin Mary’s linen was donated by Charlemagne to the Notre Dame. Royal families commissioned Moralizing bibles to be illustrated for the masses, sort of like getting your kid into reading by givivng them comic books.
There is a lot of art representing the relationship between the church and the current king. The statue of the Virgin Mary outside the Reims Cathedral wears a large crown to show the connection, Christ is shown to be a descendant of ancient kings in statuary atop the church, and inside Melchizedek gives communion to Abraham.
Bob, excellent point that the trend in large colorful windows was only possible because of leaps in architectural understanding. I think it’s a chicken or the egg thing – they needed the architecture to work for the windows to work, but they wanted to make the windows work so they had to figure out the architecture – if that makes any sense.
The church alone was meant to represent heaven on earth, but with the windows it seemed moreso. Radiant light was meant to be a physical manifestation of God, so the stained glass windows were meant to strike the attendees with the sense that they were transported to heaven within the church. Abbot Suger wanted people to move from thinking about the light to thinking about God.
Allowing the outside in may have been in line with all of the natural motifs the carvers used to show the importance of understanding nature as part of the universe God created for us.
The windows may have also been a hip new way to teach the masses the bible. It may have been like any of our newer tech advancements that schools use to get kids interested in learning. The light shining through the rose windows seems a lot like the light shining through an electronic device.
Good point about the pilgrimage serving as simply a means to travel, if not for religious reasons. Traveling with a group of pious people was probably safer than traveling alone. It’s funny to think about people back then just traveling for fun, it doesn’t fit into our modern idea of the Dark Ages. I wonder if our modern tourist industry is actually catering to our soul’s deep need for a pilgrimage?
This was an interesting point, that God weighs everyone’s soul the same. The church and rulers were in bed together in many ways, but the base belief still allows for the eternal damnation of the rulers. The church also allowed the rich and poor to mingle when they were on a pilgrimage, which may indicate that Christianity leveled the playing field far more in comparison to the older religions in which your ruler was a god on earth.
A pilgrimage was a little like the use of yoga to purify the body and spirit, in that it was a physical act of prayer. It also reminds me of the hippie trails that popped up in the 70’s, where young people were seeking enlightenment through travel. The Romanesque pilgrimage, like the hippie trails, allowed people from different classes to mingle as equals.
Pilgrimage churches popped up along the way to Spain, in which travelers could see holy relics. Relics were body parts of saints, or former possessions, housed in elaborate containers called reliquaries. Reliquaries were ofter made from gold and encrusted with jewels to legitimize the holy status of the object and to give it a feeling of eternal existence (which may be true if we can still visit these objects in a museum today).
The internal layout of a church was setup to allow pilgrims to view the objects in large groups that could be shunted through like field-trip groups in a museum. Like modern tourists, the pilgrims became a source of income for the towns surrounding the churches.
External artwork, such as the Last Judgement Tympanum, reminded the pilgrims why they were on their journey. The image shows souls entering into Heaven or Hell based on how they had lived. The image acts as a teaching tool to people who couldn’t read, and encourages them to go out and convert nonbelievers on their journey.
Church artwork helped legitimize the rule of the upper class, but people from all classes were welcome into the church, and in hypothesis could mingle. A great example of political propaganda that was shown in a church was the Bayeux tapestry, which inspired contemporary Sherlock Holmes memes.
The church hired architects and stone masons to build holy houses, contributing to the economy during their creation and then becoming central hubs of communities after.
Churches housed the collective knowledge of civilization. They protected and passed on the written language so that the culture could last beyond the lives of its believers.
Cistercian abbeys allowed lay men to join, who were given less opportunities for advancement but also were held to less strict standards than actual monks. In Medieval times, if a landed family had too many sons, they couldn’t all inherit. So some lesser lords took oath at an abbey where they’d have a better chance at moving up in their field, and poorer men could come work there as a way to get three hots and a cot.
At first I thought the only influence I could see was Byzantine too. The early Middle Ages is definitely more influenced by the Byzantine era, but the later Middle Ages seems to be more influenced by the Classical era, because of the patronage of Charlemagne. He encouraged the monks to imitate Classical art, so we see a lot of draping fabric later on, and more relaxed poses.
In the early Celtic art the images were flattened, very much like the Byzantine art in how they were aiming for communicating ideas rather than portraying realism. The scrolling flowers and trees reminded me of the classical roman relief carvings that represented abundance and fertility.
Carolingian art started to bring back the classical style of creating depth, and started showing people in more natural poses instead of just showing them head-on. A great example is the image of St. Mark in the Godescalc Gospel Lectionary.
Charlemagne encouraged artists to study and copy the classical artists when illuminating their manuscripts. They ended up playing with light and shadow, and created more dynamic images than in the earlier Middle Ages.
I don’t think the growth happened because it was a mundane lowly time, the growth happened in response to chaos. After the fall of the unifying rule of Rome, people had a deep desire for order – which the church leapt forward to provide through belief. They drew people in with the magnificence of their cathedrals and the symmetry of their holy books – both sources of stable order. Charlemagne saw the needs of his people and funded the church to provide stability for them.
think referring to the Medieval era as the “Dark Ages’ may have been a modern way to underplay the good things that the spread of Christianity brought into being. During the Middle Ages global warming allowed greater use of farming, allowing greater populations that needed a unifying belief to get along. Renowned universities started up, staffed by teachers in the clergy, where you could get a degree in law or medicine. The church funded biological research, and funded leaps in architecture that still stand today. The Black Plague struck at the end of this golden era, helping to give it a bad name.
In the Middle ages, artists and architects used previous civilizations’ techniques in art and building, then added their own new techniques and style. This was a Renaissance before the more recognized Renaissance after the Plague.
Medieval metal workers improved on the knowledge of the Romans, with use of repousse and cloisonne. I think the most beautiful use of repousse in the lesson was the Lindau Gospels cover.
The Vikings built churches in the style of Roman basilicas, but used stave architecture — they used load-bearing poles to make everything sturdy. They had excellent knowledge of ship-building, and were such good seamen that they were able to sail to North America and back.
There was a transition from pagan oral tradition to Christian written texts, and the invention of a kind of paper made from animal skin that would last much longer than wood pulp or papyrus. The holy books were heavily decorated with symbols, not just for beauty but for the parishioners who were still illiterate. The illuminations forced the chaos of the natural world into a symmetrical order, highly detailed. Charlemagne created scriptoriums where monks would make many revised copies of holy books. He wanted to standardize writing as well as religious belief.
You made a good point about the political climate at the time being conducive to attracting new Christians. Life was dangerous and unsure, people probably died of starvation and disease a lot. A promise of a good afterlife was probably very attractive. I think there are new surges in adoption of Christianity after natural or human disasters, because churches provide humanitarian aid. People go into the church for blankets and food, see the beautiful art inside and are inspired while their heart is already open from tragedy.
Greco-Roman art focused on realism as the individual human became more valued in their culture. Christianity valued humans as a flock that faithfully followed Christ as their shepherd. I do believe in God and Jesus, but I also believe that some teachings of the bible were meant to keep the lower class in line.
Early Christians were trying to invent their own art style that would be separate in ways from the Greco-Roman foundation that they had emerged from. The resulting images of humans and Christ ended up abstracted, more like images in an instruction manual than figures in a photo. I think something that contributed to the abstract nature of Byzantine art was that the people illuminating manuscripts were monks locked away underground, not really out looking at the landscapes they were trying to recreate. Some of the abstraction was for the purpose of clear communication though, like in comic books.
Iconoclasm wasn’t good for the continued development of art — it seems to have set artistic ability back a few steps. Artists had to work in secret on books that contained images, and probably were illustrated by novices who had no great masters left to teach them. This is like the interruption of Egyptian art by being conquered.
The icons contain real people and their stories, instead of gods, but it may be more meaningful than the circumvention of the second commandment. People desire and need the images and stories of culture heroes so that they have something to model their own life after. People have many different personalities, so there need to be more archetypes than the holy mother and son for everyone to relate to. Saints seem to have taken the place of a pantheon of gods because a division of divinity was still necessary to the human psyche.