Gothic and Renaissance Art

In different periods of time art takes different techniques, styles and subjects along with the medium of presentations, and it thus becomes a symbol of the time period. Usually these differences are slight, but to a trained eye they will open up a vast number of characteristics that can define the art of that period and also put light on the socio-economical structure and lifestyle of the age. Both Gothic Art and Renaissance Art are two great chapters in the history of art and both of them had some salient characteristics too.

Gothic Art

To define Gothic Art we can say that Gothic Art is a kind of art that was developed in France in the middle of the 12th Century. There was a huge effect of Romanesque Art in this type of art. It was spread to all of the Western Europe in 12th Century. “The International Gothic Style which can be also named as the Sophisticated Court Style was developed during the late 15th Century” (Haughton, pp. 229-233).

In places like Germany, the tradition of Gothic Art was continued till the 16th Century.

Some of the parts of Gothic Art were giant sculptures, fresco, illuminated manuscript, paintings on strained glass and also panel paintings. The basic subject of Gothic Art was the stories of The Bible (of both the Old Testament and the New Testament) (Hansson 151-160).

The Characteristics of Gothic Art:

  1. One of the very important characteristics of Gothic Art was that it used to take a lot of space. Actually vastness is a basic feature of Gothic Art. The Gothic structures were spaced beautifully too.
  2. Another important aspect of Gothic Art is the multiplicity of forms in the structures along with innumerable divisions.
  3. Gothic Architecture, a very important part of the art is characterized by the placing of huge windows, to facilitate quality lighting in the building. They also had huge pillars too.
  4. The sculptures were generally stiff and the style was elongated (Hansson, pp. 151-160).

Gothic Sculpture and Architecture: The first Gothic Sculpture was the abbey at St. Denis (AD 1140) by Abbot Suger. He later built the Chartres Cathedral (AD 1145). Later many gothic architectural specimens like the Cathedral in Bamburg, Germany, many tombs and non-figured structures in England. In Italy there were still classical influences on the art and Gothic art here made a pact and gave birth to a new form. The pulpits of Pisa Baptistery pulpit and Siena pulpit were examples of Gothic art. The signature of Italian Gothic Sculpture was the five Scaliger Tombs, established in Verona (Stone, pp. 423-444).

Other very important examples of Gothic sculpture are Arca di San Domenico, in Bologna, Italy; Our Lady of Westminster in Westminster Cathedral in London and the Virgin and Child sculpture (made from ivory and now preserved in Louvre Museum in Paris).

Gothic Painting: The beginning of Gothic painting was dated to AD 1200. The transition of painting, from Romanesque to Gothic is not a very clear transition, but the transition came to fore when paintings began to have the Gothic ornamental detailing. The transition started from 100 and it continued to 1300. The main features of Gothic painting were animated pose, detailed facial expression and the figures were smaller in proportion with relation to the back ground (Hansson, pp. 151-160).

There were four primary mediums in the form of art as Frescos (mainly for churches and religious places which generally dealt with the stories of Jesus), panel paintings, strained glass paintings and manuscript illumination. Manuscript illumination was one of the very old art forms in European history gained tremendous popularity at the time. Fresco was the main part of painting and it was really popular as a narrative craft. Strained glass was also important and the illuminated manuscripts complete the most important part of Gothic painting. Here one has to remember that painting with oil paints were not popular at that time. “That was a characteristic of the Renaissance art” (Stone, pp. 423-444).

Renaissance Art

The age of new awakenings in Europe is called the Renaissance and every thing was changing in this period of time. This was one of the greatest periods of human history and gave many great minds to the society. The Renaissance Art was sometimes termed as the rebirth of the Classical traditions. Along with the newly developed aspect of Humanist philosophical studies, Renaissance artists developed new forms and techniques that made the transition of art from the Middle Ages to the Early Modern Ages. Great artists like Leonardo da Vinci, Donatello, Michelangelo, Raphael, Dirk Bouts, and Masolino etc were lived in this age (Dunlop, pp. 440-445).


Classical literature, humanist philosophy and science all contributed to the development of the Renaissance art. Along with this there was a newfound interest in mathematics was profound in the arts. With the invention of printing press the paintings become easily reachable to more people. Improvement of oil painting and developments in the sphere by Jan Van Eyck and Hugo Van der Goes were very important in this case. The Bellini family was pioneer in arts in Italy, especially Venice. The developments were seen in literature as books like De Pitura (On Painting) by Leone Battista Alberti in the year 1435 and De re Aedificatoria in 1452 were very important in this aspect. Florence was the centre of the Renaissance where masters like Donatello, Ghiberti, Masaccio and others created great works in art and eventually made the artists of lesser caliber to produce great works (Haughton, pp. 229-233).

Another very important aspect of the Renaissance art was the revived interest in Classics started the first Archeological study in the Roman Historical remains by the great architect named Brunelleschi and Donatello” (Haughton, pp. 229-233).

Themes: A wide variety of artistic themes were treated by the Renaissance artists. In this age smaller artworks meant for personal devotion was really very popular and a lot of artists used to do that commercially. Other than that religious alter pieces, frescos in the wall of churches, and other type of arts were very popular. Jacobus de Voragine’s work “Golden Legend” was a very important source for the artists. It dealt with the lives of the saints and the legends surrounding the lives of the saints. Along with these, the revival of interests in Classical literature and with the development of Renaissance Humanism was instrumental in the creation of a lot of Renaissance artwork (Stone, pp. 423-444).

The stories of Ovid and The Iliad and The Odyssey were popular sources too. The decorations in the paintings were mainly influenced by the Latin motifs. Some new techniques like the use of perspectives into painting, and foreshortening for the illusion of creating depth. Other techniques like “Sfumato” and “Chairoscuro” along with the proper use of proportion and balance were very important aspects of Renaissance art (Dunlop, pp. 440-445).


The range of the Gothic Period can be ranged from 12th century to 15th century. The main characteristics of the Gothic Age were idealism and naturalism and that had a huge effect on the art of the age. For example we can discuss about the Gothic sculptures in France and if studied with fine eye one can see that there are a dynamic pose in the sculptures along with poses and fantastic detailing along with articulation. After the Romanesque style, it is the most popular style used in contemporary art form in Europe. One of the very prominent aspects of Gothic architecture, especially seen in Churches is that there are a number of figures generally seen in the flag entrance of the cathedrals (Hansson, pp. 151-160).

All the figures are generally graceful and they are posed in a dynamic angle too. This goes to demonstrate the religious mysticism dominating the religious thinking at that time. If we look into the other spheres like strained glass artworks and frescoes we can have many examples of these arts while there is not many examples of Gothic painting, obviously comparing to the Renaissance paintings. Basically Gothic art was later followed by artists as International Gothic style, which was obviously more secular and less religious, and may be considered as the transitional art movement which ultimately led to The Renaissance Art (Haughton, pp. 229-233).

The Renaissance Art is something much more historically fascinating both from the aspects of art and also great artists. It is discussed that there were a huge number of great minds, thinkers, philosophers and other great men were active in the Age. Historically sometimes researchers can draw parallel of Renaissance Art to late Medieval Art, but it is believed that it is a distinct aspect of discussion. As with the Renaissance period, like all the subjects, art also rediscovered. The history of the Renaissance Art can be divided in four periods, and they are as follows:

Proto Renaissance Art: The sculptures of Nicola Pisano and Giovanni Pisano, which were the first marked pieces that had heavy classical influences and can be termed as examples of Proto Renaissance Art. Historically speaking, the art was directly influenced from the Roman funeral duties (Haughton, pp. 229-233).

Early Renaissance Art or Italian Renaissance Painting: The birthplace of European Renaissance and also the birthplace of Renaissance art was Florence and many great artists were there at that time. Generally much of the art were centered around religious matters or even had classical overtones in them, but what is more important in these paintings is that they even produced many allegorical paintings mainly on the theme of Salvation and the role of Church on Salvation. Frescoes were used to decorate Government buildings and also private properties, which was a huge departure from the Gothic era, where frescoes were only used in Churches and religious paintings were dominated as themes (Dunlop, pp. 440-445).

The thematic development of painting was also a huge development in this case too. In the time the artists enjoyed far more freedom than ever before and they worked on different perspectives and subjects too. Themes like light effects. Landscapes, realism were touched by the artists. Two very important aspects that were practiced by the artists were anatomy and figure composition. Leonardo da Vinci personally dissected over 30 dead bodies and he understood the inner structure of human figures. It led to a revolutionary decision in the case, art students started learning anatomy and drawing of live models became a part of formal artistic education. Figure composition became more real and natural in appearance, and it was well composed inside the picture space.

Proto Renaissance Painting: The third part of renaissance art was dominated by two great artists who were influenced from the Byzantine Style. Cimabue and Duccio are two great religious painters. They were masters of “icon painting” and tempera (Dunlop, pp. 440-445).

High Renaissance: The last part of the Renaissance are called as High Renaissance, and it was the highest peak of art. Many artistic works were not made for Churches but for private patrons. The great painter from Netherlands Rogier Van der Weyden was a great influence on the artists and they used oil paint more than ever.

Artists like Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael and Michelangelo are the greatest icons of Renaissance painting. Leonardo was even termed as the “Renaissance Man” and paintings like Mona Lisa, The Last Supper and Virgin of the Rocks tell us about his greatness in painting. Michelangelo was the person who completed the decorative scheme of the Sistine Chapel. The third of the trio, Raphael, was the son of a painter and his great works like Betrothal of the Virgin was completed when he was a young man of 21 years. He also made a series of wall frescoes in Vatican Chambers. One of the most important frescoes of him is School of Athens (Dunlop, pp. 440-445).

In the final analysis we can say that Gothic Art was some what a study of the dark aspects of religious nomenclature while the Renaissance Art was only celebration of humanity. The religious overtones of the Gothic period made way for the philosophical understandings and human psychological aspects in the Renaissance era. Along with the development in all the spheres in learning and especially in science, technology and mathematics, Europe learned to look to religion by a new light due to the comprehensive works of great masters of Arts and craft (Haughton, pp. 229-233).

The Gothic art were mostly prominent in architectures and frescoes while in the Renaissance Age we see the abundance of painters. The renewed interest in the Classical literature provided the artists with many new subjects to deal with and they really used them to the full extent. Renaissance is generally considered as one of the greatest chapters of human history, similarly Renaissance art is also one of the most glorified chapters of the history of arts. But we have to remember in the case that Gothic Art actually paved the way for Renaissance art and as the predecessor of it and also of Modern Gothic art it has its place in History (Haughton, pp. 229-233).

Both of the two art forms have given us great artists and great arts that went on to enrich the human society in all the ways. The brilliance of artists like Fra Guglielmo, Glottino, and Herman Limbourg in the Gothic period and Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Raphael, Donatello all mixed together to create one of the greatest chapters in Art. The myriad periods will always be remembered in the history of mankind as the stages that advanced the society many a steps.

Works Cited

  1. Dunlop, Anne. “Did the Renaissance have a Renaissance?” Art History 21.3, (1998): 440-445.
  2. Hansson, Stina. “The lament of the language: Gothic Renaissance.” Renaissance Studies 23.2, (2009): 151-160.
  3. Haughton, Neil. “Perceptions of beauty in Renaissance art.” Journal of Art 3.4, (2004): 229-233.
  4. Stone, Mark. “Conscience in Renaissance moral thought: a concept in transition?” Renaissance Studies 23.4, (2009): 423-444.

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