Tag Archives: Byzantine

The International Gothic – A Break from Tradition

The International Gothic or Late Gothic art period covers the 13th – 14th centuries and came during a time of religious upheaval and political change. The Christian church was witnessing the growth of Protestantism with its new fangled ideas and the establishment of City States. These too had their own, personal, political agendas and particular allegiances. Very much like the world of today.

lorenzetti_street2The growth of the merchant class provided a challenge to the financial muscle of the church and Europe’s royalty.

These nouveau riche still wanted art on a more personal level but art that reflected their view of the world. It wasn’t  burdened by outdated dictate and accurately reflected the people of the times. The church’s ideals on how and what art should depict was being intellectually challenged. People wanted frescoes and paintings that illustrated real life. Therefore there was an increase in naturalistic imagery and the showing of everyday life.

Gothic art

Annunciation of Death of the Virgin_Siena,Museo dell opera del DuomoThe artists during this period spent their time rediscovering the ancient ways of showing nature. Perspective, foliage and realistic depiction were once again on the menu. Here current artists played their part in trying to understand how the Greeks and Romans set about doing this.

Suddenly it was possible to paint trees, water, buildings and furniture. Painters could populate their worlds with people and animals, fields and hills. But how?  It is interesting to see the artists development of perspective. Each creating strange views with multiple vanishing points, rooms with weird angles and impossible furniture scattered throughout the pictures.

Social painting

©Photo. R.M.N. / R.-G. OjŽdaThese strange, other worlds, with their experiments at three dimensions provide a unique viewpoint into life during the Late Medieval period. They show the lives of the ordinary people in the fields alongside royalty.

You can see palaces, castles and cathedrals but also simple houses, barns and sheds. As much as you can see wars and battles there are farmers sowing crops and peasants tending sheep.

Artistic licence 

Giotto di Bondone, Simone Martini, the Lorenzetti brothers in Italy and  Conrad von Soest in Germany and the Limbourg brothers from France all played their part in developing the distinctive style of the International Gothic.

This break with the traditions of the Byzantine paved the way for what would become the greatest advances in art with the arrival of the Renaissance. The steps started by the International Gothic would flourish during the next period and set new standards in artistic representation.  However, I still find the exploration of the 13th and 14th centuries some of the most compelling works on view.

 

Painting the Medieval Landscape

Late Byzantine

Late Byzantine Fresco

Up until the 14th century there was little, if any, representation of the countryside and its buildings in frescoes. Vegetation and architectural features were just used to decorate the borders of the religious panels.

Lorenzetti3

Lorenzetti 1285 – 1348

There were early renditions of landscape by Giotto and Lorenzetti around the 13th century but in the 1400s Protestant artists in the Netherlands, free from the constraints of a papal paymaster, were able to explore natural representation.

van eyck

Van Eyck 1395 – 1441

Artists like Van Eyck and Brughel started to hint at the luscious landscapes around them in the backgrounds of their paintings. The northern European art was soon to influence Italians, Massacio and della Francesco and landscapes began a common theme in the frescoes of the Mediterranean.

It is claimed by many that the landscapes of the late Byzantine and early Renaissance periods were fantasy or symbolic representations of real locations. Over time landscapes change, new buildings appear, trees are felled and roads constructed. However, what we can see in these old master’s pictures are elements of today’s scenery in their images.

Fra_Angelico2

Fra Angelico 1395 – 1455

There is a familiarity to the gentle curving hills, the many tall trunked trees and the aimlessly winding, tracks. There is also the blue Renaissance sky and the verdant greenery of the area, particularly around the valleys of the Tiber. Here Perugino, Signorelli, Raphaelo, and Michaelangelo all lived and worked, recording life and the surroundings.

Before this time nature had been relegated to the role of decorative foliage. Now though, the hills, forests and rivers played the part of a painted stage on which the artist’s characters acted out their stories.

Processionofthemiddleking

Gozzoli 1420 – 1497

One of the grandest of these is Benozzo Gozzolio’s enormous series “The Magi’s Procession” painted from 1459 to 1461. It testifies to the new importance placed on the landscape in the artist’s designs. The journey, is as familiar today as it was then and anyone who has walked around the countryside of central Italy will immediately feel at home.

In these frescoes you can see the artists discovering and inventing the conventions of perspective used today. As they battled with the notion of creating three-dimensional spaces, the rules about vanishing points, size difference and colour degradation were all experimented with in representing distance.

masaccio2

Masaccio 1401 – 1428

It is with the founding of these rules that the great landscapes of the 18th and 19th centuries would later be painted by Gainsborough, Canaletto and Turner. However, despite their simplicity there is an innate charm about them and a beautiful clarity about the world around.

Other noteable artists of the age –

Konrad Witz 1400 - 1446

Konrad Witz 1400 – 1446

  • Giotto 1267 – 1337
  • Fillippo Lippi 1406 – 1469
  • Paolo Uccello 1395 – 1475
  • della Francesco 1415 – 1492
  • Botticelli 1445 – 1510
  • Bosch 1450 – 1516
  • Brughel the Elder
  • Ghirlandio 1449 – 1494
  • Signorelli 1450 – 1523
  • Perugino 1448 – 1523
  • Dieric Bouts 1415 – 1475
  • Van der Weyden 1399 – 1464