Gothic art emerged in Europe, particularly in France during the 1100s when Suger, a statesman completed the first Gothic Church. Until the 14th century, Gothic art continued to spread all across Europe.
While Italian artists were the very last to embrace gothic styles, their contributions are invaluable. Italian artists such as Cimabue and Duccio were extremely invested in gothic art and they even helped to advance Gothic aesthetics. It wasn’t until the second half of the 13th century that Italian Gothic painting started to flourish as a completely new genre of art.
Soon after the early years of the 14th century, gothic art saw a major dip in its popularity and was replaced by the renaissance artists almost completely by the 15th century.
List of Famous Gothic Paintings
The majority of Gothic painters concentrated on creating decorations for the magnificent churches that were being built during the period throughout Europe. Printmaking, frescoes, and panel painting were the most common Gothic art forms, followed by sculptures gracing church windows and stained glass windows.
Following is a list of the 11 most famous gothic paintings in the world:
1. Lamentation – “The Mourning of Christ” (1306) by Giotto
The “Lamentation” is part of a 1306 fresco by Giotto that was commissioned for two reasons. Enrico Scrovegni commissioned the fresco to commemorate his death and also as a repayment for his father’s sin as a usurer. The fresco is located at the Scrovegni Chapel in Italy.
The whole monument consists of 37 separate scenes that depict important parts of Christ’s life according to the Old Testament. This gothic-style painting portrays the moment right after Christ’s death. He is held by his mother while other lamenters surround him in mourning.
One may notice a bright blue sky full of crying angels with droopy wings circling above Christ. By focusing all eyes on Christ’s dead body, Giotto further emphasizes the emotions of the subjects powerfully.
2. Madonna and Child (1480) by Carlo Crivelli
Madonna and Child is an incredibly well-preserved tempera and gold painting by Crivelli. The painting was initially made and exhibited at the Church of San Francesco ad Alto in Italy. Today the painting is located at The Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art in New York.
The painting features not only realistic but also a three-dimensional depiction of various elements and it’s subjects. We see a richly dressed Madonna holding an infant Jesus with her beautiful long fingers.
The baby is holding a goldfinch near his chest as he sits on a cushion. While the emotions of the scene are a lot more positive than in other gothic paintings that depict Christ’s life, Crivelli manages to cover his painting with a thin veil of melancholy.
The halos worn by the subjects are more tactile and real than celestial, hinting toward the mortality of Christ. Madonna’s morose face foreshadows Jesus’ painful death. It’s as if she knows that their happiness won’t last long. The audience feels more attached to Christ, who is just an innocent child, unaware of what is coming next.
3. Maestà di Santa Trinita (1283-1291) by Cimabue
In Cimabue’s Maestà di Santa Trinita we see Madonna and Christ seated on a golden throne which is a reference to heaven. The painting was originally created for Santa Trinita church in Florence. Today the painting resides in the Uffizi Gallery of Florence.
Madonna and baby Jesus are surrounded by eight angels, four on either side who seem to be supporting the golden throne. Their heads and wings have been set in a way to draw the audience’s eyes toward the subjects seated on the throne. At the bottom of the piece, we see three arches behind which sit four important prophets.
Through this piece, Cimabue shows us an important development in gothic art. Before this, gothic paintings featured a 2-dimensional portrayal of their subjects and the setting. However, Cimabue took a more naturalistic approach to capture the flow of fabric and depth of the setting in Maestà di Santa Trinita.
4. The Rucellai Madonna (1285) by Duccio
The Rucellai Madonna was commissioned to be exhibited at the Church of Santa Maria Novella. The painting was commissioned by a group of devotees who regularly visited the church to worship Madonna. This 13th-century painting is one of the largest panel paintings of the world and is now located at the Uffizi Gallery of Florence.
The painting shows a Virgin Madonna with her Child sitting on a golden throne. Just like the Maestà di Santa Trinita, the Virgin and Child are surrounded by angels, arranged symmetrically on either side. Behind Madonna, we may see a detailed banner and a beautiful golden halo that reflects her godliness and importance. Christ is seen blessing one of his worshippers by holding out his arm on the side.
The theme of this painting was a popular subject for religious paintings at the time. This was probably because many worshippers reported that they have seen this exact image while praying.
5. Adoration of the Magi (1305) by Giotto
“Adoration of the Magi is a 14th-century painting by Giotto located in the Scrovegni chapel of Padua, Italy. The chapel commissioned a series of seven paintings representing important instances of Christ’s life. One of these seven paintings is the Adoration of the Magi.
The painting shows a glimpse of The Birth of Christ set in Bethlehem. We see an infant Christ sitting on his mother’s lap, as a man kneels to kiss his feet. This man is one of the three Magi who has traveled to visit Christ and offer him rich gifts. The term “Magi” means “wise men”. In the “Adoration of the Magi” we see one of these wise men adoring baby Jesus.
One of the most unique features of this painting is its vibrant palette. The sky was depicted in a bright cobalt blue before it deteriorated. The sky features the Star of Bethlehem, a shooting comet in the center of the painting.
6. The Flight into Egypt (1304-1306) by Giotto
The Flight into Egypt is a 14th-century fresco by Giotto located at the Scrovegni Chapel in Padua, Italy. The scene represents the story of Christ in Matthew 2:13 to 2:23.
This painting is from the same series as the Adoration of the Magi by Giotto. The event presented in the painting occurs after the birth of Christ when Joseph and the Virgin flee to Egypt with their child. They had to leave Bethlehem because an angel revealed to Joseph that King Herod intended to kill their child.
The Flight of Egypt portrays a humble search for refuge and an important event in Jesus’ life. Christ may be seen sitting on a donkey, intensifying the helplessness of an innocent infant sitting on a defenseless animal.
7. American Gothic (1930) by Grant Wood
The pitchfork, the long pale features, the severe attitudes, and the black attire. Gothic is obvious in this artwork. The picture is a straightforward portrait of a farmer and his daughter, yet it has subtle characteristics that indicate it was created in the 20th century. The artwork is now among the most well-known works of art in America. The painting’s appeal is largely due to its unusualness and general melancholy.
Every painter has that one artwork that not only inspires him but also the work he makes. American Gothic is that painting by Grant Wood. The image of an elderly guy with a pitchfork in front of a rural home eloquently captures American rural life.
This picture has become an American symbol because of the man’s solemn and determined countenance and the daughter’s slightly bewildered and disoriented demeanor. The picture is realistic, yet it also has the distinctive lighting style of Wood. American Gothic is currently on display at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.
8. Ognissanti Madonna (1306) by Giotto di Bondone
The Ognissanti Madonna portrays a very common theme of 14th-century religious gothic paintings. This tempera and gold foil piece shows a seated madonna with baby Jesus on her lap. The two are surrounded by several angels and also saints on either side.
This painting was commissioned for the Church of Ognissanti located in Florence. The scene is a tender rendering of a version of the Virgin Mary known as “Maestà”, a sight that many worshippers saw during their prayers. The painting is also known as “Madonna Enthroned”.
Giotto’s efforts to portray naturalism and realism through his work are apparent in this painting. The contours on the face of Mary and Jesus are realistic and natural, emphasizing their human forms. Instead of making the scene flat, Giotto depicts depth and movement in the setting and clothes of the subjects. The fact that Christ and Mary were shown as actual people did not diminish their legitimacy; rather, it enabled common people to relate to and comprehend their struggles.
9. Scenes from the Legend of Saint Vincent of Saragossa and the History of His Relicsca (1245–47)
An article about gothic art would be incomplete without the inclusion of some gothic stained glass art. “Scenes from the Legend of Saint Vincent” was commissioned for the Lady Chapel of the Abbey of Saint-Germain-des-Prés of Paris. This piece is an unusually expressive work for 13th-century art. The piece is painted on pot-metal glass using vitreous paint and lead.
The Chapel of Saint-Germain-des-Prés was visited by devotees of Saint Vincent. The Merovingian monarch Childebert, who is seen in this image riding a horse, had brought the artifact from Spain. The highest panel of the window is embellished with a tower and a censing angel. Saint Vincent’s conflicts with the Roman proconsul Dacian are depicted in the remaining scenes of this window.
10. Annunciation with St. Margaret and St. Ansanus (1333) by Simone Martini and Lippo Memmi
The Annunciation with St. Margaret and St. Ansanus is a beautiful altarpiece that was made for the Siena Cathedral. Today this work is located at the Uffizi Gallery in Florence.
The intricate gold designs and decorations enhance the importance of the scene that is being portrayed. Both motion and emotions are clearly visible in the painting. On top of the arches, we may see portraits of four prophets, each with a scroll in their hands.
On the extreme right we see St. Margaret and on the left is St. Ansanus. All the prophets and the saints have been painted by Lippo Memmi. The center panel of the piece is where the Annunciation is taking place. On the left Archangel Gabriel kneels before the virgin Mary with an olive branch in his hand. At this moment Gabriel informs Mary that she is going to be the mother of God.
On the right we see Mary listening to this news in complete disbelief, physically pulling herself away from Gabriel. Another important element is the vase of Lillies between Mary and Gabriel, a symbol of her virginity.
One of the most unique features in the painting is the words “Hail, Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee” emerging from Gabriel’s lips and moving towards Mary. The words are embossed on the panel in Latin. is seen. These works are embossed in a diagonal line reaching from the lips of the angels toward Mary.
11. Wilton Diptych (1395–1399) by Unknown
The Wilton Diptych was created in the last years of the 14th century by an unknown artist. A diptych is a small book-style panel that is divided into two halves and connected by a hinge. The inner side of the book is painted to preserve the art from wear and tear, while the outer cover is also usually well ornated.
Today the Wilton Diptych sits in the National Gallery of London. This is a religious painting of the late medieval times from England. The Diptych comprises of a donor portrait and a religious portrait of Jesus and Mother Mary.
On the right side of the Diptych, we see a large cluster of angels in blue robes surrounding the Virgin Mary and baby Jesus who is bestowing a blessing on the King of England. On the left side, we see King Richard II of England kneeling before Jesus and his mother with joined hands.
The Gothic art movement had a short but impressive lifetime. By the end of the 16th century, gothic art had become completely redundant, however some of its features laid the foundation for later art movements such as the Renaissance. The Renaissance is greatly dependent on the naturalism proposed by the gothic movement. The naturalism that is emphasized in Gothic art teaches us the value of humanizing even the heroes of the world.
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