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Light: the Big Tool for Gothic Architects and Artists

As we conclude Survey I, it seems most appropriate to finish this Summer Session with the principle beauty intrinsic to Gothic  cathedrals, namely, the element of light.  Professor Jeffrey Hamburger, in his 2001 lecture Material and Immaterial:  The Defense of Artistic Expenditure at St.-Denis, has the following to say about Abbott Suger and the incredible aesthetic expression of light at the Abbey of St.-Denis:  “To Suger, the beauty of the surroundings transports the worshiper to an intermediate realm between heaven and earth:  the “dull mind rises to truth through that which is material” — not by reading an image as a text, but by appreciating it for its own sake — and, “in seeing this light, is resurrected from its former submersion”  (49).  Similarly, the “loveliness of many-colored gems” calls Suger away from external cares and ennobles his mind to reflect on the divine virtues, “transferring that which is material to that which is immaterial.”  As a result, he finds himself “in some strange region of the universe” neither entirely in “the slime of the earth” nor in “the purity of Heaven” — an analogue, perhaps, to the status of Christ as bridging the gap between Heaven and earth — and recognizes that, “by the Grace of God, I can be transported from this inferior to that higher world in an anagogical manner”.  What are your thoughts on Professor Hamburger’s description of the incredible sense of the immaterial as one stands inside the chapel of St.-Denis?

Interior, Sainte-Chapelle, Paris


Gothic: Addressing the Mysteries of Religion

During this last component of our survey of Art, we are turning our attention to the Gothic style.  It occupies an intriguing position in both time and space.  Prior to the Gothic we have the remnants of the so-called Dark Ages and immediately following the Gothic we have the first flowering of the Renaissance.  Nevertheless, the Gothic style in architecture sustains itself with its unique structural harmonies found both on the outside as well as on the inside of its religious edifices.  John Keble, in his Lectures on Poetry:  1832-41 (published 1844), described the Gothic as follows:  “A style of architecture which, to me at least, is, in comparison with all others, the most beautiful of all, and by far the most in harmony with the mysteries of religion.”  What are your thoughts on the Gothic style within the context of Keble’s assessment?

Chartres Cathedral, West Facade

Charlemagne, Carolingian Art and Illuminated Manuscripts

Emperor Charlemagne was an influential patron of the arts and a strong believer in the power and authority of knowledge.  The Emperor actively sought to surround himself with scribes and learned scholars.  The scribes and illuminators working in isolation at monasteries scattered throughout Western Europe possessed the language skills to read and write in Greek, Roman, Hebrew and often additional languages.  Charlemagne said:  “To have another language is to possess a second soul.”  What are your thoughts on Carolingian Art during the reign of Charlemagne and his tremendous respect for intellect and language skills?

Bust of Charlemagne

Art and Architecture During the Age of Byzantium

Lorenzo Ghiberti, the great Renaissance sculptor famous for his Sacrifice of Isaac design for the Florence Baptistry door competition of 1401, described the art produced during the Byzantine era as follows:  “The Greeks of this age (the Byzantine) were as coarse and rude as the ancient Greeks were skilled.”  What are your thoughts on Ghiberti’s assessment of Byzantine art?  Do you agree that Byzantine artisans and their creative imagery were “coarse and rude” or were they responding to a different time and place in their work which accounts for their figural interpretations?

Christ Pantokrator

Constantine and the Nicene Creed of 325

Emperor Constantine became a patron of early Christianity and helped the fledgling religion develop solid roots.  The Emperor funded many building projects that fixed into visible form Christian liturgy.   What are your thoughts on the development of Christian imagery found in Late Antiquity sculpture, painting, mosaics, and frescoes within the context of the famous imperial proclamation of Emperor Constantine and the Nicene Creed of 325?  The Nicene Creed reads as follows:

First Council of Nicea (325)

We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of all things visible and invisible.

And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, begotten of the Father [the only-begotten; that is, of the essence of the Father, God of God], Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father;

By whom all things were made [both in heaven and on earth];

Who for us men, and for our salvation, came down and was incarnate and was made man;

He suffered, and the third day he rose again, ascended into heaven;

From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead

And in the Holy Ghost.

Constantine and the Nicene Creed

Quality of Representation as a Barometer of Taste and Manner

Charles Dufresnoy, in his book The Art of Painting (1665) wrote the following:  “The principal and most important part of painting is to find out and thoroughly to understand what Nature has made most beautiful and most proper to this art; and that a choice of it may be made according to the taste and manner of the ancients; without which, all is nothing but a blind and rash barbarity.”

As we move through the time period commonly referred to as Late Antiquity, what are your thoughts on the various images of mankind seen at Dura-Europos and the catacombs?

Dura-Europos Synagogue

The Art of Imperial Rome

Wayne Craven, the renowned art historian at the University of Delaware, has long been fascinated by the shadows cast from the past onto contemporary society.  Dr. Craven offered the following insights on Roman art and architecture:

"As Rome established herself as the center of civilization,
it became clear that her destiny in the arts was to be
realistic in sculpture, as she had been imperialistic in
government... Roman art and architecture has had a profound
impact throughout the ages by influencing modern city planning,
architecture, and art. From our city streets to our football stadiums,
and even our tile floors, Roman art and architecture has provided important
examples and has been emulated."

What are your thoughts on Roman art and architecture, within the context established
by Craven's statement above, and where do your sensibilities reside (i.e., do you prefer
Greek or Roman art/architecture)? 

Pantheon, Rome