Medieval Art
Its Greatest Artists

"Saint Luke Drawing the Virgin"

by Rogier van der Weydn

The medieval art we usually think of was created in what is known as the Gothic period. Giorgio Vasari, a 16th century biographer, first came up with the term "Gothic" to trash it; calling it "monstrous and barbarous" stuff, he meant to credit its greatest artists with having delicacy on the level of northern Europe's nastiest invaders, the Goths.

Gothic art appeared first in French cathedral architecture in Paris and its surrounding area in the mid-12th century.

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It reached its high point in the 13th, extending its influence and taking on regional characteristics through the late 14th and early 15th century; by then it was called the International Gothic style.

In the 19th century English art critic John Ruskin employed terms like "sternness and rudeness" to write about the characteristics of Gothic art - and he liked it!

I personally love this period, and spent a fair bit of my time learning its principal techniques: gold leafing, tempura (egg) painting, preparing grounds on wood, etc.

John Ruskin, Champion of Gothic Art

It is some of the most beautiful, meaningful, luminous art in the world.

Why do I love it so much?

Because far from being the "Dark Ages", the medieval period was one that was deeply spiritual and symbolic.  Looking at a piece of medieval art from this time gets richer in meaning the more you understand what it means when a lady is standing with her foot on a dragon (she is victorious over the sins of the flesh) or if she is holding a wheel (that means she is St Catherine, the Christian martyr who met her death on a giant wheel).

Greatest Artists of Medieval Art

1. Cimabue (1240 - 1302) broke with the flat, formal Byzantine style, to explore anatomy; he was also master to Giotto (left, Cimabue's portrait).

2. Contemporary to Giotto, Duccio (1255 - 1318) was one of the most influential artists of his time (left, detail from his Maesta Altarpiece).

3. Cimabue's pupil Giotto (1267 - 1337) broke with the Byzantine style to portray emotion and become Italy's first great master painter (portrait) .

4. Simone Martini (1284 - 1344) greatly influenced development of the International Gothic style (self portrait, left).

5. Having trained under Giotto, in his time Taddeo Gaddi (1290 - 1366) was Florence's most celebrated artist (portrait, left).

6. The Limbourg brothers (c.1385 - 1416) illustrated the world's most famous illuminated manuscript, the "Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry" (manuscript detail, "January").

7. The greatest artist of the late French Gothic period, Jean Fouquet (1425 - 1480) was an illuminator; credited with inventing the portrait miniature (left, self portrait).

Check out examples of medieval art at the Wiki Commons website.

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