The fall of the Roman Empire and the events that occurred in Europe leading up to the Middle Ages (has) have had a lasting effect on architecture and design today.The enduring values of medieval art and architecture can be split up into five major styles, early Christian, Byzantine, Islamic, Romanesque and Gothic.The most influential period was the Gothic, which is known for its significant change from classical architecture; this change from classical architecture aided in the Gothic era’s transformation to its own identity.
The Medieval period is known for its constant airfare and battle, and most people feared death and eternal damnation; the Catholic Church gained its wealth and power through people’s fear.
Due to the high level of religious devotion during this time, it is evident that church leaders, such as the Pope had more power than Kings and Queens. Even serfs wanted to maintain a relationship with God, so they paid small fees to be part of the church. Scott, page 149) Cathedrals and churches were sacred spaces, an escape from the hardship and brutality of life, indicating that religion during this time was the most important influence in medieval culture, art, and architecture. It is evident in the monumental cathedrals and churches. Many argue that art and design weren’t important during Medieval times. It is evident, however, through careful observation of monumental cathedrals and churches built during the early Middle Ages that the time period cherished art and design, rather than disregarded it.
Religion was the most central aspect to life, and the intricate and divine detail included in these places of worship, such as the Notre Dame Cathedral show that art and design was very much appreciated. During the time of the Roman Empire, soldiers protected the middle and lower classes until it fell. The law then no longer protected the individuals, so they turned to the Lords to keep peace and protection. Thus began a period of time called the middle ages and the start of feudalism, which existed for over a century.
Everyone’s life was lived out against a backdrop of fear; fear of violence, bloodshed, brutality, fear of starvation, fear of dying, and fear of ones fate in the afterlife. Famine and sickness were major factors in death during this time, considering they depended on ropes and agriculture to prosper, and the cold climate led to less food on their plates and nothing to sell at the market. Even when food was abundant, serfs still lacked a dependable source of essential vitamins, leaving them weak and vulnerable to death.
Their water was polluted and there were no sanitation systems, which often led to epidemics. They lived in hovels that were poorly wood constructed shelters that had no indoor heating; no windows to bring in natural light and generally caught fire. (Cantor, page 383) Their only defense against living in these harsh environments was elision; faith in God was their only hope for salvation in the after life. People also believed when misfortune struck, whether in the form of fire, drought, famine, and war, that they had failed God. Constantine the Great was considered to be the last great emperor of Rome.
Although his reign was before the middle ages, he played an important transitional role in history through his recognition of Christianity, which became the prominent religion in Europe until the Reformation. Due to the fact that civilization survived in such harsh living conditions, the Christian faith brought everyone together in a more positive light and shaped their lives from birth to death; their purpose on earth was to serve god, who was above them. Humanism wouldn’t make its presence known until the beginning of the renaissance, which was not until a century later, and society was Just adhering to the norm.
Following the norm gave them great security, physically and emotionally. In any society that thrived for protection from the harshness of life through religion, people looked to however could secure your happiness in heaven; this person had the most political and cultural power. The Roman Catholic church was the supreme power during the Middle ages, and the laws of the land and leading roles of government were all in the hands of church leaders such as bishops and archbishops. The Pope was considered the most powerful, as he was God’s representative on earth.
Although priests and kings had their individual responsibilities from the church, priests had a commitment to God, to communicate with him on behalf of the people, handing down Gods rules of conduct, where as the King was responsible for the people to adhere to those rules of conduct; he was noninsured God’s Solider. The king had lords and nobles who served him, controlling the land in exchange for protection of the serfs, villains or peasants. To maintain such an operation, one might have as many as 500 serfs in his household, while those lower on the social scale might have an average of 70.
Since the church had extensive land holdings, it had great leverage in structuring feudalism (Blackmore, Robbie, page 68). The definition of feudalism is, “A political and economic system of Europe, based on the holding of all land in fief or fee and the resulting relation of rod to vassal and characterized by homage, legal and military service of tenants, and forfeiture. ” (Cantor, page 164) Feudalism is known for its negative connotation; however, it still gave people a reason for salvation, and aided in their interest in a higher existence.
Feudalism put fear in society’s eyes, yet funded the construction of the cathedrals, which ironically had the opposite effect. Cathedrals were one response to the unsettling conditions of such a feudal society, but also became powerful and emotional masterpieces bringing the image of heaven to earth. These places of worship would serve to the lower classes and became city landmarks, a place where the village could experience solidarity. Together cathedrals and the cities they resided in would prosper.Having centered themselves in the heart of the town, places of worship brought people from the countryside to the center of the city (Scott, page 69). Unlike the more classical based architecture that came before it, the Romanesque style, Gothic architecture was built with excess. The Gothic characteristics strove for extreme proportions and dimensions; this created new structures to heighten the buildings, as well as improving window sizes to bring in enough light. Gothic architecture had wider windows and doors than those of Romanesque buildings.
According to their understanding, “light is a substance, yet it differs from other substances through its ability to penetrate glass or precious stone without splitting them” (Hovercrafts, page 51). The flying buttresses, pointed arches, ribbed vaults, soaring ceilings, and stained glass windows characterize gothic design, making it functional, yet dramatically appealing. They clearly understood the importance of light, and how bringing that element into the building changed people’s perceptions and attitudes. Notre Dame Cathedral is one of, if not the most profound example of gothic architecture.
Construction of Notre Dame began under the direction of Maurice De Sully, Bishop of Paris in 1163. Geometric proportioning was fundamental for gothic design, which also led to the flying buttresses. When Notre Dame started its construction the walls were so thin, that arches on the exterior had to support the vertical and narrow proportions. The flying buttresses were not originally exposed and didn’t become acceptable until the end of the 12th Century. Cathedrals during this time were competing to be the tallest, which symbolized wealth and power (Scott, peg 94). Geometric proportion was indeed a constant preoccupation in the middle ages,” (Gridlock, page 14) and this created a whole new style for the nave and an increase in the size of the stain glass windows. This cathedral’s high alter was consecrated in 1189, and the nave was finished around 1196. The west faded of Notre Dame was completed between 1225 and 1230. The west faded displays an important characteristic to the gothic style, the rose window, which has many efferent conceptions on its significance.
Relating back to the Romans and the culls centered upon the Pantheon in Greece, some view it as the symbol of the sun, and God, also as its original form a flower which represents Mary, and lastly, heavenly Jerusalem, which is known to be a round city (Hovercrafts peg 50). Not only did the window symbolize god, but also the shape of the building as well, The Latin Cross was the architectural shape of the building, as if God was looking down from heaven recognizing their faith. The towers topping the west faded were completed around 1250.
It took over 200 ears to complete, taking into consideration the climate, need for materials and transportation, labor, and warfare. A tremendous amount of effort implies the importance the cathedral had to the population. Abbot Surer believed, “everything that is most precious should be used above all to celebrate”. Abbot Surer was an influential leader during his time and patron of the arts. He was a classmate and friend to the future King Louis VI, who later appointed him Abbot of church Saint-Denis (Cantor, page 398 ).
His duty was to enhance the stature of the church Saint-Denis, and under his power the church was renovated so rustically that it has become the first example of the Gothic style also known as the “heavenly capital”. Light was the primary source of faith and divine inspiration, opening up the dark Romanesque walls and cramming it with aisles and replacing the clerestory windows with stained glass. Stained glass is another important element to the cathedral’s design; one of the oldest surviving stained glass windows dates back to 1065, and can be found in the Cathedral of Sagebrush in Germany. (Cantor, page 397) www. Sobs. Rag Popular designs depicted scenes from the bible as well as the lives of the Saints. Some also illustrated everyday life, showing Artisans at work. Romanesque cathedrals had such thick walls and small windows, they provided poor light, whereas Gothic cathedrals had windows so large that the stained glass would lay out on an entire floor. Understanding that light symbolized God, as the light came through the colored glass, often gave individuals a feeling of intense spirituality, not only illuminating the church, but them as well. Since few people could read or write, the windows also gave them a source of religious instruction.
Sculptures were used as well throughout dihedral history. Sculptures of little monsters called Gargoyles conveyed more then one message, primarily to instill fear into the city. These Gargoyles represented the evil on earth, but were also said to scare off evil spirits, assuring citizens that it was a holy place. (Cantor, page 397) Ornamentation throughout the middle ages gave people an understanding to life and glorifying god. Over 80 cathedrals, and 500 abbey churches were built in the gothic style, (Cantor, page 104) astonishing monuments of Gods glory, each remained intact until the reformation.
Cathedrals didn’t build over night, like today with skyscrapers that take six years to build. It took up too two hundred years, some generations wouldn’t even get to see them completed although worked on them their whole life. Workers would use the most basic tools, and the number of tools required for such a task were quite small, for example hammer, epic and axe, saw; working in conditions that modern day health and safety laws would forbid today. (Scott, page 21) It clearly shows the importance of these building to the people during that time period.
Everything about he medieval cathedral, special use of light, layout, and sculptors are all inspirations of God. People feared that failure to use the best human creativity might be interpreted by the God as something less than full devotion, so they felt compelled to use all of their artistic, engineering and craft based creative individuals to create the finest space they were capable to build. Architecture was their doorway to a better life and as evidence shows the monumental cathedrals and churches built during the early Middle Ages were cherished art and design.