A Century of French Painting, 1400-1500

A Century of French Painting, 1400-1500

A Century of French Painting, 1400-1500

A Century of French Painting, 1400-1500

Excerpt

Early French art is essentially Gothic art. Its great period was in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, its main manifestations architecture and sculpture, its material was stone, 'la matière du grand moyen-âge'. French painting began when Gothic art was on the wane; its early monuments are scarcer than those in almost any other country, and many of them have given rise to controversy. It is the ill fortune of this book to be concerned with painting alone, and to start at the moment when France was about to lose the undisputed artistic hegemony in Europe which she was not to regain fully until the nineteenth century.

To the scholars of former days, accustomed to taking 'the sovereign art of Italy as measure, the hundred years from 1400 to 1500 stood for 'Quattrocento', and Quattrocento meant Early Renaissance—headings that convey the idea of a certain style. Neither of these headings applies to France. About 1400, French art underwent a slight change, but only in so far as pure 'Isle de France Gothic' merged into 'le style international', or 'International Gothic'. whose centres, beside Paris, were Prague and Vienna, Verona and Milan, Barcelona, Cologne, and the Hanseatic towns. Since the line separating Late Gothic from Early Renaissance has now become less rigid, the question how to term the period can be approached in a different way. We have learnt that all the cultural and artistic currents previously regarded as typical Renaissance innovations had, in fact, originated in the Middle Ages. Man—homo—is not an invention of the Renaissance; he is present in medieval art, as its centre, although still bound by his relations to the universe and to God, who Himself is the image of humanity. Even the revival of classical antiquity, long attributed exclusively to the Renaissance and hailed as its great 'modern' discovery, has now been found to have originated during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, in science, literature, and in the visual arts, particularly in sculpture.

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