The Production of Gothic Art
WORKS of art do not just grow of themselves; they are the product of human hands as well as of human brains. It follows that for the production of works on a large scale, especially great buildings, a high degree of organization is required. Such an organization presupposes not only a relatively complicated social civilization and system of administration behind it, but also the needful economic means to the desired end. That is to say, the great building projects of the Gothic age implied great schemes of finance, and of the application of the money in an appropriate way. Now we know that the great building employers of the period were precisely the people who had the necessary financial and administrative machinery: the Kings, the Church in its various ramifications, and as time went on, the great municipalities.
In England, where the archives of the Crown have been particularly well preserved, the direct evidence of an existing Pipe Roll proves the high degree of financial organization to have existed before 1130: a time earlier than the first traces of the Gothic style in art. In other words, the material organization was already in existence before the new outpouring of artefacts began. It is as well to emphasize this, for it might otherwise be suggested that the artistic impulse came to fruition in spite of a surrounding chaos of barbarism. This was very far from being the case; the Gothic seed fell upon a fruitful and already well-tilled ground.
The well-known letters and chronicles of 1145, relating to the building of Chartres Cathedral and other churches in northern France and Normandy, and describing the swarms of people of all classes who flocked to help the works, have been considered as evidence tending in a contrary direction. Here, if anywhere, is the proof of general co-operative construction, on the building-bee principle. But this is not what the documents record. The most famous, a letter from Abbot Haimon of St.-Pierre-sur-Dives in Normandy to the Prior of his cell at Tutbury, in England, refers to thousands of men and women, including kings, princes and others of noble birth, as binding bridles on their necks and dragging waggons of "wine, corn, oil, lime, stones, timbers, and other things needful for sustaining life or the fabric of churches". These works of piety did not include anything so unlikely as the shaping or setting of masonry or beams, but simply provided an abundance of unskilled labour. Similarly records such as that of 1236 which tells us that the work of Amiens Cathedral was carried out after consultation with the clergy and laity of the city (accedente consensu Ambianensis cleri et populi) at most imply that a referendum was held (as happened in modern times over the completion of the front of the Duomo at Florence) upon pre-existing designs; not that there was spontaneous "folk-design".
Even so, these manifestations were relatively uncommon, and the normal Gothic building patron or committee could not rely on such adventitious aid. Both before and after these outbursts of devotion, unequivocal records prove the existence of highly skilled craftsmen who were responsible for actual building work. Abbot Suger, who himself records the assistance of laymen in providing transport, mentions his crowd of skilled masons, sculptors and other craftsmen, and describes how he consulted not only his own carpenters, but those of Paris, as to where he might find twelve great beams of a certain size. Getting a negative reply, he took the measurements and his own carpenters with him for a day in the