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The Twelfth Century 1100 - 1200
The 12th century was a time in which secular art came into it’s own in Europe. This was due to
a number of reasons including increased trade, an established money-based economy, a
growing bourgeois class with an enhanced literacy level and a growing number of universitybred patrons with both money and a desire to commission artworks. As a result there was a
proliferation of paintings and illuminated manuscripts in Europe.
The beginning of the century saw the style of the Romanesque become the first style to impact
the whole of Catholic Europe. This style was spread by way of pilgrimage and war through the
Christian Crusades such as those of the Knights of Templar. As a result cathedrals and
monasteries appeared in abundance throughout Catholic Europe. To help represent the
Christian power the general impression of Romanesque architecture is one of strength and
solidarity. Other features of this style include different forms and shapes of towers, an interest in
rebuilding or enlarging the basilica to accommodate the increased number of celebrants viewing
relics, arcading and stone sculpture as exterior decoration and geometric decorations on the
interior, and importantly an acceptance of regional differences in the implications of the style.
In parts of Europe the 12th century also saw the last golden age of the Byzantine period. Within
the Palaeologan Period, so called after the Palaeologan Dynasty of the time, a new art aesthetic
arose. The previous austere attempts to mimic reality in artworks were replaced with more
symbolic images almost abstract in character. Likewise less austere icons were being produced
displaying a new appreciation for the purely decorative qualities of artwork. Further to this the
cultural exchange with, and influence of Italian artists, resulted in a refocus of subject matter on
the pastoral and landscape, again less religious in its nature.
The middle of the century saw the development of changes, first in architecture and then 50
years later in artworks, known as the Gothic style. This new style grew from the Romanesque
and was heavily influenced by the Normans. During the 12th century the Gothic, which became
the first French style to dominate Europe, was known as ‘The French Style’ since it began in
Paris. The distinguishing features of the new architecture were its use of pointed spires, and
opening up of large, light and spacious interiors. This was made possible with the use of flying
buttresses, thinner columns and, in order to support the great size of the structures, ribbed
vaults capable of spanning large areas. The distinguishing feature of the Gothic image was its
narrative quality, an abundance of which elaborately adorned the exterior and some interiors of
the architecture. Within these elaborate decorations Gothic sculptors moved away from their
Romanesque predecessors by creating independent freestanding statues rather than reliefs.
The Gothic style became popular throughout Europe due to its promotion by the Cistercians, a
monastic order founded by St. Bernard of Clairvaux who had a dislike of the Romanesque. As
might be expected, and as it was with the Romanesque, the development of the Gothic within
each region was heavily affected by local influence creating variations within different areas of
Europe. While The Crusaders helped spread the style through Eastern Europe the style in the
West was developing rapidly. Good French and English political relations meant the Gothic
quickly took root in England and the style was quickly spread to the Iberian Peninsular. The
style had a similarly great impact in Germany, which was to become the centre of Gothic
architecture. Italy remained the only western European country where the French Gothic
maintained less hold, instead developing its own very unique architectural interpretation of the