In the Mid fourteenth century, with Petrarch, an awareness arose in Italian humanist circles not only of the decline of civilization that accompanied the fall of ROME, which had never been in question, but also of Classical (that is, “Roman”) cultural revival in their own time. Petrarch referred to the decline as a time of “darkness”, a time of almost unrelieved ignorance – this first articulation of the idea of “The dark Ages” being, clearly, a negative one (1337-1348). Soon Boccaccio (1348-1353) and others applied this concept to the history of art, although in an unsystematic way, most notably in regard to Giotto (1276/75-1337).
Flavio Biondo came to see the interval between the Empire and their own time as a distinct period and gradually formalized with terms such as media
tempestas (1469), media aetas (1518), media tempora (1531). The actual term medium aevum is first found at least by 1604; with the English equivalent appearing immediately afterwards with ‘Middle Ages’ by Henry Spelman In 1616. In regard to the historiography of medieval art these developments
took heir definitive form in the work of Vasari, considered by some to be the founder of modern art history. Vasari is, perhaps, most notoriously known among medievalists for his characterization of what is now called Gothic architecture as an invention of the Goths who “filled all Italy with these damnable buildings” What was to Vasari only too ubiquitous, Gothic, was to many others now in danger of being lost.
This idea of the Gothic art and architecture was the cause of a lost of great part of this culture. John Leland generally described not as the first medieval art historian (in England), but as the first modern English antiquary. After the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1534, John Leland undertook a project with the King’s support to research the libraries of all the monasteries and colleges of England. Leland, who had been in Holy Orders and had been appointed Henry’s librarian around 1530, was an antiquarian. His antiquarian proposal, however seems to have received an urgent impetus from the
Dissolution, of which he approved but whose destruction of the ancient libraries he deeply regretted. In the end, this already daunting project
expanded its goals to include everything from libraries to inscriptions, important buildings, artistic remains, coins, and geography, in both England and Wales. The result is considered to be a significant innovation in antiquarian method, even if an uncritical one. His extensive notes were widely known to the next generation of antiquaries who used them. These were finally published in nine volumes from 1710 to 1712 as the Itinerary. Two scholars of Leland were William Camden and Robert Bruce Cotton. Camden built upon Leland’s manuscript notes to produce what Leland never managed: a comprehensive antiquarian study of England. Cotton was a great antiquarian and collector who is known to every medieval art historian from cataloguing of his famous manuscript collection according to the Classical busts, particularly of Roman emperors, that stood on top of the bookcases that housed the manuscripts. (and many of these today are in British Library). In the XVII century the attention to medieval and Gothic art was iscussed by anti
ries, scholars and historians. The catacombs of Rome were rediscovered in 1578 and the volume by Antonio Bosio Roma Sotterranea was published in 1632-34. in 1643 was published the volume Acta Sa
nctorum, in 1668-1701 was published the volume Acta SS. Ordinis Sancti Benedicti, and in 170-1739 the Annales Ordinis Sancti Benedicti. These quickly became part of the essential foundation for medieval studies for generations of scholars. In 1711 Joseph Addison introduced the philosophical concept of SUBLIME into the discussion of the architecture, a concept that distinguished between the traditional concept of beauty (as understood from the principles of Classical art) and awe (Sublime). Generally this new
appreciation for the Sublime permitted the qualities of vastness, irregularity and obscurity commonly associated with Gothic architecture to be opposed positively to the qualities of human proportions, regularity and clarity universally associated with Classical standards. This theme given significant development by Edmund Burke and Immanuel Kant over such a period of time as to ensure its continued viability, the concept of the Sublime gave an intellectual respectability to Gothic architecture that was extremely important in the slow process of breaking down the walls that
shut off medieval architecture from mainstream artistic thought.
The Gothic Revival
The Gothic revival began at least as early 1717 with the Gothic Temple at Shotover, but the purposes of this introduction the country residence of Horace Walpole, enthusiastic and astute advocate of the movement and the autor of the first Gothic novel The Castle of Otranto: a Gohtic Story.
In Germany began to build in the Gothic Revival style, but it was to be a while, if only a short while, before any truly broader recognition of Gothic would be achieved on the Continent and then even as period styles earlier than Gothic were typically considered ‘decadent’. In France, Michel de Fremin’s architectural theory of rationalism, which included medieval in its discussion, further continued the process of chipping away at the Classical stranglehold as did Mar Antoine Laugier’s recognition of the role of rationalism in Gothic architecture a subject that would be argued for generations.
In Italy interest in things medieval was scant, but writing about art began to be undertaken less by artists and more by connoisseurs. Greek art began to be distinguished from Roman. Everywhere Museums were opening up to an increasingly. In 1831 V. Hugo wrote Notre Dame de Paris (Hugo was
active in bringing about the restoration of the cathedral, which began in 1843, arguing against over-restoration), in his Romantic version Gothic architecture was a book of stone, the grat book of humanity in which every human thought found a page. The Gothic cathedral was a book in
which the artist was free as never before to express his own imagination, often in a non – religious way. Viollet le Duc, two works that give full
expressions of Romanesque and Gothic structure, function, and design. These writings are best known for Viollet le Duc’s theory of the rationality of Gothic architecture, a theory that would be debated far into the twentieth century, particularly the question of the structural versus the aesthetic function of the ribbed groin vault. Also, like Hugo, Viollet le Duc saw the sculpture of the Gothic cathedral as providing a field for not just an artistic freedom, but even a ‘kind of freedom of the press’ (using Hugo’s phrase). In 1851-1853 John Ruskin wrote The Stones of Venice in which spoke of
the freedom of the medieval artist, among other things. Ruskin in 1869 the first Slade Professor of Fine Art at Oxford, was also strongly opposed to over-restoration. But the pull of the medieval past went way beyond the arts in the profound impact of the Oxford Movement, a religious reform movement that as one of its goals, sought to restore certain ‘medieval’ or roman Catholic rituals to the Anglican Church. In Later Nineteenth Century, Camille Enlart strove to show that Romanesque architecture originated in France and was disseminated from there, including to the Crusader states. In 1922 E. Male wrote L’Art religieux du XIIe siécle en France, in it Male masterfully rehabilited Romanesque visual art as the art of a great period, a subject that retains the interest of scholars to the present day. The Themes he wove throughout his text included monasticism, the pilgrimage, the cult of saints, various aspects f the liturgy and the question of Eastern influence. He concluded with a still important discussion of Suger and St Denis, and the role of all this in the making of the art of the thirteenth century. The American Arthur Kingsley Porter disputed French proprietary claims to
the origins of Romanesque architecture and to the predominant role of the so called schools. He demonstrated the priority of the Lombardy, Spain, and Southern France a position in which he was joined by Joseph Puig. In his Romanesque Sculpture of the Pilgrimage Roads (1923) Porter argued that the vehicle for this transmission was not the French schools but intellectual traffic of the pilgrimage roads aided by interests of monasticism.
In Italy in 1890 Giovanni Morelli began to apply the methods of comparative anatomy that he had learned in medicine in Germany and France to the study of art, achieving phenomenal success in the attribution artworks. A revitalized connoisseurship, that following Morelli’s method or not, had a strong base in the thriving sphere of the museums, its natural home today. Konrad Fiedler was the most important scholar about the theorization of artistic form. He was strongly opposed to historicism and who postulated that artistic form is autonomous, independent of its historical context, and that it comprises an ordering of experience on a level equal to that of language. In Austria Franz Wichoff combined the study of form and Morellian connoiseurship with cultural and intellectual history in his desire to demonstrate uniform principles of artistic development for all periods.
In twentieth century Aby Warburg was strongly influenced by Burckhardt’s cultural history of art, first applied the term ‘iconology’ to this method in 1912. He set before discipline a new approach to the study of art, one that went bejond either stylistic analysis or iconography and that fundamentally ran counter to the theories of Riegl and Wollflin. He believed that art can only understood in its broad historical and cultural contexts, and toward this end incorporated all branches of learning and all forms of visual representation. E. Panofsky took Warburg’s method further and theorized it, in this way both demonstrating its applicability and broadening its appeal. As differentiated in his famous Studies in Iconology (1939), there are three levels of
visual interpretation. Iconography is the study of the themes or concepts of imagery as conveyed through the literary and visual traditions; this is a history of types. Iconology is the ‘intrinsic’ meaning or content related to the ‘symbolical’ values. In 1931 Shapiro attempted to explain the sculpture of Moissac not as a point in an autonomous development of form or as a complex of iconographical puzzles to be deciphered, but as an art whose principle of abstraction was an intentional as that of the art of Shapiro’s own time. In the process he provided a historical basis to an emerging
realism, seeing it as a manifestation of artistic freedom attributable to the rising bourgeoisie in the face of the traditional Church establishment. Shapiro’s Marxist art history was shot-lived and his themes of the freedom of the artist, the interaction of styles, and psychology had all been
broached before. But it was all used to such effect that his work still commands enormous respect today and is seen both as a model of formal and stylistic analysis and as a crucial stage in the development of a social history of art. We today are no longer drawn to medieval by the Romanticism of an earlier century or by nationalism; or by the desire to establish universal theories. Rather we are drawn to the Middle Ages because the art and architecture speak to us differently from that of other times and places: the seeming contradictions of simplicity and complexity, stability and change, domination and freedom, the looking backward and the looking forward, the memory of empire and the growth of urbanism, regionalism and internationalization, superstition and the beginnings of modern thought, the differences from and the similarities to our own culture. And we are drawn by a sense of loss, the same sense of loss that motivated our predecessors, the first medievalist. Relevancy in any field is the same as it ever was, even if a given field cannot spearhead national movements. Having only recently emerged with the aid of relativism, that double-edged sword, from the need to compete with standards of Classical and Renaissance art a new story of medieval art is now being written, one step a time. Whether we look at art history for social relevancy or in term of Burchardt’s ‘problem solving’ this is an exciting time for medieval. A new critical awareness has combined with a dedication t historical research that was not always the case in the past, though there have been eminent exceptions. The destruction of the medieval patrimony with the Reformation and its aftermath was a great loss for Western culture. But it is a destruction from which many a plum is still waiting to be plucked.