National Gallery of Art - THE COLLECTION

Tour: Italian Altarpieces and Religious Sculpture of the 1300s

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The Gothic style of the twelfth through fifteenth centuries sought to bring a vision of the heavenly paradise to earth. Architecture soared upward on thin columns, and light streamed through tall windows. The shapes of Gothic paintings and sculpture often reflect the pointed arches and steep gables of the churches they adorned.

Unified in their motifs, artistic ensembles made use of sumptuous, symbolic color schemes. The paintings' gold-leafed backgrounds, for instance, recall God's divine light, and much of the sculpture bears traces of original paint and gilding, too. Spiritual significance dictated figure scale; the more important subjects were rendered in larger sizes. Courtly figures with elegant poses and slender anatomy characterize Gothic art, as do the sweeping folds in their draped robes and their curvilinear silhouettes.

An adoration of Mary as the all-nurturing mother arose in the western Christian world during the later Middle Ages. The Madonna (Italian for “My Lady”) appears both in specific scenes from her legend and as a sacred intercessor who offers her son Jesus as the way to salvation.

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