Through their enormous scale, through the gravity-defying complexity of their construction, and through the sumptuousness of their materials and decoration, Gothic cathedrals were built to amaze visitors–the medieval equivalent of the blockbuster movie, and then some. The goal was to activate and overwhelm all of the senses and thereby both to produce an experience of transcendence for the people entering and using the cathedral, and to capture their hearts. The widespread social media reaction of shock and dismay to the fire at Notre Dame in Paris last year suggests that this power of the medieval cathedral to captivate remains very much alive. But these cathedrals have also, over the centuries, embodied and perpetuated hierarchies of authority and privilege, and have consumed vast economic resources. As a result, they have often been centers of conflict–and this too remains true today, as the heated debate in France over the rebuilding of Notre Dame testifies. This seminar will investigate the multiplicity of realities that make up the Gothic cathedral, from the Middle Ages to the present day. Together, we will look at a number of Europe’s most renowned cathedrals, through time–in France (including Notre Dame in Paris), England, Italy, Germany, Spain, and elsewhere–and consider both how each building has changed over the centuries and how it has been differently interpreted. As this collective conversation is unfolding, students will also pursue individual research projects on a cathedral of their own choosing, the aim being similarly to examine one of these remarkable monuments over time and in its shifting contexts.
The Class: Format: seminar
Requirements/Evaluation: Participation in class discussion; oral presentation; 15-20-page research paper.
Prerequisites: Permission of instructor
Enrollment Preferences: Art majors, but open to all
Distributions: Division I
Attributes: ARTH pre-1800 Courses