When we look at the soaring spaces of Chartres cathedral or the shimmering pages of a gilded and painted manuscript, we are witnesses to a new kind of vision. In this radical reappraisal of Gothic art in Europe, the word "Gothic" describes not only an art style but a changing concept of space, time, and society - a new kind of perception, both visual and spiritual, in which light is of central importance. Camille shows us how the art of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries was seen in its own time and explores the way vision itself was understood. In this age of glorious painting, magnificent, intricate architecture and sculpture, and jewellike manuscript illumination, art was an expression of religious passion and earthly power, of public and private wealth; of science and learning. The new vision led to an explosion of brilliant images but had its grim side, rarely noticed by art history: the distorted representation of "others" like Jews, heretics, and lepers; a new vision not only of the marvelous, but also of the grotesque.
In this engagingly original introductory text to art and architecture of the Gothic period, Camille (art history, Univ. of Chicago) eschews a traditional formalistic and iconographic approach. He instead examines Gothic architecture in terms of its liturgical function as a grandiose reliquary to contain holy images and relics, as a sacred image itself, as a context for sculpture and other media, and in relation to an evolving concept of transcendent light. The critical urban context of the style and its relationships to rising monarchic power and shifting religious currents are also stressed. Out of these investigations arises a deeper comprehension of the subjective potency of religious imagery as manifested in communal, devotional, and liturgical contexts. While Camille attempts to come to grips with the essentials of the Gothic style, Partridge (art history, Univ. of California, Berkeley) is content to explore the unfolding of the Renaissance style within the boundaries of 15th- and 16th-century papal Rome. In a consideration that is sensitive to the perilous condition of the church, Partridge thoughtfully reconstructs crucial artistic responses to these challenges. Not only does he retrace the history of urbanistic refurbishment and reconfiguration of the papal city, he also underlines the practical and ideological intentions of these efforts. Individual building projects are also skillfully explored, and their relationships to the historical Roman context and their symbolic significances suggested. The consideration of frescoes offers important insight into the pictorial assertion of sacred and temporal power. These volumes are the latest additions to Abrams's "Perspectives" series, meant to examine significant periods and styles within broader social and historical contexts. While both authors make assertions that go beyond the possibilities of historical knowing, the richness of scholarship, perception, and thought that characterizes these efforts should gain them inclusion in all art libraries.-Robert Cahn, Fashion Inst. of Technology, New York