Gothic: Cloister of Zwettl Abbey, Lower Austria
Gothic: In Austria the transition from Romanesque to the Gothic period proceeded gradually from the early 13th century onwards. Mediators of the new style and ideals that had been developed in Western and Central Europe were the rulers and religious orders. In due course stylistic elements of Gothic art were also increasingly adopted in secular art.
The earliest evidence of the transition from Late Romanesque to Gothic is found in the cloisters of the Lower Austrian Cistercian monasteries of Zwettl, Heiligenkreuz and Lilienfeld. In Lilienfeld the early Gothic chancel was begun in 1202 and it was here that the typically Austrian hall-type churches with a nave and aisles of equal height had their origin, a design principle that was also adopted at Heiligenkreuz (around 1294) and Zwettl (after 1330). The Capella Speciosa at Klosterneuburg, which has not been preserved, was consecrated in 1222.
A special form - the oldest two-aisled hall church in Austria - is still extant in the former Dominican Church of Imbach, Lower Austria (before 1285).
Another construction principle - church ground-plans with a long choir - was developed by the mendicant orders (e.g. the Minorite Church at Bruck an der Mur, the Dominican Churches at Krems [Lower Austria] and Friesach [Carinthia]).
At St. Stephen's Cathedral in Vienna the three-aisled Albertinian Chancel was built in 1304-1340 under the influence of the hall-type chancel of Heiligenkreuz and mendicant architecture. The workshop of St. Stephen's played an important part in developing and propagating Austrian Gothic architecture. About 100 years later, around 1439-1455, H. Puchsbaum created another exemplary architectural form, the "staggered church" as typified by the nave of St. Stephen´s.
In the late Gothic period architecture was increasingly regionalised, and the western parts of the country received major impulses from neighbouring Bavaria. Important structures in western Austria are the churches of Braunau, Pischelsdorf and Eggelsberg as well as the Franciscan Church in the city of Salzburg. One of the chief products of late Gothic is the four-aisled parish church of Schwaz in Tirol.
Vault and rib patterns became more and more manifold and sophisticated around 1500, when their structural importance was gradually hidden by playful decorative effects. Outstanding examples of this development are found in Lower and Upper Austria (Weistrach, Krenstetten, St. Peter in der Au, St. Valentin, Königswiesen, Freistadt).
A Carinthian speciality is found in the parish church of Kötschach (1518-1527), where the vault is covered with a dense network of tendril-shaped ribs. This decorative character of Gothic architecture persisted well into the 16th century, particularly in the Alpine regions.
The stylistic developments in religious architecture were parallelled by similar trends in secular buildings. Profane buildings of artistic value include the Gozzoburg castle and the Göglerker oriel in Krems, the "Bummerlhaus" residence in Steyr, the "Goldenes Dachl" oriel in Innsbruck, the "Kornmesser" house in Bruck an der Mur as well as many Gothic arcaded courtyards. Relatively well-preserved Gothic squares are found in Waidhofen an der Ybbs, Melk and Steyr, fortifications at Hainburg, Krems-Stein, Enns and Radstadt. Gothic castles have been preserved at Heidenreichstein, Strechau, Lockenhaus, Tratzberg and Hall in Tirol as well as Millstatt (Grandmaster's Palace).
Gothic sculpture largely remained closely linked with architecture (sculpted portals, tympana with reliefs, columnar statues). The reliefs on the Singertor and Bischofstor portals (1370/80) of St. Stephen's in Vienna are among the most important works of Gothic sculpture in Austria. Along with these works of art, numerous individual statues of superb quality were sculpted, such as the Klosterneuburg Virgin (late 13th century), the Dienstbotenmadonna (Servants' Virgin, 1320/25) in St. Stephen's in Vienna as well as columnar statues in the chancel and donor's statues on the side-portal walls of St. Stephen´s.
Around 1400 sculptures became more and more graceful, sophisticated and at the same time more realistic, a development known as International Style The leading artists of this period were men like Hans von Judenburg and the Master of Großlobming.
The best-known sculptures representative of the International Style (in German often referred to as "Weicher Stil") are the pietà (representation of the Virgin Mary mourning over the dead body of Christ) and the "Schöne Madonnen", statues of the Virgin Mary, whose specific characteristics are foremost in specimens from Bohemia (e.g. the "Krumau Virgin" in the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna) and Salzburg.
Around 1420/30 the formal characteristics of Gothic sculpture became harder and more austere. The elegant, courtly, soft expressiveness of the previous period gave way to a more realistic approach and heavier, thickset, block-like shapes. This "Heavy Style", as it was called, had one of its centres at the Court in Vienna.
A central theme of Gothic sculpture was the decoration of tombs. Principal works of the late 15th century are the Tomb of Friedrich III in St. Stephen´s, Vienna, and the sculpted slab of the tomb of Empress Eleonore at Wiener Neustadt (both by Niclas Gerhaert van Leyden) and the tomb of Archbishop Leonhard von Keutschach at the Hohensalzburg fortress.
After Niclas Gerhaert and the influx of western ideas around 1470 Austrian sculptural style underwent major changes. The thickset, heavy shapes of the middle of the century were soon replaced with a lively style that embraced spatial movement and sought to envelop three-dimensional space.
As it absorbed and developed these influences, Austrian sculpture during the late phase of the Gothic period assumed a leading role in Europe, particularly in the field of richly sculpted wooden Winged Altars (peak 1470-1520), of which some 200 were created during that period.
Closely connected with architecture and sculpture were interior furnishings and furniture for both religious and secular buildings (choir stalls, pulpits, wooden ceilings, etc.). Other aspects of decorative art (textiles, glassware, ceramics) are also worth mentioning.
Gothic painting came into its own particularly in the form of panel painting, since Gothic building principles offered few extensive wall surfaces that could have accommodated frescoes. Nevertheless numerous important Gothic frescoes were still created in Alpine regions, such as the frescoes at Gurk (Cathedral portico), St. Paul im Lavanttal, Bruck an der Mur und Millstatt. Secular frescoes are fairly frequent in South Tirol (for instance at Runkelstein castle). Other significant frescoes include those by Neidhart in Vienna (ca. 1400).
In Carinthia and some parts of Styria, some of the smaller rural churches feature flat wooden painted ceilings. Another speciality are the Lenten Veils.
Gothic panel painting produced its first highlights in Austria in the early 14th century (e.g. the external panels of the Verdun Altar at Klosterneuburg, 1330/31). The portrait of Duke Rudolf IV (around 1365) was the first Gothic portrait made in Austria. It is now exhibited in the Diocesan Museum in Vienna. Austrian panel painting came into its own after 1400 under the influence of painters in Southern Germany and Bohemia.
Most of the artists of the early 15th century are not known by name. Leading painters named after their principal works included the Meister der Darbringung, the Meister der Anbetung, the Meister des Albrechtsaltars and the Meister der St. Lambrechter Votivtafel. The most outstanding mid-15th century representative of Gothic painting in Salzburg was Conrad Laib, who was already inspired by the painting tradition of Northern Italy. The late 15th century was marked by outstanding artists and their workshops, such as the Meister des Schottenaltars, M. and F. Pacher, R. Frueauf the Elder and J. Breu the Elder.
Spatial representation and landscapes gradually superseded the traditional gold leaf backgrounds. In the persons of R. Frueauf the Younger and W. Huber, who created the first landscape paintings in their own right, Austria produced two of the most important painters of the Danube Schoolperiod. Their style prevailed up to 1510/20, thus marking the transition to early Renaissance.
Gothic: Vault of Kötschach parish church Carinthia
Gothic: "Mondsichelmadonna", sculpture by J. Kaschauer, around 1430 (Hollenburg parish church, Lower Austria)
Gothic: Martyrdom of St. Catherine (city of Passau in the background). Painting by H. Eckl, around 1475 (Melk Abbey, Lower Austria)
Literature: W. Buchowiecki, Die gotischen Kirchen Österreichs, 1952; R. Feuchtmüller and W. Mrazek, Gotik in Österreich, 1961; Die Kunst der Donauschule, exhibition catalogue St. Florian and Linz, 1965; Friedrich III, exhibition catalogue, Wiener Neustadt 1966; Gotik in Österreich, exhibition catalogue, Krems 1967; Kärntner Kunst des Mittelalters, exhibition catalogue, Vienna and Klagenfurt 1970/71; Spätgotik in Salzburg - Die Malerei 1400-1530, exhibition catalogue, Salzburg 1972; Spätgotik in Tirol, exhibition catalogue, Vienna 1973; Spätgotik in Salzburg, exhibition catalogue, Salzburg 1976; Wien im Mittelalter, exhibition catalogue, Vienna 1976; Gotik in der Steiermark exhibition catalogue, St. Lambrecht (Styria) 1978; Die Zeit der frühen Habsburger, exhibition catalogue, 1979; G. Brucher, Gotische Baukunst in Österreich, 1990; G. Schmidt, Gotische Bildwerke und ihre Meister, 2 vols., 1992.
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