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Early Italian Gothic (c. 1228-1290)

Chiaravalle Abbey Chiaravalle Abbey Chiaravalle Abbey
Casamari Abbey Casamari Abbey refrectory Casamari Abbey
Casamari Abbey church of Sant'Andrea in Vercelli Parma Baptistery by Benedetto Antelami
Parma Baptistery ceiling Parma Baptistery  
Casamari images thanks to
Gothic architecture was imported in Italy, just as it was in many other European countries. The Benedictine Cistercian order was, through their new edifices, the main carrier of this new architectural style. It spread from Burgundy (in what is now eastern France), their original area, over the rest of Western Europe.

This kind of architecture had in fact already included most of the novelties which characterized the Gothic cathedrals of Ile-de-France, but with a more subdued, and somewhat "ascetic", formal approach. Figurative decorations are banned. The stained glass windows are reduced in size and colorless. The verticalism is reduced. In the exterior bell towers and belfries are absent.

Always present, however, are oval rectangular groin vaults and clustered piers , composed by an ensemble of smaller columns, which continue with engaged pillars to the vaulting-ribs. The capitals have very simple decorations, usually not figurative. The stone-dressing is very accurate as well. The result is a quasi-modern cleanness, lacking embellishments.

The Cistercian architecture could be easily adapted, with slight modifications, to the necessities of Mendicant Orders such as the Dominicans and the Franciscans, which in Italy were living a huge expansion in Italy. Both strove for a certain cleanness, when not poverty, in their edifices. They needed large naves and aisles to allow the faithful to follow preachings and rites without visual obstacles, like it happened instead in the cathedrals, whose interiors contained numerous pilasters and had the choir separated by walls from the nave.

12th century

As previously stressed, the first Italian Gothic edifices were Cistercian abbeys. They spread in the whole Italian territory, often adapting the construction techniques to the local traditions. There were in fact brickwork edifices in the Pianura Padana, while stone prevailed in central Italy and Tuscany. In the latter was sometimes present the by-chrome wall decoration from the local Romanesque tradition.

The most important edifices include the Chiaravalle Abbey in northern Italy and the Casamari Abbey in central Italy. Among the non-Cistercian buildings of this century which were influenced by the Gothic style, though still presenting important Romanesque features, are the Parma Baptistery by Benedetto Antelami and the church of Sant'Andrea in Vercelli.

Chiaravalle Abbey