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Medieval engineers wanted to build higher and bigger. The fundamental problem lay in calculating load distribution. It was not enough to heap heavy stone blocks one on top of the others, so new forms of vaulting were developed. They opened up whole new architectural panoramas. The first Gothic structures were the might churches built in France and later elsewhere in northern Europe. The use of flying buttressed and further technical innovations accelerated the process of daring change. The one element most Gothic churches have in common is their great height. Soaring structures, it was felt, would lift mortal eyes to the heavens and at the same time remind people of their  smallness compared with the greatness of God.

These complex structures were perfected using pillars, columns, arches and vaulting of various kinds to support high ceilings. Rather than relying on the solidity of mass and building thick, heavy walls, priority was give to a clear light pouring through tall pointed windows. The whole was topped off by an  almost obsessive desire to decorate. Gothic churches are bedecked with pinnacles, statues, gargoyles and all sorts of baubles. In Italy, however, where architecture remained heavily influenced  by the cleaner, more simple line of the building  of classical antiquity, the fiddly decoration, pointed arches and vaults of Gothic architecture never flourished in the way they did north of the Alps.

The most outstanding early Gothic church in Italy is the Basilica di San Francesco in Assisi, begun in the mod-13th century, which combines a heavily vaulted, dark and mysterious lower church with a light-filled upper church.

The Franciscan order, responsible for the construction of the cathedral in Assisi, competed with the rival Dominicans not only in theological matters but also in the building of churches. It was common for both orders to raise vast Gothic churches on the outskirts of medieval cities, such as Santa Maria Novella (Dominicans) and Santa Croce (Franciscans) in Florence.

That pair is mirrored in Venice by Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari (Franciscans) and SS Giovanni e Paolo (Dominicans). The two pairs tell us much about the development of Gothic in Italy. In all cases the buildings are epic in proportion but comparatively unadorned (there are none of the spires and gargoyles that adorn the Gothic cathedrals of France). Regional differences were pronounced. While the Venetians favoured a sober brick exterior, the Tuscans opted for stone and marble facing,

Among the great Italian cathedrals are some outstanding examples of Gothic architecture. Florence's magnificent marble clad cathedral competes with those of Siena and Orvieto in splendour. Siena's started in 1196, is arguably one of the most splendid Gothic cathedrals ever built. Milan's cathedral is a late-Gothic fantasy and one of the few in all of Italy to imitate the style favoured north of the Alps, Built using a light-coloured marble and rather squat by northern European standards, it is nevertheless a sumptuous forest of spires, statues and reliefs- not a square centimetre has been left bare.

Many public buildings and private mansions weree also raised in the Gothic style (although fewer examples remain). In these cases builders did not necessarily aim to reach great heights but the same techniques allowed them  to create structures of great elegance. With the growth of trade and city government, town halls were built, such as the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence (built 1298-1310) and the imposing Palazzo Pubblico in Siena (built 1298-1310) and the imposing Palazzo Pubbico in Siena (built 1298-c.1326), and many patrician families built impressive Gothic mansions.

The Gothic style in Italy lingered longest in Venice. A fine example is the Palazzo Ducale (Doges' Palace) built in the 14th and early 15th centuries, which combines Gothic and Islamic styles in its facade. The elegant Ca' d'Oro (Golden House; built 1420-34) on the Grand Canal was freely based on the Palazzo Ducale).

These great buildings had to be decorated and the use of frescoes, panel paintings and sculpture all flourished under the influence of the new architectural style. Painting was infused with more colour and expression than before, the figures depicted acquired greater fluidity and humanity. Artists still relied above all on commissions from the Church and hence religious themes remained at the core of Italian artistic production, Nevertheless, depictions of kings and other personalities. as well earthly events, represent a significant breach in the age's artistic repertoire.

One of the most interesting centres of Gothic painting was Siena. The only artist there to hold a candle to Giotto was Duccio di Buoninsegna (c.1255-1318). Although still much attached to the Byzantine school (iconographic and laden with gold), he mixed it in with Gothic ideas and introduced a hitherto rare degree of expressiveness. A variety of his works can be seen in Siena's cathedral and Florence's Uffizi Gallery Duccio's star pupil was Simone Martini (c.1284-1344). Perhaps his most celebrated work is Annunciazione (Annunciation), done for the cathedral in Siena but now hanging in the Uffizi.

Other artists of note in Siena included the brothers Pietro (c.1290-c.1348) and Ambrogio Lorenzetti (died 1348). Both worked in Siena and elsewhere Pietro was particularly active in Assisi. Ambrogio's best known work is the startling Effetti del Buon e del Cattivo Governo (Allegories of Good and Bad Government) in Siena's Palazzo Pubblico.

Florentine Cimabue (c.1240-1302) had more experimental tendencies and his use of rounded, modelled forms in his frescoes in the Basilica di San Francesco in Assisi (painted 1228-53) were a foretaste of what as to come with the Renaissance.

Giovanni Pisano (1250-1314), Nicolo's son, was an innovative sculptor, His statues for the facade of the cathedral in Siena broke away from the static figures of Romanesque sculpture used for similar purposed elsewhere. Posed in dramatic ways, they were placed high up on the facade and were designed to be viewed from a distance.

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