“Art of Gothic”, on Museum TV: from the Renaissance to the war of 14-18, three centuries in black and white

In a cemetery, the commentator wanders among the ruins

“Art of Gothic”, on Museum TV: from the Renaissance to the war of 14-18, three centuries in black and white

In a cemetery, the commentator wanders among the ruins... Did you say "gothic"? The documentary by the British Ian Leese puts into perspective the historical and semantic journey of this term, which today evokes less cathedrals than the way of distinguishing itself for a certain youth, dressed and made up in black to translate their ideas of the same color .

The term is “synonymous with sinister, supernatural,” he says, “but also evokes medieval architecture.” A polysemy that was not known to the artists of the Italian Renaissance who invented the adjective – “synonymous with barbarian, brutal, savage” – to designate everything that did not come from the “civilized” world of Greece and Rome antiques. “With a single word, they dismissed medieval centuries of art and architecture as primitive, worthless. »

The rehabilitation of the Middle Ages will begin in 18th-century England. The concept of Gothic is then put into all the sauces, without losing its dark dimension, quite the contrary. “Out of the era of Enlightenment and reason came a monster,” says Ian Leese, whose film shows, with extensive archival material, the “obsession with monsters, ghouls, ghosts and things that happen in the night", of which the kingdom is the scene.

Mythology and reality

Episode 1 (“Freedom Diversity Insanity”) explores this early era. A well-documented and illustrated tour of abbeys, museums, libraries, castles, from “modest aristocratic beginnings” to “excesses of all kinds”. For worse, and sometimes for better.

Next comes “the city and the soul” (episode 2). At the dawn of the industrial revolution – which also began in England, at the turn of the 18th and 19th centuries – Mary Shelley (1797-1851), in her novel Frankenstein, warned, in 1818, against the dangers of a science “that escapes all control.” Certain poets of the Romantic era, Keats, Byron, Shelley, to name only the English, discovered hallucinatory drugs which allowed them to “reach new gothic heights”. Foreshadowing psychedelic drugs of the 20th century.

It is precisely the 20th century that closes this documentary, as fascinating as it is disturbing. In episode 3 (“Blood for Sale: Gothic Goes Global”), mythology is overtaken by reality. Karl Marx, to describe capitalism taking power, called it “vampiric”. Joseph Conrad wrote Heart of Darkness (1899), his most controversial novel – Hannah Arendt saw it as a foreshadowing of the massacres of the two world wars, and Francis Ford Coppola was inspired by it for his Apocalypse Now in 1979.

Indeed, the documentary concludes, “gothic fantasy horror will be overtaken by real horror when the truth of mechanized warfare emerges in 1914.” A war which will pit the English and French against the Germans, the descendants of… the Goths.