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Believing and Seeing

The Art of Gothic Cathedrals

Translated by Mary Whittall
Developments in medieval science that elevated sight above the other senses found religious expression in the Christian emphasis on miracles, relics, and elaborate structures. In his incisive survey of Gothic art and architecture, Roland Recht argues that this preoccupation with vision as a key to religious knowledge profoundly affected a broad range of late medieval works.

In addition to the great cathedrals of France, Recht explores key religious buildings throughout Europe to reveal how their grand designs supported this profusion of images that made visible the signs of scripture. Metalworkers, for example, fashioned intricate monstrances and reliquaries for the presentation of sacred articles, and technical advances in stained glass production allowed for more expressive renderings of holy objects. Sculptors, meanwhile, created increasingly naturalistic works and painters used multihued palettes to enhance their subjects’ lifelike qualities. Reimagining these works as a link between devotional practices in the late Middle Ages and contemporaneous theories that deemed vision the basis of empirical truth, Recht provides students and scholars with a new and powerful lens through which to view Gothic art and architecture. 

392 pages | 85 halftones | 6 x 9 | © 2008

Art: European Art

History: European History

Medieval Studies


“A personal and new synthesis, bringing together a deep knowledge of historiography and a strong theoretical reflection based on empirical scholarship.”

Le Monde

“A masterly, and very personal, analysis of gothic art.”

L’Histoire on the French edition

“This interpretation of gothic art, which deals not only with architecture, but also with spirituality and theology, is extraordinarily rich.”


“Recht seeks to understand the dual evolution of changing theological positions—including such factors as private devotion and even religious taste—and modes of representation. Central to his idea is that the notions of seeing, in theological and also lay understandings, coincided with changes in representation; that ‘believing and seeing,’ as the title declares, are part of the same cultural system and, moreover, contingent on one another for the success of representation. . . . Recht’s book is especially at its most engaging when it opens up the treatment of images to suggest that ways of seeing, believing, and making constitute all together ‘l’art des cathedrales.’”

Art Bulletin | on the French edition

"An ambitious, broad-ranging study of the role and function of the image within the medieval church. Roland Recht, here in a translation by Mary Whitehall, brings together two subjects that are usually studied separately, architecture and sacred images, and he proposes that the latter cannot be understood or experienced without the former, in both spatial and liturgical terms. . . . Recht unfolds his analysis of the complex and multiple functions of medieval church sculpture within the many-sided prism of ambient space, ritual and liturgy and doctrine, enabling viewers who inhabit a different visual and spiritual world to recreate some part of the role of the image for the medieval viewer. . . .
This volume is of fundamental importance to the study of medieval art, and should become part of the intellectual apparatus of all who concern themselves with the religious image."

Caroline Bruzelius | Times Higher Education

"Readers will be rewarded by Recht’s brilliant analysis of Gothic architectural polychromy, stained glass, and stone sculpture, and should find the unity of Recht’s ’vision’ of the Gothic ultimately convincing."


"An intriguing study of Gothic accompanied by investigation of many critical questions in the discipline, written by an observant and thoughtful scholar."

Charlotte A. Stanford | Bryn Mawr Classical Review

"What has often been reduced to pious simplicity . . . is now rediscovered as vibrant, sophisticated, and flexibly intellectual. Whatever viewpoint one brings to Gothic architecture, one’s understanding of medieval art will be challenged and enhanced by Recht’s scholarly, measured panorama."

Matthew Alderman | First Things

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
Note on the Translation

Part I
From Romanticized Mechanics to the Cathedral of Light
1. Gothic Architecture: Technology and Symbolism
    The Gothic System: “Romanticized Mechanics”?
    Symbolical Interpretations and Two World Wars
2. Ornament, Style, and Space
    The First and Second Viennese Schools
    August Schmarsow: Art as a System
    The Question of Style, or, The Search for Unity
    Space and the Picture as Plane

Part II
An Introduction to the Art of Cathedrals
3. The Seen and the Unseen
    Seeing the Host: St. Francis and the Testimony of One’s Own Eyes
    Seeing Mysteries
    The Physics and Metaphysics of Seeing
4. Architecture and the “Connoisseurs”
    Architectural Relics and Innovations
    The Enhancement of the Visual
    Architectural Iconology and the Architect’s Role
    Chartres and Bourges: “Classical” or “Gothic”?
    The French Model: Canterbury, Cologne, and Prague
    Architecture, Color, and Glass
5. The Carved Image and Its Functions
    The Devotional Image
    The Carved Image and the Liturgy
    The Cathedral as a Theater of Memory
    Expression, Color, and Dress
6. Models, Transmission of Forms and Types, and Working Methods
    A New Model: The Royal Portrait
    The Transmission of Forms and Types
    Working Method
    The Display and Sale of Art

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