In the third episode of Civilisation Clark juxtaposes the Gothic World with the world “which for better or worse, is the ancestor of our own, the world of trade and of banking.”
The Gothic world is the world of chivalry, courtesy and romance. Clark uses three figures to symbolise different aspects of this Gothic world. The first is the Duke de Berry. He represents the High Nobility, the splendour of court life and the physical translation of its ideas, values and what it held dear, into high art. Clark opens the episode with a description of the tapestry of The Lady and the Unicorn, encapsulated in the forms of chivalry. This leads into a discussion of the ideal of Courtly Love. This, Clark says, is an invention of the Middle Ages – unknown to Antiquity. He offers three possible theories for its invention: Firstly, that Courtly Love as an idea was derived from Persian literature that Crusaders encountered in the Middle East. Secondly, Clark puts forward that it might have been the social position of noble women that inspired a sort of admiration that had to remain distant. Thirdly, he mentions the link between Courtly Love and the veneration of the Virgin Mary.
One religious outflow of the idea of Courtly Love, and the ideal of chivalry with which it is connected, comes with the second figure Clark discusses: Saint Francis of Assisi. Clark explains how St. Francis took the ideas of chivalry and transformed them into a religious attitude, quoting St. Francis as having taken “Poverty as his lady,” in another example, both of the influence of the ideal in a broader societal context and the metaphorical way in which the Medieval mind thought. To Clark, St. Francis is, in his thinking, the product of the Gothic world, even though, as the son of a rich merchant, he was also the beneficiary of the new world of commerce. Even before the end of his life, the dichotomy between the ideal life as contemplated by St. Francis and the necessities of the life of the city, became clear and, in a way, the ideals of St. Francis lost out to a set of more practical ideals.
Clark ends the episode with a discussion of the differences between two great artists. On the one hand his third hero of the Gothic world, Dante Alighieri. On the other the painter Giotto, whom Clark regards as a paragon of the new world.
“In a way, the painter and the poet stand at the junction of two worlds (…).“
While Dante Alighieri is grounded in the Gothic art of his day, that of St. Thomas of Aquinas and the great Gothic cathedrals, while, in his poetry, exploring different aspects of that thought no poet or sculptor could reach. “Dante thought of life as a symbol of civilised life,” and used the imagery of light in his magnus opus, The Divine Comedy. Dante uses these as metaphors, to indicate the divine order.
Giotto, on the other hand, is a break with tradition. Clark opinions, that Giotto’s paintings represent a complete break with traditional painting in the area. That he developed a very personal and original style, in one of those feats that Clark say are extremely rare. What is more, it is impossible to reconstruct where Giotto got his inspiration. Giotto comes into view around 1304, when, possibly in his early thirties, he paints the Arena Chapel in Padua. A commission from a moneylender. And, Clark says:
“once we have learned Giotto’s language (…) we can recognise him as one of the greatest masters of painted drama that ever lived.“