Individualism in Greek Culture and Abbot Suger’s Gothic Style

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Greek Culture and the Rise of Individualism

Traditional and Classical Greek art has been a staple in many art appreciation circles as it is in the interpretations of these classical Greek artists that most often the true reflection of mankind and society is depicted in awe-inspiring realism or in some cases hyperrealism. Individualism has been often been one of these human concepts that are showcased in many classical Greek art pieces but how and when did individualism in Greek art actually surface?

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Beginning way ahead of its time, Greek Art is accepted to have begun from around 2.500 B.C. and was responsible for the birth of classical western art. Taking in various aspects from art styles from the east and mixing it up with religious themes often of Orthodox Christianity while further adapting itself to other European art styles, Greek art was often associated with or classified into five major forms of its art namely: painting; which was an often overlooked facet of Greek art, pottery and jewelry fashioning; both of which were also overshadowed by the other two art forms sculpting and architecture; possibly the form of art in which the Greeks were most noted for.

Individualism, on the other hand, is the philosophy that emphasizes on the self-reliance and independence, as it seeks to empower the individual’s moral worth. This independence generated of this school of thought most often shuns or opposes any external factor that may influence the individual’s choices or decisions, be they influences from strangers or mere acquaintances or even from close societal members such as the individual’s family or any other group.

The focus of individualism as a philosophy is that it believes that the individual, being the smallest – and most important factor – in the struggle for the liberation of mankind. The philosophy of individualism believes that the liberation would begin from the smallest component and that is the individual. This deems the individual as the most important factor in their struggle.

It was during the archaic period that individualism quickly rose to prominence in Greek culture. It was at this point in time that both Greek art and philosophy received individualism as a main issue, which was addressed by many artists of the time. Set at 800 B.C. to 480 B.C., the Archaich Period in Greece was one wherein Greece experienced a more prosperous existence, ridding society of some old ways and giving them the time for self-actualization and the like. The focus of art at this time was individuality, and was reflected in many works.

Poetry during this time shifted to a more personal level, paying heed to particular individual details. This was also the case with regards to Greek sculpture. It was also during this period in Greek art where sexuality became free to discuss in poetry and such. Many of the nude Greek statues depictive of individual sexuality were also given birth during this period.

In relation to other previous techniques of representation with regards to the art medium, these individualist art pieces are more emotional and personalized in nature that they are easily distinguished from the dullness or flatness of other pre-individualist pieces. Also, individualist pieces grew out of the restrictive constraints of the older means of representation, as more and more artists sought to express themselves personally rather than to create art for other people’s sake.

Abbot Suger and the Gothic Style

         In today’s modern world Gothic Architecture is commonly used to describe a style of European architecture that was prominent from the twelfth century up until the sixteenth century. It incorporates intricately-patterned traceries, flamboyant stained glass windows, flying buttresses, tall narrow spires,pointed vaults and arches, and uniquely detailed patterns. Its association with tall structures pointing heavenward is suggestive of aspiration towards the heavens themselves.

Perhaps the most prominent name in Gothic Architecture, Abbot Suger was an abbot as well as a statesman and was also a historian that brought about the coming of Gothic Architecture in the twelfth century. Being a devout man of God, he dedicated himself to the beautification of God’s church which led him to the development of Gothic Architecture with the intricate remodeling of the Abbey Church of Saint Denis, the very Abbey where he received his oblate that assured his education.

         Whenever we hear the words “Gothic Architecture”, what immediately comes to mind are high, pointed arches, grand flying buttresses, and exquisitely ribbed vaults. It is also commonly associated with great cathedrals and churches and abbeys such as that of where Abbot Suger originated from. Magnificence and majesty are just some of the words often used to describe Gothic Architecture but what was it really that inspired Abbot Suger to create such opulent works of art? What concepts and ideas did he have that allowed him to express them in such grandeur and splendor?

         Despite being a renowned confidante and friend to the great French Kings Louis VI and Louis VII, Abbot Suger’s memoirs reflected that he was borne of a humble family. Although humility was often a trait found in many autobiographical writings of the time, the trait remained with Abbot Suger even as he developed his unique architectural influence.

         Motivated by his love for God, Suger sought to devote himself in the beautification of God’s temple – the churches. As the common concept of Christianity goes, God is the supreme being and creator of heaven and earth. It was commonly accepted that despite God’s teachings of humility in all things, God himself was always deserving of the best and should be treated as such. This would probably be the reasoning behind the grandness and magnificence of the olden cathedrals. Abbot Suger must have had these thoughts in mind as well when he sought out to reconstruct and redesign the Church of Saint Denis, employing the use of high pointed arches, ribbed vaults, flying buttresses, main staples of the Gothic style of architecture we all came to know.

         Aside from the goal of honoring god by beautifying his temple, Suger also sought to uplift the spirits of churchgoers through his remodeling and reconstruction of the church. This, of course, was successfully accomplished with great detail and even up to this day, Suger’s input on Gothic architecture still manages to take breaths away, giving people a sense of divine presence with all Gothic architecture’s magnificence and splendor.

         It is with great reverence that Abbot Suger is looked upon in the world not only of Gothic Architecture but in the whole of the Architectural realm as he remains one of the foremost contributors of one of the most renowned forms of Architecture. Ironically, it took a man of great humility to create the majestic structures befitting royalty and spiritual reverence. Such creations are definitely a great contribution to religion and society alike.

Works Cited

Pollitt, Jerome Jordan. Art in the Hellenistic age. (1986). Cambridge  University Press

Methodological Individualism. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. 2009.

Retrieved from the web on August 22, 2010. Retrieved from:

Athena Pub. Abbot Suger’s Memoirs. Athena Review, Vol. 4, No. 2 (2006)

Retrieved from the web on August 22, 2010. Retrieved from:

Brooklyn College. Gothic Architecture. The Gothic Experience. (2002)

Retrieved from the web on August 22, 2010. Retrieved from:

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Individualism in Greek Culture and Abbot Suger’s Gothic Style. (2016, Jul 24). Retrieved from

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