Gothic art emerged in Île-de-France, France, in the early 12th century at the Abbey Church of St Denis built by Abbot Suger. The style rapidly spread beyond its origins in architecture to sculpture, both monumental and personal in size, textile art, and painting, which took a variety of forms, including fresco, stained glass, the illuminated manuscript, and panel painting. Monastic orders, especially the Cistercians and the Carthusians, were important builders who disseminated the style and developed distinctive variants of it across Europe. Regional variations of architecture remained important, even when, by the late 14th century, a coherent universal style known as International Gothic had evolved, which continued until the late 15th century, and beyond in many areas.
Although there was far more secular Gothic art than is often thought today, as generally the survival rate of religious art has been better than for secular equivalents, a large proportion of the art produced in the period was religious, whether commissioned by the church or by the laity.
Gothic art was often typological in nature, reflecting a belief that the events of the Old Testament pre-figured those of the New, and that this was indeed their main significance. Old and New Testament scenes were shown side by side in works like the Speculum Humanae Salvationis, and the decoration of churches. The Gothic period coincided with a great resurgence in Marian devotion, in which the visual arts played a major part. Images of the Virgin Mary developed from the Byzantine hieratic types, through the Coronation of the Virgin, to more human and intimate types, and cycles of the Life of the Virgin were very popular. Artists like Giotto, Fra Angelico and Pietro Lorenzetti in Italy, and Early Netherlandish painting, brought realism and a more natural humanity to art. Western artists, and their patrons, became much more confident in innovative iconography, and much more originality is seen, although copied formulae were still used by most artists.
Iconography was affected by changes in theology, with depictions of the Assumption of Mary gaining ground on the older Death of the Virgin, and in devotional practices such as the Devotio Moderna, which produced new treatments of Christ in subjects such as the Man of Sorrows, Pensive Christ and Pietà, which emphasized his human suffering and vulnerability, in a parallel movement to that in depictions of the Virgin. Even in Last Judgements Christ was now usually shown exposing his chest to show the wounds of his Passion. Saints were shown more frequently, and altarpieces showed saints relevant to the particular church or donor in attendance on a Crucifixion or enthroned Virgin and Child, or occupying the central space themselves (this usually for works designed for side-chapels). Over the period many ancient iconographical features that originated in New Testament apocrypha were gradually eliminated under clerical pressure, like the midwives at the Nativity, though others were too well-established, and considered harmless.