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Increased literacy and a growing body of secular vernacular literature encouraged the representation of secular themes in art.
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.
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.
In both Denmark and Sweden, they were almost all covered with limewash after the Reformation which has preserved them, but some have also remained untouched since their creation.
This transition occurs first in England and France around 1200, in Germany around 1220 and Italy around 1300.
It spread to all of Western Europe, and much of Southern and Central Europe, never quite effacing more classical styles in Italy.In the late 14th century, the sophisticated court style of International Gothic developed, which continued to evolve until the late 15th century.In many areas, especially Germany, Late Gothic art continued well into the 16th century, before being subsumed into Renaissance art.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.Renaissance authors believed that the Sack of Rome by the Gothic tribes in 410 had triggered the demise of the Classical world and all the values they held dear.Secular art came into its own during this period with the rise of cities, foundation of universities, increase in trade, the establishment of a money-based economy and the creation of a bourgeois class who could afford to patronize the arts and commission works resulting in a proliferation of paintings and illuminated manuscripts.