Essential Architecture- Search by style
|Gothic architecture is a style
of architecture, particularly associated with cathedrals and other churches,
which flourished in Europe during the high and late medieval period.
Beginning in 12th century France, it was known as "the French Style", with
the term Gothic first appearing in the Reformation era as a stylistic
It was succeeded by Renaissance architecture beginning in Florence in the 15th century.
A series of Gothic revivals began in mid-18th century England, spread through 19th century Europe and continued, largely for ecclesiastical and university structures, into the 20th century.
The style originated at the abbey church of Saint-Denis in Saint-Denis, near Paris, where it exemplified the vision of Abbot Suger. Suger wanted to create a physical representation of the Heavenly Bethlehem, a building of a high degree of linearity that was suffused with light and color. The façade was actually designed by Suger, whereas the Gothic nave was added some hundred years later. He designed the façade of Saint-Denis to be an echo of the Roman Arch of Constantine with its three-part division. This division is also frequently found in the Romanesque style. The eastern "rose" window, which is credited to him as well, is a re-imagining of the Christian "circle-square" iconography. The first truly Gothic construction was the choir of the church, consecrated in 1144. With its thin columns, stained-glass windows, and a sense of verticality with an ethereal look, the choir of Saint-Denis established the elements that would later be elaborated upon during the Gothic period. This style was adopted first in northern France and by the English, and spread throughout France, the Low Countries and parts of Germany and also to Spain and northern Italy.
Notre Dame Cathedral seen from the River Seine.
The Term "Gothic"
Gothic architecture has nothing to do with the historical Goths. It was a pejorative term that came to be used as early as the 1530s to describe culture that was considered rude and barbaric. François Rabelais imagines an inscription over the door of his Utopian Abbey of Thélème, "Here enter no hypocrites, bigots..." slipping in a slighting reference to "Gotz" (rendered as "Huns" in Thomas Urquhart's English translation) and "Ostrogotz." In English 17th century usage, "Goth" was an equivalent of "vandal," a savage despoiler with a Germanic heritage and so came to be applied to the architectural styles of northern Europe before the revival of classical types of architecture. "There can be no doubt that the term 'Gothic' as applied to pointed styles of ecclesiastical architecture was used at first contemptuously, and in derision, by those who were ambitious to imitate and revive the Grecian orders of architecture, after the revival of classical literature. Authorities such as Christopher Wren lent their aid in deprecating the old mediæval style, which they termed Gothic, as synonymous with every thing that was barbarous and rude.", according to a correspondent in Notes and Queries No. 9. December 29, 1849.
The style emphasizes verticality and features almost skeletal stone structures with great expanses of glass, pointed arches using the ogive shape, ribbed vaults, clustered columns, sharply pointed spires, flying buttresses and inventive sculptural detail such as gargoyles and even butterflies attacking men. These features are all the consequence of the use of the pointed arch and a focus on large stained-glass windows that allowed more light to enter than was possible with older styles. To achieve this "light" style, flying buttresses were used as a means of support to enable higher ceilings and slender columns. Many of these features had already appeared, for example in Durham Cathedral, whose construction started in 1093.
As a defining characteristic of Gothic Architecture, the pointed arch was introduced for both visual and structural reasons. Visually, the verticality suggests an aspiration to Heaven. Structurally, its use gives a greater flexibility to Architectural form. The Gothic vault, unlike the semi-circular vault of Roman and Romanesque buildings, can be used to roof rectangular and irregularly shaped plans such as trapezoids. The other advantage is that the pointed arch channels the weight onto the bearing piers or columns at a steep angle.
In Gothic Architecture the pointed arch is utilised in every position where an arched shape is called for, both structural and decorative. Gothic openings such as doorways, windows, arcades and galleries have pointed arches. Gothic vaulting over spaces both large and small is usually supported by richly moulded ribs. Rows of arches upon delicate shafts form a typical wall decoration known as blind arcading. Niches with pointed arches and containing statuary are a major external feature. The pointed arch leant itself to elaborate intersecting shapes which developed within window spaces into complex Gothic tracery forming the structural support of the large windows that are characteristic of the style.
Conservative 13th century Gothic in Provence: Basilica of Mary Magdalene, Saint Maximin la Sainte Baume.
Gothic cathedrals could be highly decorated with statues on the outside and painting on the inside. Both usually told Biblical stories, emphasizing visual typological allegories between Old Testament prophecy and the New Testament.
Important Gothic churches could also be severely simple. At the Basilica of Mary Magdalene in Saint-Maximin, Provence (illustration, right), the local traditions of the sober, massive, Romanesque architecture were still strong. The basilica, begun in the 13th century under the patronage of Charles of Anjou, was laid out on an ambitious scale (it was never completed all the way to the western entrance front) to accommodate pilgrims that came to venerate relics. Building in the Gothic style continued at the basilica until 1532.
In Gothic architecture new technology stands behind the new building style. The Gothic cathedral was supposed to be a microcosm representing the world, and each architectural concept, mainly the loftiness and huge dimensions of the structure, were intended to pass a theological message: the great glory of God versus the smallness and insignificance of the mortal being.
The Teutonic Knights Castle of Malbork
In Northern Germany, Scandinavia and northern Poland, in areas where native stone was unavailable, simplified provincial gothic churches were built of brick. The resultant style is called Backsteingotik in Germany and Scandinavia. The biggest brick gothic building is the Teutonic Knights Castle of Malbork in Poland and the biggest brick gothic church is the St. Mary's Church, Gdańsk in Gdansk. The most famous example in Denmark is Roskilde Cathedral. Brick gothic buildings were associated with the Hanseatic League and the Teutonic Knights. There are over one hundred brick gothic castles in northern Poland, Baltic States, and western Russia.
Sequence of Gothic Styles: France
The designations of styles in French Gothic architecture are as follows:
Late Gothic or Flamboyant style
These divisions are effective, but debatable. Because Gothic cathedrals were built over several successive periods, each period not necessarily following the wishes of previous periods, the dominant architectural style changes throughout a particular building. Consequently, it is often difficult to declare one building as a member of a certain era of Gothic architecture. It is more useful to use the terms as descriptors for specific elements within a structure, rather than applying it to the building as a whole.
Coutances Cathedral in France
The East end of the Abbey Church of St Denis
The main body of Chartres Cathedral
Notre-Dame of Laon
Notre Dame de Paris
The nave of the Abbey Church of St Denis
The north tower of Chartres Cathedral
The rose window of Amiens Cathedral
The west facade of the Rouen Cathedral
Church of St. Maclou, Rouen.
The south transept of the Cathédrale Saint-Pierre de Beauvais
Sequence of Gothic styles: England
Gothic architecture is a style of architecture which flourished during the high and late medieval period. It evolved from Romanesque architecture and was succeeded by Renaissance architecture.
Originating in 12th-century France and lasting into the 16th century, Gothic architecture was known during the period as "the French Style" (Opus Francigenum), with the term Gothic first appearing during the latter part of the Renaissance as a stylistic insult. Its characteristic features include the pointed arch, the ribbed vault and the flying buttress.
Gothic architecture is most familiar as the architecture of many of the great cathedrals, abbeys and parish churches of Europe. It is also the architecture of many castles, palaces, town halls, guild halls, universities, and to a less prominent extent, private dwellings.
It is in the great churches and cathedrals and in a number of civic buildings that the Gothic style was expressed most powerfully, its characteristics lending themselves to appeal to the emotions. A great number of ecclesiastical buildings remain from this period, of which even the smallest are often structures of architectural distinction while many of the larger churches are considered priceless works of art and are listed with UNESCO as World Heritage Sites. For this reason a study of Gothic architecture is largely a study of cathedrals and churches.
A series of Gothic revivals began in mid-18th century England, spread through 19th-century Europe and continued, largely for ecclesiastical and university structures, into the 20th century.
The term "Gothic"
The term "Gothic", when applied to architecture, has nothing to do with the historical Goths. It was a pejorative term that came to be used as early as the 1530s by Giorgio Vasari to describe culture that was considered rude and barbaric as a put down per se. At the time in which Vasari was writing, Italy had experienced a century of building in the Classical architectural vocabulary revived in the Renaissance and seen as the finite evidence of a new Golden Age of learning and refinement.
The Renaissance had then overtaken Europe, overturning a system of culture that, prior to the advent of printing, was almost entirely focused on the Church and was perceived, in retrospect, as a period of ignorance and superstition. Hence, François Rabelais, also of the 16th century, imagines an inscription over the door of his Utopian Abbey of Thélème, "Here enter no hypocrites, bigots..." slipping in a slighting reference to "Gotz" and "Ostrogotz."
In English 17th-century usage, "Goth" was an equivalent of "vandal", a savage despoiler with a Germanic heritage and so came to be applied to the architectural styles of northern Europe from before the revival of classical types of architecture.
According to a 19th-century correspondent in the London Journal Notes and Queries:
There can be no doubt that the term 'Gothic' as applied to pointed styles of ecclesiastical architecture was used at first contemptuously, and in derision, by those who were ambitious to imitate and revive the Grecian orders of architecture, after the revival of classical literature. Authorities such as Christopher Wren lent their aid in deprecating the old mediæval style, which they termed Gothic, as synonymous with every thing that was barbarous and rude.
On 21 July 1710, the Académie d'Architecture met in Paris, and among the subjects they discussed, the assembled company noted the new fashions of bowed and cusped arches on chimneypieces being employed "to finish the top of their openings. The Company disapproved of several of these new manners, which are defective and which belong for the most part to the Gothic."
At the end of the 12th century Europe was divided into a multitude of city-states and kingdoms. The area encompassing modern Germany, The Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, Switzerland, Austria, eastern France and much of northern Italy, excluding Venice, was nominally under the authority of the Holy Roman Empire, but local rulers exercised considerable autonomy. France, Scotland, Spain and Sicily were independent kingdoms, as was England, whose Plantagenet kings ruled large domains in France. Norway came under the influence of England, while the other Scandinavian countries and Poland were influenced by Germany.
Throughout Europe at this time there was a rapid growth in trade and an associated growth in towns. Germany and the Lowlands had large flourishing towns that grew in comparative peace, in trade and competition with each other, or united for mutual weal, as in the Hanseatic League. Civic building was of great importance to these towns as a sign of wealth and pride. England and France remained largely feudal and produced grand domestic architecture for their dukes, rather than grand town halls for their burghers.
A further regional influence was the availability of materials. In France, limestone was readily available in several grades, the very fine white limestone of Caen being favoured for sculptural decoration. England had coarse limestone, red sandstone as well as dark green Purbeck marble which was often used for architectural features.
In Northern Germany, Netherlands, Scandinavia, Baltic countries and northern Poland local building stone was unavailable but there was a strong tradition of building in brick. The resultant style, Brick Gothic, is called "Backsteingotik" in Germany and Scandinavia.
In Italy, stone was used for fortifications, but brick was preferred for other buildings. Because of the extensive and varied deposits of marble, many buildings were faced in marble, or were left with undecorated facades so that this might be achieved at a later date.
The availability of timber also influenced the style of architecture. It is thought that the magnificent hammer-beam roofs of England were devised as a direct response to the lack of long straight seasoned timber by the end of the Medieval period, when forests had been decimated not only for the construction of vast roofs but also for ship building.
Batalha Monastery, Portugal, is an important example of a monastery with its church and other significant buildings dating from the Gothic period.
The early Medieval periods had seen a rapid growth in monasticism, with several different orders being prevalent and spreading their influence widely. Foremost were the Benedictines whose great abbey churches vastly outnumbered any others in England. Part of their influence was that they tended to build within towns, unlike the Cistercians whose ruined abbeys are seen in the remote countryside. The Cluniac and Cistercian Orders were prevalent in France, the great monastery at Cluny having established a formula for a well planned monastic site which was then to influence all subsequent monastic building for many centuries.
In the 13th century St. Francis of Assisi established the Franciscans, or so-called "Grey Friars", a mendicant order. Its off-shoot, the Dominicans, founded by St. Dominic in Toulouse and Bologna, were particularly influential in the building of Italy's Gothic churches.
Gothic architecture grew out of the previous architectural genre, Romanesque. For the most part, there was not a clean break, as there was later to be in Renaissance Florence with the sudden revival of the Classical style by Brunelleschi in the early 15th century.
Romanesque architecture, or Norman architecture as it is generally termed in England because of its association with the Norman invasion, had already established the basic architectural forms and units that were to remain in slow evolution throughout the Medieval period. The basic structure of the cathedral church, the parish church, the monastery, the castle, the palace, the great hall and the gatehouse were all established. Ribbed vaults, buttresses, clustered columns, ambulatories, wheel windows, spires and richly carved door tympanums were already features of ecclesiastical architecture.
The widespread introduction of a single feature was to bring about the stylistic change that separates Gothic from Romanesque, and broke the tradition of massive masonry and solid walls penetrated by small openings, replacing it with a style where light appears to triumph over substance. The feature that brought the change is the pointed arch. With its use came the development of many other architectural devices, previously put to the test in scattered buildings and then called into service to meet the structural, aesthetic and ideological needs of the new style. These include the flying buttresses, pinnacles and traceried windows which typify Gothic ecclesiastical architecture.
The influence of Islamic architecture on the Gothic can be most clearly seen in Spain, as at Salamanca Cathedral.
The pointed arch had its origins in ancient Assyrian architecture where it occurs in a number of structures as early as 720 BC. It passed into Sassanian-Persian architecture and from the conquest of Persia in 641 AD, became a standard feature of Islamic architecture.
The Norman conquest of Islamic Sicily in 1090, the Crusades which began in 1096 and the Islamic presence in Spain all brought back the knowledge of this significant structural device. It is probable also that decorative carved stone screens and window openings filled with pierced stone also influenced Gothic tracery. In Spain in particular individual decorative motifs occur which are common to both Islamic and Christian architectural mouldings and sculpture.
Concurrent with its introduction and early use as a stylistic feature in French churches, it is believed that the pointed arch evolved naturally in Western Europe as a structural solution to a purely technical problem.
Abbot Suger, friend and confidante of the French Kings, Louis VI and Louis VII, decided in about 1137, to rebuild the great Church of Saint-Denis, attached to an abbey which was also a royal residence.
Suger began with the West front, reconstructing the original Carolingian facade with its single door. He designed the façade of Saint-Denis to be an echo of the Roman Arch of Constantine with its three-part division and three large portals to ease the problem of congestion. The rose window is the earliest-known example above the West portal in France.
At the completion of the west front in 1140, Abbot Suger moved on to the reconstruction of the eastern end, leaving the Carolingian nave in use. He designed a choir (chancel) that would be suffused with light. To achieve his aims his architects drew on the several new features which evolved or been introduced to Romanesque architecture, the pointed arch, the ribbed vault, the ambulatory with radiating chapels, the clustered columns supporting ribs springing in different directions and the flying buttresses which enabled the insertion of large clerestory windows.
The new structure was finished and dedicated on June 11, 1144, in the presence of the King. The Abbey of Saint-Denis thus became the prototype for further building in the royal domain of northern France. It is often cited as the first building in the Gothic style. A hundred years later, the old nave of Saint-Denis was rebuilt in the Gothic style, gaining, in its transepts, two spectacular rose windows.
Through the rule of the Angevin dynasty, the style was introduced to England and spread throughout France, the Low Countries, Germany, Spain, northern Italy and Sicily.
Characteristics of Gothic churches and cathedrals
In Gothic architecture, a unique combination of existing technologies established the emergence of a new building style. Those technologies were the ogival or pointed arch, the ribbed vault, and the flying buttress.
The Gothic style, when applied to an ecclesiastical building, emphasizes verticality and light. This appearance was achieved by the development of certain architectural features, which together provided an engineering solution. The structural parts of the building ceased to be its solid walls, and became a stone skeleton comprising clustered columns, pointed ribbed vaults and flying buttresses.
A Gothic cathedral or abbey was, prior to the 20th century, generally the landmark building in its town, rising high above all the domestic structures and often surmounted by one or more towers and pinnacles and perhaps tall spires.
Most Gothic churches, unless they are entitled chapels, are of the Latin cross (or "cruciform") plan, with a long nave making the body of the church, a transverse arm called the transept and beyond it, an extension which may be called the choir, chancel or presbytery. There are several regional variations on this plan.
The nave is generally flanked on either side by aisles, usually singly, but sometimes double. The nave is generally considerably taller than the aisles, having clerestory windows which light the central space. Gothic churches of the Germanic tradition, like St. Stephen of Vienna, often have nave and aisles of similar height and are called Hallenkirche. In the South of France there is often a single wide nave and no aisles, as at Sainte-Marie in Saint-Bertrand-de-Comminges.
In some churches with double aisles, like Notre Dame, Paris, the transept does not project beyond the aisles. In English cathedrals transepts tend to project boldly and there may be two of them, as at Salisbury Cathedral, though this is not the case with lesser churches.
The eastern arm shows considerable diversity. In England it is generally long and may have two distinct sections, both choir and presbytery. It is often square ended or has a projecting Lady Chapel, dedicated to the Virgin Mary. In France the eastern end is often polygonal and surrounded by a walkway called an ambulatory and sometimes a ring of chapels called a chevette. While German churches are often similar to those of France, in Italy, the eastern projection beyond the transept is usually just a shallow apsidal chapel containing the sanctuary, as at Florence Cathedral.
The defining characteristic of Gothic architecture is the pointed or ogival arch. Arches of this type were used in Islamic architecture before they were used structurally in European architecture, and are thought to have been the inspiration for their use in France, as at Autun Cathedral, which is otherwise stylistically Romanesque.
However, it appears that there was probably simultaneously a structural evolution towards the pointed arch, for the purpose of vaulting spaces of irregular plan, or to bring transverse vaults to the same height as diagonal vaults. This latter occurs at Durham Cathedral in the nave aisles in 1093. Pointed arches also occur extensively in Romanesque decorative blind arcading, where semi-circular arches overlap each other in a simple decorative pattern, and the points are accidental to the design.
The Gothic vault, unlike the semi-circular vault of Roman and Romanesque buildings, can be used to roof rectangular and irregularly shaped plans such as trapezoids. The other structural advantage is that the pointed arch channels the weight onto the bearing piers or columns at a steep angle. This enabled architects to raise vaults much higher than was possible in Romanesque architecture.
While, structurally, use of the pointed arch gave a greater flexibility to architectural form, it also gave Gothic architecture a very different visual character to Romanesque, the verticality suggesting an aspiration to Heaven.
In Gothic Architecture the pointed arch is used in every location where a vaulted shape is called for, both structural and decorative. Gothic openings such as doorways, windows, arcades and galleries have pointed arches. Gothic vaulting above spaces both large and small is usually supported by richly moulded ribs.
Rows of pointed arches upon delicate shafts form a typical wall decoration known as blind arcading. Niches with pointed arches and containing statuary are a major external feature. The pointed arch lent itself to elaborate intersecting shapes which developed within window spaces into complex Gothic tracery forming the structural support of the large windows that are characteristic of the style.
A characteristic of Gothic church architecture is its height, both real and proportional. A section of the main body of a Gothic church usually shows the nave as considerably taller than it is wide. In England the proportion is sometimes greater than 2:1, while the extreme is reached at Cologne Cathedral with a ratio of 3.6:1. The extreme of actual internal height was achieved at Beauvais Cathedral at 157' 6" (48 m).
Externally, towers and spires are characteristic of Gothic churches both great and small, the number and positioning being one of the greatest variables in Gothic architecture. In Italy, the tower, if present, is almost always detached from the building, as at Florence Cathedral, and is often from an earlier structure. In France and Spain, two towers on the front is the norm. In England, Germany and Scandinavia this is often the arrangement, but an English cathedral may also be surmounted by an enormous tower at the crossing. Smaller churches usually have just one tower, but this may also be the case at larger buildings, such as Salisbury cathedral or Ulm Minster, which has the tallest spire in the world, slightly exceeding that of Lincoln Cathedral, the tallest which was actually completed during the medieval period, at 527 feet (160 m).
The pointed arch lends itself to a suggestion of height. This appearance is characteristically further enhanced by both the architectural features and the decoration of the building.
On the exterior, the verticality is emphasised in a major way by the towers and spires and in a lesser way by strongly projecting vertical buttresses, by narrow half-columns called attached shafts which often pass through several storeys of the building, by long narrow windows, vertical mouldings around doors and figurative sculpture which emphasises the vertical and is often attenuated. The roofline, gable ends, buttresses and other parts of the building are often terminated by small pinnacles, Milan Cathedral being an extreme example in the use of this form of decoration.
On the interior of the building attached shafts often sweep unbroken from floor to ceiling and meet the ribs of the vault, like a tall tree spreading into branches. The verticals are generally repeated in the treatment of the windows and wall surfaces. In many Gothic churches, particularly in France, and in the Perpendicular period of English Gothic architecture, the treatment of vertical elements in gallery and window tracery creates a strongly unifying feature that counteracts the horizontal divisions of the interior structure.
One of the most distinctive characteristics of Gothic architecture is the expansive area of the windows as at Sainte Chapelle and the very large size of many individual windows, as at York Minster, Gloucester Cathedral and Milan Cathedral. The increase in size between windows of the Romanesque and Gothic periods is related to the use of the ribbed vault, and in particular, the pointed ribbed vault which channeled the weight to a supporting shaft with less outward thrust than a semicircular vault. Walls did not need to be so weighty.
A further development was the flying buttress which arched externally from the springing of the vault across the roof of the aisle to a large buttress pier projecting well beyond the line of the external wall. These piers were often surmounted by a pinnacle or statue, further adding to the downward weight, and counteracting the outward thrust of the vault and buttress arch as well as stress from wind loading.
The internal columns of the arcade with their attached shafts, the ribs of the vault and the flying buttresses, with their associated vertical buttresses jutting at right-angles to the building, created a stone skeleton. Between these parts, the walls and the infill of the vaults could be of lighter construction. Between the narrow buttresses, the walls could be opened up into large windows.
Through the Gothic period, due to the versatility of the pointed arch, the structure of Gothic windows developed from simple openings to immensely rich and decorative sculptural designs. The windows were very often filled with stained glass which added a dimension of colour to the light within the building, as well as providing a medium for figurative and narrative art.
The facade of a large church or cathedral, often referred to as the West Front, is generally designed to create a powerful impression on the approaching worshipper, demonstrating both the might of God, and the might of the institution that it represents. One of the best known and most typical of such facades is that of Notre Dame de Paris.
Central to the facade is the main portal, often flanked by additional doors. In the arch of the door, the tympanum, is often a significant piece of sculpture, most frequently Christ in Majesty and Judgment Day. If there is a central door jamb or a tremeu, then it frequently bears a statue of the Madonna and Child. There may be much other carving, often of figures in niches set into the mouldings around the portals, or in sculptural screens extending across the facade.
In the centre of the middle level of the facade, there is a large window, which in countries other than England and Belgium, is generally a rose window like that at Reims Cathedral. The gable above this is usually richly decorated with arcading or sculpture, or in the case of Italy, may be decorated, with the rest of the facade, with polychrome marble and mosaic, as at Orvieto Cathedral
The West Front of a French cathedral and many English, Spanish and German cathedrals generally has two towers, which, particularly in France, express an enormous diversity of form and decoration. However, some German cathedrals have only one tower located in the middle of the facade (such as Freiburg Münster).
Basic shapes of Gothic arches and stylistic character
The way in which the pointed arch was drafted and utilised developed throughout the Gothic period. There were fairly clear stages of development, which did not, however, progress at the same rate, or in the same way in every country. Moreover, the names used to define various periods or styles within the Gothic differs from country to country.
The simplest shape is the long opening with a pointed arch known in England as the lancet. Lancet openings are often grouped, usually as a cluster of three or five. Lancet openings may be very narrow and steeply pointed.
Salisbury Cathedral is famous for the beauty and simplicity of its Lancet Gothic, known in England as the Early English Style. York Minster has a group of lancet windows each fifty feet high and still containing ancient glass. They are known as the Five Sisters. These simple undecorated grouped windows are found at Chartres and Laon Cathedrals and are used extensively in Italy.
Windows in the Chapter House at York Minster show the equilateral arch with typical circular motifs in the tracery.
Many Gothic openings are based upon the equilateral form. In other words, when the arch is drafted, the radius is exactly the width of the opening and the centre of each arch coincides with the point from which the opposite arch springs. This makes the arch higher in relation to its width than a semi-circular arch which is exactly half as high as it is wide.
The Equilateral Arch gives a wide opening of satisfying proportion useful for doorways, decorative arcades and big windows.
The structural beauty of the Gothic arch means, however, that no set proportion had to be rigidly maintained. The Equilateral Arch was employed as a useful tool, not as a Principle of Design. This meant that narrower or wider arches were introduced into a building plan wherever necessity dictated. In the architecture of some Italian cities, notably Venice, semi-circular arches are interspersed with pointed ones.
The Equilateral Arch lends itself to filling with tracery of simple equilateral, circular and semi-circular forms. The type of tracery that evolved to fill these spaces is known in England as Geometric Decorated Gothic and can be seen to splendid effect at many English and French Cathedrals, notably Lincoln and Notre Dame in Paris. Windows of complex design and of three or more lights or vertical sections, are often designed by overlapping two or more equilateral arches.
The Flamboyant Arch is one that is drafted from four points, the upper part of each main arc turning upwards into a smaller arc and meeting at a sharp, flame-like point. These arches create a rich and lively effect when used for window tracery and surface decoration. The form is structurally weak and has very rarely been used for large openings except when contained within a larger and more stable arch. It is not employed at all for vaulting.
Some of the most beautiful and famous traceried windows of Europe employ this type of tracery. It can be seen at St Stephen's Vienna, Sainte Chapelle in Paris, at the Cathedrals of Limoges and Rouen in France, and at Milan Cathedral in Italy. In England the most famous examples are the West Window of York Minster with its design based on the Sacred Heart, the extraordinarily rich seven-light East Window at Carlisle Cathedral and the exquisite East window of Selby Abbey.
Doorways surmounted by Flamboyant mouldings are very common in both ecclesiastical and domestic architecture in France. They are much rarer in England. A notable example is the doorway to the Chapter Room at Rochester Cathedral.
The style was much used in England for wall arcading and niches. Prime examples in are in the Lady Chapel at Ely, the Screen at Lincoln and externally on the facade of Exeter Cathedral. In German and Spanish Gothic architecture it often appears as openwork screens on the exterior of buildings. The style was used to rich and sometimes extraordinary effect in both these countries, notably on the famous pulpit in Vienna Cathedral.
The Depressed or four-centred arch is much wider than its height and gives the visual effect of having been flattened under pressure. Its structure is achieved by drafting two arcs which rise steeply from each springing point on a small radius and then turn into two arches with a wide radius and much lower springing point.
This type of arch, when employed as a window opening, lends itself to very wide spaces, provided it is adequately supported by many narrow vertical shafts. These are often further braced by horizontal transoms. The overall effect produces a grid-like appearance of regular, delicate, rectangular forms with an emphasis on the perpendicular. It is also employed as a wall decoration in which arcade and window openings form part of the whole decorative surface.
The style, known as Perpendicular, that evolved from this treatment is specific to England, although very similar to contemporary Spanish style in particular, and was employed to great effect through the 15th century and first half of the 16th as Renaissance styles were much slower to arrive in England than in Italy and France.
It can be seen notably at the East End of Gloucester Cathedral where the East Window is said to be as large as a tennis court. There are three very famous royal chapels and one chapel-like Abbey which show the style at its most elaborate- King's College Chapel, Cambridge; St George's Chapel, Windsor; Henry VII's Chapel at Westminster Abbey and Bath Abbey. However very many simpler buildings, especially churches built during the wool boom in East Anglia, are fine examples of the style.
Symbolism and ornamentation
The Gothic cathedral represented the universe in microcosm and each architectural concept, including the loftiness and huge dimensions of the structure, were intended to convey a theological message: the great glory of God. The building becomes a microcosm in two ways. Firstly, the mathematical and geometrical nature of the construction is an image of the orderly universe, in which an underlying rationality and logic can be perceived.
Secondly, the statues, sculptural decoration, stained glass and murals incorporate the essence of creation in depictions of the Labours of the Months and the Zodiac and sacred history from the Old and New Testaments and Lives of the Saints, as well as reference to the eternal in the Last Judgment and Coronation of the Virgin.
The Devil tempting the Foolish Virgins at Strasbourg.
The decorative schemes usually incorporated Biblical stories, emphasizing visual typological allegories between Old Testament prophecy and the New Testament.
Many churches were very richly decorated, both inside and out. Sculpture and architectural details were often bright with coloured paint of which traces remain at the Cathedral of Chartres. Wooden ceilings and panelling were usually brightly coloured. Sometimes the stone columns of the nave were painted, and the panels in decorative wall arcading contained narratives or figures of saints. These have rarely remained intact, but may be seen at the Chapterhouse of Westminster Abbey.
Some important Gothic churches could be severely simple such as the Basilica of Mary Magdalene in Saint-Maximin, Provence where the local traditions of the sober, massive, Romanesque architecture were still strong.
Wherever Gothic architecture is found, it is subject to local influences, and frequently the influence of itinerant stonemasons and artisans, carrying ideas between cities and sometimes between countries. Certain characteristics are typical of particular regions and often override the style itself, appearing in buildings hundreds of years apart.
The distinctive characteristic of French cathedrals, and those in Germany and Belgium that were strongly influenced by them, is their height and their impression of verticality. Each French cathedral tends to be stylistically unified in appearance when compared with an English cathedral where there is great diversity in almost every building. They are compact, with slight or no projection of the transepts and subsidiary chapels. The west fronts are highly consistent, having three portals surmounted by a rose window, and two large towers. Sometimes there are additional towers on the transept ends. The east end is polygonal with ambulatory and sometimes a chevette of radiating chapels. In the south of France, many of the major churches are without transepts and some are without aisles.
The distinctive characteristic of English cathedrals is their extreme length, and their internal emphasis upon the horizontal, which may be emphasised visually as much or more than the vertical lines. Each English cathedral (with the exception of Salisbury) has an extraordinary degree of stylistic diversity, when compared with most French, German and Italian cathedrals. It is not unusual for every part of the building to have been built in a different century and in a different style, with no attempt at creating a stylistic unity. Unlike French cathedrals, English cathedrals sprawl across their sites, with double transepts projecting strongly and Lady Chapels tacked on at a later date. In the west front, the doors are not as significant as in France, the usual congregational entrance being through a side porch. The West window is very large and never a rose, which are reserved for the transept gables. The west front may have two towers like a French Cathedral, or none. There is nearly always a tower at the crossing and it may be very large and surmounted by a spire. The distinctive English east end is square, but it may take a completely different form. Both internally and externally, the stonework is often richly decorated with carvings, particularly the capitals.
Germany and the Holy Roman Empire
Romanesque architecture in Germany is characterised by its massive and modular nature. This is expressed in the Gothic architecture of the Holy Roman Empire in the huge size of the towers and spires, often proposed, but not always completed. The west front generally follows the French formula, but the towers are very much taller, and if complete, are surmounted by enormous openwork spires that are a regional feature. Because of the size of the towers, the section of the facade that is between them may appear narrow and compressed. The eastern end follows the French form. The distinctive character of the interior of German Gothic cathedrals is their breadth and openness. This is the case even when, as at Cologne, they have been modelled upon a French cathedral. German cathedrals, like the French, tend not to have strongly projecting transepts. There are also many hallenkirke without clerestorey windows.
Spain and Portugal
The distinctive characteristic of Gothic cathedrals of the Iberian Peninsula is their spacial complexity, with many areas of different shapes leading from each other. They are comparatively wide, and often have very tall arcades surmounted by low clerestories, giving a similar spacious appearance to the hallenkirche of Germany, as at the Church of the Batalha Monastery in Portugal. Many of the cathedrals are completely surrounded by chapels. Like English Cathedrals, each is often stylistically diverse. This expresses itself both in the addition of chapels and in the application of decorative details drawn from different sources. Among the influences on both decoration and form are Islamic architecture, and towards the end of the period, Renaissance details combined with the Gothic in a distinctive manner. The West front, as at Leon Cathedral typically resembles a French west front, but wider in proportion to height and often with greater diversity of detail and a combination of intricate ornament with broad plain surfaces. At Burgos Cathedral there are spires of German style. The roofline often has pierced parapets with comparatively few pinnacles. There are often towers and domes of a great variety of shapes and structural invention rising above the roof.
The distinctive characteristic of Italian Gothic is the use of polychrome decoration, both externally as marble veneer on the brick facade and also internally where the arches are often made of alternating black and white segments, and where the columns may be painted red, the walls decorated with frescoes and the apse with mosaic. The plan is usually regular and symmetrical. With the exception of Milan Cathedral which is Germanic in style, Italian cathedrals have few and widely spaced columns. The proportions are generally mathematically simple, based on the square, and except in Venice where they loved flamboyant arches, the arches are almost always equilateral. Colours and moldings define the architectural units rather than blending them. Italian cathedral facades are often polychrome and may include mosaics in the lunettes over the doors. The facades have projecting open porches and occular or wheel windows rather than roses, and do not usually have a tower. The crossing is usually surmounted by a dome. There is often a free-standing tower and baptistry. The eastern end usually has an apse of comparatively low projection. The windows are not as large as in northern Europe and, although stained glass windows are often found, the favourite narrative medium for the interior is the fresco.
Other Gothic building
Synagogues, commonly built in the prevailing architectural style of the period and country where they are constructed, were built in the Gothic style in Europe during the Medieval period. A surviving example is the Old New Synagogue in Prague, built in the 13th century.
Many examples of secular, non-military structures in Gothic style survive in fairly original condition. The Palais des Papes in Avignon is the best complete large royal palace, with partial survivals in the great hall at the Palace of Westminster, London, an 11th-century hall renovated in the late 1300s with gothic windows and a wooden hammerbeam roof, and the famous Conciergerie, former palace of the kings of France, in Paris. In addition to monumental secular architecture, examples of the Gothic style, can be seen in surviving medieval portions of cities across Europe, above all the distinctive Venetian Gothic. The house of the wealthy early 15th century merchant Jacques Coeur in Bourges, is the classic Gothic bourgeois mansion, full of the asymmetry and complicated detail beloved of the Gothic Revival. Other cities with a concentration of secular Gothic include Bruges and Sienna. Most surviving small secular buildings are relatively plain and straightforward; most windows are flat-topped with mullions, with pointed arches and vaulted ceilings often only found at a few focal points. The country-houses of the nobility were slow to abandon the appearance of being a castle, even in parts of Europe, like England, where defence had ceased to be a real concern. The living and working parts of many monastic buildings survive, for example at Mont Saint-Michel.
There are many excellent examples of secular Gothic buildings in brick, notably Malbork, a castle of the Teutonic Knights in Poland. Brick Gothic buildings were associated with the Hanseatic League and the Teutonic Knights. There are over one hundred brick Gothic castles in northern Poland, Baltic states, and western Russia, and many smaller buildings.
Exceptional pieces of gothic architecture are also found in Cyprus, and especially in the walled city of Famagusta.
Gothic survival and revival
Chateau d'Abbadie, Hendaye, France: a Gothic pile for the natural historian and patron of astronomy Antoine d'Abbadie, 1860–1870; Viollet-le-Duc, architect
In 1663 at the Archbishop of Canterbury's residence, Lambeth Palace, a Gothic hammerbeam roof was built to replace that destroyed when the building was sacked during the English Civil War. Also in the late 17th century, some discrete Gothic details appeared on new construction at Oxford and Cambridge, notably on Tom Tower at Christ Church, Oxford, by Christopher Wren. It is not easy to decide whether these instances were Gothic survival or early appearances of Gothic revival.
In England in the mid-18th century, the Gothic style was more widely revived, first as a decorative, whimsical alternative to Rococo that is still conventionally termed 'Gothick', of which Horace Walpole's Twickenham villa "Strawberry Hill" is the familiar example.
19th and 20th century Gothic Revival
Partly in response to a philosophy propounded by the Oxford Movement and others associated with the emerging revival of 'high church' or Anglo-Catholic ideas in England during the second quarter of the nineteenth century, neo-Gothic began to become promoted by influential establishment figures as the preferred style for ecclesiastical, civic and institutional architecture. The appeal of this Gothic revival (which after 1837, in Britain, is sometimes termed Victorian Gothic), gradually widened to encompass 'low church' as well as 'high church' clients, as its intrinsic qualities attracted interest. This period of more universal appeal, spanning 1855-1885, is known in Britain as High Victorian Gothic. The Houses of Parliament in London provides an example of the Gothic revival style from its earlier period in the second quarter of the nineteenth century; built to designs by Sir Charles Barry with interiors by a major exponent of the early Gothic Revival, Augustus Welby Pugin. Examples from the High Victorian Gothic period include Sir George Gilbert Scott's design for the Albert Memorial in London, and William Butterfield's chapel at Keble College, Oxford. From the second half of the nineteenth century onwards it became more common in Britain for neo-Gothic to be used in the design of non-ecclesiastical and non-governmental buildings types; Gothic details even began to appear in working-class housing schemes subsidised by philanthropy, though due to the expense, less frequently than in the design of upper and middle-class housing
In France, simultaneously, the towering figure of the Gothic Revival was Eugène Viollet-le-Duc, who outdid historical Gothic constructions to create a Gothic as it ought to have been, notably at the fortified city of Carcassonne in the south of France and in some richly fortified keeps for industrial magnates. Viollet-le-Duc compiled and coordinated an Encyclopédie médiévale that was a rich repertory his contemporaries mined for architectural details. He effected vigorous restoration of crumbling detail of French cathedrals, including the Abbey of Saint-Denis and famously at Notre Dame, where many of whose most "Gothic" gargoyles are Viollet-le-Duc's. He taught a generation of reform-Gothic designers and showed how to apply Gothic style to modern structural materials, especially cast iron.
In Germany, the great cathedrals of Cologne and Ulm, left unfinished for 600 years, were brought to completion, while in Italy, Florence Cathedral finally received its polychrome Gothic facade. New churches in the Gothic style were created all over the world, including Japan, Thailand, India, Australia, New Zealand, Hawaii and South Africa.
As in Europe, the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand utilised Neo-Gothic for the building of universities, a fine example being Sydney University by Edmund Blacket. In Canada, the Canadian Parliament Buildings in Ottawa designed by Thomas Fuller and Chilion Jones with its huge centrally-placed tower draws influence from Flemish Gothic buildings.
Although falling out of favour for domestic and civic use, Gothic for churches and universities continued into the 20th century with buildings such as Liverpool Cathedral and the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine, New York. The Gothic style was also applied to iron-framed city skyscapers such as Cass Gilbert's Woolworth Building and Raymond Hood's Tribune Tower.
Post-Modernism in the late 20th and early 21st centuries has seen some revival of Gothic forms in individual buildings, such as the Gare do Oriente in Lisbon, Portugal.
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