Antiquaries are not agreed upon the origin of the pointed arch, some contending that it is an importation from the East, and others that it is the invention of the countries in which Gothic architecture prevailed. It is, perhaps, more true that the Gothic style in which the pointed arch is so chief a feature was gradually developed from the mixture of the Romanesque and Byzantine. But, be its origin what it may, the pointed arch was not introduced to general use on the western side of Europe till the latter half of the 12th century. From that time it continued, under various modifications, to be the prevailing form in the countries in which Gothic architecture flourished until the revival of the Classical orders. ' One of the best-authenticated instances of the earliest use of the pointed arch in England is the circular part of the Temple Church of London, which was dedicated in 1185. The choir of Canterbury Cathedral, commenced in 1175, is usually referred to as the earliest example in England, and none of earlier date has been authenticated; although it seems probable that many pointed arches of the transition character with Norman details are at least as early as the middle of the 12th century, if not earlier, as at Malmesbury Abbey, St. Cross, etc. The only forms used by the ancients were the semicircle (Fig. 1), the segment (Figs. 2, 3), and ellipse (Fig. 4), all which continued prevalent till the pointed arch appeared, and even after that period they were occasionally employed in all the styles Gothic architecture.
In the Romanesque and Norman styles, the centre, or point from which the curve of the arch is struck, is not unfrequently found to be above the line of the impost, and the mouldings between these two levels are either continued vertically, to which arrangement the term stilted has been applied (Fig. 5), or they are slightly inclined inwards (Fig. 6), or the curve is prolonged till it meets the impost (Fig. 7); these two latter forms are called horseshoe arches.' Pointed arches are sometimes elevated ill a similar manner, especially in the Early English style, and are called by the same names (Fig. 8), but they are principally used in Moorish architecture. The proportions given to the simple pointed arch (Fr. ogive) are threefold-viz. the equilateral (Fig. 9), which is formed on an equilateral triangle; the lancet (Fig. 10), formed on an acute-angled triangle; and the drop arch (Fig. 11), formed on an obtuse-angled triangle. These, together with the segmental pointed arch (Fig. 12), are the prevailing forms used in Early English work; although trefoiled arches (Figs. 13, 14, 15), cinquefoiled, etc. (Figs. 16, 17), of various proportions, are frequently met with, especially towards the. end of the style, but they are principally used in panellings, niches, and other small openings.
Simple pointed arches were used in all the styles of Gothic architecture, though not with the same frequency. The lancet arch is common in the Early English, and is sometimes found in the Decorated, but is very rarely met with in the Perpendicular the drop arch and the equilateral abound in the first two styles and in the early part of the Perpendicular, but they afterwards, in great measure, gave way to the four-centred. Plain and pointed segmental arches also are frequently used for windows in, the Decorated and Perpendicular styles, but not often: for other openings. With the Decorated style was introduced the ogee arch (Fr. arcade en taloni), Fig. 18, which continued to be used throughout the, Perpendicular style, although less frequently than in the Decorated. It. is very common over niches, tombs, and small doorways, and in Northamptonshire in the arches of windows; but the difficulty of constructing it securely precluded its general adoption for large openings. About the commencement of the Perpendicular style the four-centred arch (Fig. 19) appeared as a general form, and continued in use until the revival of Classical architecture. When first introduced the proportions were bold and effective, but it was gradually more and more depressed until the whole principle, and almost the form, of an arch Was lost; for it became so flat as to be frequently cut in a single stone, which was applied as a lintel over the head of an opening. In some instances an arch having the effect of a four-centred arch is found, of which the sides are perfectly straight, except at the lower angles next the impost (Fig. 20); it. is generally a sign of late and bad work, and prevailed most during the reigns of Henry VIII, Elizabeth, and James I. The four- centred arch appears never to have been brought into general use out of England, although the Flamboyant style of the Continent, which was contemporary with our Perpendicular, underwent the same gradual debasement. The depressed arches used in Flamboyant work are flattened ellipses (Fig. 21), or sometimes, as in late Perpendicular, ogees, and not unfrequently the head of an opening is made straight, with the angles only rounded off (Fig. 22). This last form and the flattened. ellipse are very rarely met with in England.
There is also the rampant arch (Fig. 24), the imposts of which are at different levels; and what is called a flat arch (Fig. 25), which is constructed with stones cut into wedges or other shapes so as to support each other without rising into a curve; and considerable ingenuity is often displayed in the formation of these.
Notice must also be taken of a construction which is not unfrequently used as a substitute for an arch, especially in the style which is referred to as perhaps being Saxon, and which produces a very similar effect (Fig. 26). It consists of two straight stones set upon their edge arid leaning against each other at the top, so as to form two sides of a triangle and-support a superincumbent weight; excepting in the style just alluded to, these are seldom used except in rough work or in situations in which they would not be seen.
There is one form given to the heads of openings which is frequently called an arch, although it is not one. It consists of a straight lintel supported on a corbel in each jamb, projecting into the opening so as to contract its width; the mouldings or splay of the jambs and head being usually continued on the corbels, producing an effect something like a flattened trefoil (Fig. 23): the corbels are usually cut into a hollow curve on the under side, but they occasionally vary in form. This form has been called the shouldered arch, from its resembling a man's shoulders with the head cut off. These heads are most commonly used for doorways. In the southern parts of the kingdom they are rare, and when found are generally of Early English date; but in the North they are much more frequent, and were used to a considerably later period.
As the arch forms so important an element in the Gothic style as distinguished from the entablature of the Greek and Roman styles, it is introduced in every part of the. building and receives a great variety of ornamentation. In the Norman style such ornaments as the zigzag and beak-head are most usual; in the Early English style the dog's-tooth in the hollows is very frequent. In the Decorated style the arches are not usually more rich than in the Early English; the mouldings are not so bold nor the hollows so deep, and the plain chamfered arch is very common in this style. When ornament is used, the ball-flower or the fourleaved flower takes the place of the dog's-tooth. The arches of the Perpendicular style are often profusely moulded, but the mouldings less bold and less deep even than in the previous style; they are sometimes ornamented with the foliage peculiar to that style, and sometimes also quite plain.