Gothic Architecture

Gothic Architecture the style of architecture that prevailed in central and western Europe from the middle of the 12th till the 16th century, being preceded by the Romanesque (q.v.), and followed by the Renaissance style (q.v.). Under the influence of the revival of taste for classic art, the Renaissance architects applied the name Gothic, meaning thereby barbaric, to the styles of architecture that were developed north of the Alps during the Middle Ages. The name Gothic is now limited by critics of all nations to the architecture of the period above indicated.

In the extraordinary activity that pervaded every department of social, industrial, intellectual, and religious life during the 12th century, many churches were founded upon a scale of grandeur and-magnificence which, with the exception of a few isolated cases (as the Santa Sophia, q.v.), was entirely unprecedented in the history of Christianity. These churches embodied, in the style and spirit of their architecture, and the grand scale upon which they were projected, more of the sublime aspiration of the Christian faith, of confidence in its endurance, and love and sacrifice in its behalf, than do the churches of any other period. Many elements of the Gothic architecture had been developed during the classic, Byzantine, and Romanesque periods; others were taken from the Saracenic architecture; and others still were developed within the Gothic itself. The typical features of the Gothic architecture are: the universal use of the pointed arch (Fig. 1); a general tendency to vertical lines; all moldings are traced by mathematical lines (Fig. 2), whereas in the Greek architecture they were drawn with a free hand; the moldings, capitals, pillars, etc., have lost all traditional classical forms and proportions, the pillars being often many times their diameter in height; the pillars have their outlines cut by numerous and often deep upright mouldings (Fig. 3), or are composed of a round nucleus surrounded by many smaller columns; the windows are greatly enlarged, and the walls are proportionally diminished; paintings, being thus crowded away from the walls, are replaced by paintings upon the windows, SEE GLASS PAINTING; the windows are ornamented with delicate and complicated tracery (Fig. 4); the walls are sustained against lateral thrust by prominent buttresses and by flying-buttresses (Fig. 5); the ornamentation is conventionalized from various forms of foliage, and is distributed freely over all prominent parts of the building, being thrown in great profusion over the facades, and especially around the main entrances; the towers are square at the base, octagonal above, and terminate in lofty spires, which are richly decorated with ornament; the plan is cruciform, the apsis being replaced by a choir, which is surrounded by a row of chapels. (Fig. 6).

While these are the typical features of the Gothic architecture, great variety prevailed in their adaptation in the different periods of the style, and in the various lands where it was employed.

Gothic architecture owes its character mainly to the adoption of the pointed arch. There is no longer a discussion as to the origin or the invention of the pointed arch, as it is to be found occasionally in all the most ancient styles of architecture, as the Egyptian, the early Greek, the Etruscan, and the Roman. It is found in the court of a monastery in Sicily, which was built in the 6th century after Christ. It was adopted in, Saracenic edifices in Cairo as early as the 9th century. Probably a knowledge of its effects in. architecture was brought to Europe from the Orient by the Crusaders, though the production of the pointed arch by the crossing of round arches in the external ornamentation of Romanesque churches could not have escaped the notice of architects. The contest for supremacy of the pointed over the round arch lasted a long time, the two being often employed in. different parts of the same edifice. The earliest church in which the pointed arch only was adopted is the cathedral of St. Denis, founded 1144. The Gothic style, being thus fully developed, spread rapidly over the Isle de France, Normandy, England, Spain, and the countries bordering on the Rhine. A large number of the most magnificent churcbes in the world were founded between 1150 ands 1300, and thus the new style had immediate opportunity for full development. (Fig. 7.)

Three chief periods are usually marked in the history of Gothic architecture. During the first (1144-1280), called by English writers the "early English" period, the general effect of the style was very grand, though rather severe. The ornamentation was rather meager, and sculpture was used rather sparingly on exteriors. During the second period (1280- 1380), termed, by many witers the "decorated" or "complete Gothic" period, greater freedom and lightness were introduced into all the ornamentation, without diminishing the boldness of the general effect. The windows were enlarged and filled with rich flowing tracery. The third, usually termed the "perpendicular" period (1380-1550), and extending till the revival of classic architecture, was marked by a general decadence of style, and finally by a loss of all true Gothic spirit. The arches were depressed; beauty of outline disappeared from the moldings; a minuteness, and finally a triviality, was introduced into all the ornamentation. The rapid decadence of the style was contemporaneous with the revival of taste for ancient classic art. In less than a century it was banished from all the countries where it had held sole dominion for nearly four centuries.

The Gothic churches in France are distinguished for the magnificence of their facades and the grandeurs of their interiors. As the true obiect of a hursch is to have a good interior, the French Gothic churches are to be esteemed superior to those of any other land. The cathedral at Rheims (Fig. 8) is esteemed the finest Gothic church in existence. The other most important churches are the cathedrals of Paris, Amiens, Rouen, Dijon, Chartres, Beauvais, etc. In the cathedral at Paris (Notre Dame), and in some other French Gothic churches, there is a greater tendency to horizontalness in the lines of the exterior than is found in the English or German Gothic.

The English Gothic cathedrals surpass those of all other lands in the varied combinations of striking effects in the exteriors. The windows often overpower the; doors and other features of the facade, and the nave is usually too long and narrow for fine effect. The plan is frequently rectangular, and is sometimes crossed by two transepts. The finest examples of English Gothic are the cathedrals of York (Fig. 9), Salisbury, Canterbury, Lincoln, Peterborough, and the Westminster Abbey. The richest interior in English churches is that of Henry's chapel in the Westminster Abbey. The grandeur of the effect of this interior is diminished, however, by the minuteness of the ornamentation.

In the German Gothic churches the spires are more beautifully wrought, and are more harmoniously joined to the towers than in the churches of any other country. The spires of the cathedrals of Freiburg and of Vienna are considered the finest in the world. 'The round choir, with a row of chapels, that prevails in the plans' of most French Gothic churches, is generally adopted. The cathedral of Cologne (founded 1248) is the largest Gothic church ever erected. Its towers are now (1869) being finished. When they are completed, this edifice will be the most glorious work of ecclesiastical architecture ever erected. The style is somewhat affected by the too great minuteness of the detail. The harmonious perpendicular tendency of the lines is unexampled in any other edifice (Fig. 10). The other chief Gothic churches of Germany are the cathedrals of Strasburg, Freiburg, Ulm,Vienna, Magdeburg, Meissen.

The Spanish surpassed theFrench, English, or German Gothic in the varied richness of outline; but there were frequently too many horizontal lines in the interior as well as the exterior, and the ornament was often overladen. The cathedral of Burgos (Fig. 11) begun in 1224 and finished in 1567, is marked by a prodigality of external ornamentation. But, with all this richness, there is a lack of repose and of lightness in the general effect. Other important Gothic churches in Spain are the cathedrals of Orvieto, Toledo, Barcelona, Oviedo, Leon, and Valencia. The influence of the Moorish architecture is visible in many of the Gothic churches in Spain. There are several excellent examples of the Gothic architecture in Portugal, as the cloister church in Batalha and the church in Belem. The entrance to the mausoleum of Manoel, in the church of Batalha, is one of the most gorgeous specimens of Moro-Gothic architecture.

In Scotland, Belgium, and Holland, Gothic architecture took the general characteristics of this style in the adjacent countries of England, France, and Germany. The cathedral of Antwerp is remarkable for the beauty of some of the details of the interior. On the other hand, the violations of constructive and aesthetic laws, both in the interior and in the exterior are striking proofs of the decadence of artistic feeling during the latter part of the history of Gothic architecture. In Scandinavia, also, Gothic architecture is marked by the development of few, if any, native elements. The cathedral of Upsala is essentially a French, and that of Drontheim an English edifice. The interior of the latter is marked by a number of exceedingly picturesque effects.

Gothic architecture was never fully naturalized in Italy. The traditions of classical and basilican architecture in favor of round arches and horizontal lines overpowered the Gothic tendency to perpendicular lines. The predilection for paintings on walls prevented the adoption of glass-painting in the windows. Towers surmounted by spires were replaced by campaniles, adjacent to the church. Marble of two colors is usually employed in the exteriors, and mosaic paintings frequently replace sculpture in the facades. The fronts, though very impressive in themselves, are often false, not representing the true size of the church. The finest examples are the cathedrals of Sienna (Fig. 12), Orvieto, Florence, Perugia, and Milan. The cathedral at Milan has a magnificent interior, and its. roof is covered by a forest of statuary and turrets. The tower of the cathedral of Florence, designed by Giotto, is the most beautiful ever erected. Its cost was over $5,000,000.

It is a mistake to consider Gothic architecture to be adapted only to ecclesiastical edifices. During the Middle Ages this style was applied with marked effect to edifices of all kinds-to castles and fortified gates of cities, as well as to city halls, courts of justice, and palatial residences.

As to the material employed in the erection of Gothic edifices, stone was generally used. In Italy especially, the finest marbles were often employed.

With marble of two colors very pleasant variations of surface effects were produced, many of which were inconsistent with the extensive use of buttresses and flying buttresses that were so generally introduced in the Gothic edifices north of the Alps. Brick was also employed with excellent success in the erection of Gothic edifices, both ecclesiastical, civil, and domestic; this was especially the case in North Germany. Fine contrasts of surface color also were produced in North Italy by the alternation of brick and colored marble.

But few Gothic churches have been completed, and in fewer yet has the original design been carried out. At least one, and sometimes both spires are generally lacking. This incompleteness or defect in design is often copied in modern Gothic churches, frequently producing very absurd effects.

With all its beauty and even grandeur, Gothic architecture has some features that make its adoption in modern, and especially in Protestant church edifices, a most dangerous experiment. The pillars are apt to obstruct the view and sound. The clerestory is so high that it often detracts from the harmony of the interior, while its ornamentation is also lost to the view; high pointed ceiling is apt to produce an echo; and the churches are very difficult to heat. But the great error in modern Gothic edifices is the indiscriminate copying of unfinished churches, built in the age of decadence of Gothic architecture. See Kugler, Geschichte der Baukunst; Lubke, Geschichte der Baukunst; Ferguson, Styles of Architecture; Huggins, Course and Current of Architecture; Pugin, Gothic Ornaments; Viollet-le- Duc, Dictionnaire de l'Architecture Francaise; Street, Gothic Architecture in Spain. (G.F.C.)

Topical Outlines Nave's Bible Topics International Standard Bible Encyclopedia Online King James Bible King James Dictionary

Verse reference tagging and popups powered by VerseClick™.