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History of Gothic architecture

While scholasticism was rising in Europe,

the French Abbot Suger corresponded with
the theologist Dionysius in Syria (who
united Neoplatonism with Christianity).
Suger expounded his theory of God as the
supernatural light transforming everything
material and mortal into immateriality. This
view underlies his commission, about 1140
AD, to raise a new ambulatory for the
church of Saint Denis (Dionysius' namesake
who christianized France), the first
manifestation of 'Gothic' architecture.
Inspired by the late Romanesque
architecture of Normandy (Caen) the Gothic
architects started to apply ribbed vaulting
and pointed arches purposefully to
emphasize light (Suger's divine light) and Saint Denis ambulatory
soaring spaces.

In the next few decennia the erection of three

major Gothic cathedrals in Ile-de-France started:
Noyon (circa 1150), Laon (circa 1160) and Notre-
Dame at Paris (circa 1163). While the focus on
vertical lines increased, as well as the ratio of
glass to stone, the architects reached their
brilliant unity of structure, construction and
expression. The cathedral at Chartres is
considered to be the first manifestation of 'High
Gothic' style. The construction started in 1194 and
was completed in 1224 (a bell tower was added in
1507-13). Divine light and soaring verticality
reached their maximum in the the cathedrals of
Reims (started in 1212), Amiens (1220), Beauvais
(where the nave partly collapsed because this new
style had reached its limits) and, most
impressively, Sainte-Chapelle in Paris (1243-48).
Chartres, circa 1930 The pinnacles, moldings, stained glass in light
colour, and rose windows of these buildings are
distinguishing for the Rayonnant style.
Characteristics of Gothic architecture:
• airy and bright
• focus on verticality
• pointed arches
• rib vaults
• flying buttresses
• large stained glass windows
• ornaments and pinnacles

Pinnacles and flying buttresses at Reims

By the end of the 13th century, the

Rayonnant style evolved into the
The Gothic style spread thoughout Central Europe,
Flamboyant style with a profusion of
the Low Countries, Spain and Italy. The English
pinnacles and other decorative structures.
alternative (Salisbury cathedral) remained closer
This style charterized the late Gothic period
to the former Romanesque style with heavy walls
which lasted until the end of the middle
and tall windows, and evolved into the so-called
ages. By this period more attention was
'decorated style' and the late Gothic
given to secular (e.g. the town hall of
'perpendicular style'.
Brussels) besides religious buildings (e.g.
the north spire of Chartres).

Source: helfrich gothic architecture

Gothic architecture is a style of architecture that flourished during the high and late medieval period.
It evolved fromRomanesque 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" (), with the term Gothic first appearing during the latter part of
the Renaissance. Its characteristic features include the pointed arch, the ribbed vault and the flying

Gothic architecture is most familiar as the architecture of many of the great cathedrals, abbeys and
parish churches of Europe.

Gothic Architecture

Development of Gothic architecture: Gothic sculpture is linked to the rise in Gothic

architecture, which began at the Abbey Church of Saint-Denis (fig.2) in about AD 1130, then spreading to
the cathedrals of Sens (1140), Noyons (1150), Senlis (1151), Paris (1163), Laon (1165), and Chartres
(1194). By the 13th century, Gothic architecture and sculpture had become fully developed in the
cathedrals of Amiens and Reims, and spread to major towns in Britain, Iberia, and Germany.

The Romans, who were influenced by

the techniques of the Etruscans, began the
development of a mature vaulting system in
the 1st century AD, which included both the
barrel and the groined vault (fig.1), The
groined vault is the intersection of two barrel
vaults, producing a surface that has arched
openings on its four sides, and thus divides
the area to be vaulted into squares known as
bays. Rediscovered by Romanesque
architects, this type of vault became the
basis for a more complex and varied type of
vault construction in the Middle Ages (Bony
1983; Fitchen 1961).
The main shift of the Gothic era
occurred from the older, heavier style of
Romanesque architecture, based on a solid
stone vault, to the lighter, elevated Gothic
style based on both the Romanesque and
Islamic use of the pointed arch and cross-
ribbed vault. This shift coincided with
widespread rebuilding of many older Romanesque cathedrals which had been destroyed by fire. The
different phases of Gothic architectures in northern France progressed from the Early Gothic to the High
Gothic and Rayonnant styles and the eventual Flamboyant style.
[Fig.1: Diagram of Romanesque vs. Gothic vaults].
The two main structural innovations of Gothic architecture were pointed arches and ogival or
ribbed vaulting (Bony 1983). By the 12th century, architects realized the superiority of the groined vault
compared to the barrel vault and started to add ribs, which were used to support the weight of the vault.
Cross-ribbed vaulting functions in much the same manner as plain groined vaulting, except that it is
reinforced with ribs, and can be made much thinner. The vault uses a diagonally reinforced arch resting
on thin pillars, permitting the walls to be hollowed out (and thus, filled with windows), while also allowing
the vaults to extend higher. At Amiens, for example, the introduction of an extra transverse rib between
the diagonal ribs of the vault allowed for a lighter and more elevated interior. Such light, skeletal
construction employing cross ribbed-vaults and other thin carrying structures (interior columns, exterior
flying buttresses), replaced the massiveness of Romanesque vaults. This had the revolutionary effect of
opening up the interior space of a large building such as a church. As the Gothic era progressed, vaulting
became increasing complex and saw the development of more varied forms such as the quatri-partite
vault and the sexpartite vault. Slender columns and stained glass windows also gave the church a more
spacious and heightened effect (fig.3).
Initially occurring at the Abbey Church of Saint-
Denis, architects now linked the transept and the choir
together, often reducing the size of the transept, and
creating single or double ambulatories with radiating
chapels and side aisles (fig.2). The church exterior was
also characterized by double span flying buttresses
and the light admitting rose window along with a
wealth of sculpture that became much more realistic
as the Middle Ages progressed. Increasing amounts of
tracery, pinnacles, and gargoyles also became another
common feature.
Sources of architectural influence: The new
Gothic architecture in France had its roots in older
Romanesque forms of England, Italy, and Normandy.
The origin of the Gothic style has a strong Norman
influence in the cathedrals of Jumièges, Evreux, and
Lesay, which inspired several architects in the Paris
region. By the late 11th century, there had already
been efforts to increase the height of Norman
churches at Caen, Bayeux, Jumièges, or Mont-Saint-Michel.
[Fig.2: Saint Denis ambulatory (1140-1144), showing ribbed vaults supported by a slender column
(photo: Athena Review)].
By the early 12th century, prototypes of ribbed vaults and pointed arches had developed at the
Rivolta d'Adda in Italy (1100), Durham cathedral in England (1093), and Jumièges in Normandy (ca.1120-
1125). Some scholars also suggest that the ribbed vault may have first appeared at the Church of Sant'
Ambrogio in Milan (1060). As noted, ribbed vaulting may have originated in Islamic Spain, where it had
appeared as early as the second half of the 10th century (Bony 1983).
Likewise, the pointed arch has its origin in the Islamic architecture of
the near East of the 8th century which then spread rapidly throughout Egypt
and Tunisia into Moorish Spain and towards Italy. According to one theory
(Bony 1983), the pointed arch may have been used on the island of Sicily,
which soon spread to France via the Norman Conquests of the island in the
1060s and 1070s.
The spread of Gothic architecture from northern France to other
regions occurred partly through the movement of architects and master
masons or sculptors to new building projects or, through widespread
competition between bishops, monasteries, and other patrons of cathedrals
(see Funding the Construction of Gothic Cathedrals by Wolfgang
Schöller). The Gothic style was quickly absorbed in England, which then had
political ties with France. Durham cathedral, consecrated in AD 1133 (which
had already pioneered the use of ribbed vaults) showed continuing early
Gothic influences in its construction. The main breakthrough in England
occurred in the 1170s with the cathedrals of Canterbury, Lincoln, and
slightly later at Salisbury. Soon the first Gothic cathedrals were erected on
the Iberian peninsula, starting in the 1190s at Evora in Portugal, and from
the 1220s at Léon, Burgos, and Toledo in Spain.
The influence on cathedral art within the territories of present-day
Germany, the Netherlands, and Italy started slightly later at about 1230-50,
although some earlier buildings had already introduced initial elements of
the Gothic style. Whereas Gothic architecture had difficulty establishing a
secure foothold in Italy, with its artistic traditions inspired by the classical style, it had an enormous
impact in Germany, which eventually took over the leading role as an innovative center of the Gothic
tradition. As in England, where also specific, but more nationally restricted Gothic styles developed, the
German late Gothic art survived into the 16th century.
[Fig.3: Nave and choir of Noyon cathedral, showing the increased height of the Gothic style (photo:
Athena Review)].
Bony, J. 193. French Gothic Architecture of the 12th and 13th centuries. Berkeley, Los Angeles, and
London, University of California Press.
Fitchen, J. 1961. The Construction of Gothic Cathedrals: A Study of Medieval Vault Erection. Oxford,
Oxford University Press.