GOTHIC ARCHITECTURE


GOTHIC ARCHITECTURE
   The Gothic style of architecture grew out of the Romanesque style to include even more sophisticated architectural structures that featured intricate ornamentation, vast interiors, and soaring roofs, with external flying buttresses, tall towers, and pinnacles. The Gothic style originated in the area around Paris called the Île-de-France during the middle of the 12th century, coinciding with the growth of the French monarchy and lasting until the 14th century. This northern European style came to be called "Gothic" due to the mistaken and prejudicial notion that it was introduced by the Germanic Visigoths, who were traditionally credited with the fall of the Roman an Empire and therefore derided in subsequent centuries. This name has endured despite its initial mischaracterization and now represents architectural style seen during its day as a more aristocratic and "modern" outgrowth of the older Romanesque. Gothic buildings reveal pointed arches rather than rounded arches, more fenestration than Romanesque structures, taller ceilings with more slender internal supports, and an overall increase in architectural sculpture.
   The Gothic style was found in private homes and civic buildings, such as town halls, but it is most famously seen in church design. Gothic churches appear across western Europe but are most common today in England, France, and Germany. The largest of these churches are the cathedrals, seats of the highest level of clergy, and therefore have a more extensive treasury and typically an urban setting. Notre Dame Cathedral of Chartres is an excellent example of this type, seen rising above the skyline of the town of Chartres in France. It was begun around 1134, and construction continued through the mid-13th century. These monumental structures were often begun in the Early Gothic style and completed later in the more ornate High or Late Gothic, after financial troubles or disastrous fires plagued their construction. Chartres Cathedral is a Latin-cross-plan church with a tall longitudinal nave, shorter side aisles, and projecting side arms called transepts, each with side entrances. As side entrances came to be increasingly used by the aristocracy to provide a path directly to the choir, the transept portals became more and more ornate. The choir extended from the crossing square, concluding with an apse encircled by an ambulatory with three chapels projecting from the interior wall. A narthex at the west façade entrance provides a transitional space from the physical world into the sanctuary, designated as the house of God on earth. The rich decoration of these churches is meant, then, not only to inspire the visitor, but to reflect God's authority through its beauty.
   Because Gothic churches are taller and feature more fenestration than Romanesque churches, additional buttressing is needed on the exterior of the building. Socalled flying buttresses were thus introduced. These consist of an external support pier attached to the wall at the top, and then angled outward toward the ground, where the weight of the masonry and gravity is dispersed. This system allows for an additional support that does not block the windows. In addition to the buttresses, Chartres Cathedral features a series of pointed pinnacles capping the buttresses and the transept corners, as well as pointed towers at the entrance façade. These pinnacles help to direct the weight downward, while at the same time directing the eyes of the visitor upward toward the heavens. It is this visual effect of soaring height that became the central characteristic of the Gothic style. The tripartite façade of Chartres has three portals in the central section, with three windows above, topped in the third register by a round window, called a rose window. This part of the façade is typically capped by an open arcade that forms the impression of a light latticework. Chartres Cathedral features towers that, because they were built during different times, do not match, but they nonetheless direct the eye upward.
   The interior of Chartres Cathedral reveals a three-story nave with an arcade of compounded piers alternating with pointed arches at the ground floor. The engaged half- and quarter-columns of the piers rise through the nave wall, and each section follows through with the articulation of some aspect of the internal structure. For example, three column sections of each pier rise through the nave wall to meet the three ribs that branch across and intersect in the middle of the vault to create the four-part ribbed vaulting and the ribbed bay unit divisions of the nave ceiling. This very complex structural "skeleton," as it is sometimes called, gives visual clarity to an otherwise very complex building. A triforium gallery appears in the second register of the nave wall, and large, paired stained-glass clerestory windows fill the entire wall space of the top register of the nave. The façade windows allow light into the nave entrance of the church, while the most dramatic illumination is found in the choir area, where the entire wall is given over to tall stained-glass windows. The idea of light as a symbol of the divine, of enlightenment, is most fully articulated in the Gothic period.
   The High Gothic cathedrals of Paris, Reims, and Amiens in France, of Cologne in Germany, and of Milan in Italy, all follow many aspects of the format seen at Chartres. The stonemasons in charge of construction, called the capomaestri, increased the height of these buildings and enlarged their fenestration with more daring engineering feats to the point at which they could build no more— signified by the collapse of the choir vault of Beauvais Cathedral in 1284. The Late Gothic style, consequently, is typified by smaller churches, such as Sainte-Chapelle in Paris, built in the 1240s by Louis IX to house his collection of Passion relics. The walls of this palace chapel are made up entirely of stained-glass windows separated from one another by slender columns and piers, with no other visible wall structure.
   In addition, the Gothic era was ultimately a time of great learning, an enlightened age credited with the establishment of the earliest universities, which were built in the Gothic style. The continued use of the Gothic style across campuses today gives a visual link to this past and provides historical legitimacy to subsequent university buildings. The revival of the Gothic style, called the Gothic Revival, can be found in castles, private homes, and civic buildings through the next several centuries.

Historical Dictionaries of Literature and the Arts. . 2008.

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