Gothic: What you need to know about the style epoch – Cathedrals that stretch towards the sky, light-flooded churches and filigree stained-glass windows – With these and even more stylistic devices, the Gothic epoch has immortalized itself in architectural history. But what makes the Gothic?
In the middle of the 12th century, the elaborate style of Gothic developed in France and is considered one of the most independent style epochs of the Occident.
The very term “Gothic” reveals much about the reception of the style. Unlike the preceding Romanesque and also the following Renaissance, the Gothic was not based on ancient models. It was a style of its own, which developed out of the current society. However, especially with the beginning of the Renaissance, Italian builders hoped to overcome the “Dark Ages” by reviving ancient ideals.
Since Gothic was part of the demonized Middle Ages, the style was viewed with disdain by much of the art world that followed. Thus, the Renaissance artist biographer Giorgio Vasari, considered the founder of art history, named the previous style “arte gotica.” A dire condemnation – after all, the name referred to Italy’s barbarian enemies: the Goths.
Romanesque: An overview of the style epoch
Mannerism: Independent epoch or avant-garde of the Renaissance?
Complicated chronological delimitation
First introduced by Vasari as a pejorative description of architectural style, the term became established for the art of the period. Gothic architecture emerged in France around 1140 and found faithful followers north of the Alps until the first half of the 16th century.
The exact period, the beginning and the division of the Gothic style epoch into early, high and late Gothic vary from country to country. In Germany, for example, buildings were first built in the Gothic style in the 13th century, and in England as early as the 12th century.
By the beginning of the 16th century, Gothic had almost dried up, although in Italy it had already been largely displaced by the 14th century. This can be explained by the fact that in Italy the Renaissance found its heyday and the Gothic style was comparatively quickly stifled.
Summary of Gothic style characteristics:
The cathedral as a total work of art consisting of architecture, sculpture and (glass) painting
Skeleton construction with cross-rib vaults characterize interiors and allow walls to be opened up
Elaborate buttressing, which enables the soaring cathedrals
Pointed arches appear tracery, ornamental elements and window rosettes characterize the typical Gothic
Curved figures, ornamental gables and buttresses decorated with tabernacles adorn the facades
The most outstanding creation of the Gothic period is the cathedral. It is a synthesis of architecture, sculpture and (glass) painting. Thus, the sacred building (church building) is the central theme of the era. The church was literally considered the house of God and was supposed to embody the Christian religious idea. To meet this requirement, cathedrals were designed as houses of worship flooded with light. The architectural emphasis was on the vertical – the striving towards heaven.
Compared to Romanesque churches, which consisted of a sum of individual rooms with solid walls, the interior of the Gothic cathedral was intended to have a unified effect on the faithful. A central element of Gothic architecture was the pointed arch, which replaced the typical Romanesque round arch on portals and windows.
Here is an overview of the most important basic architectural concepts
The dissolution of space
Due to the static peculiarities of the pointed arch, the walls could be built extremely thin. The Gothic builders managed to open up the outer walls by means of the projecting buttresses and the characteristic cross-ribbed vaulting. This allowed the church to be flooded with light through high, richly painted glass windows.
From the outside, a skeletal longwall developed, which made the extreme verticality of the so-called light houses possible in the first place. Drains for rainwater and melt water were also integrated into the longwall. While they had a mainly static function in the beginning, longwalls developed into an important architectural element on which more and more emphasis was placed.
Tracery and ornamental elements
A central decorative element of the Gothic period is the tracery. It is a building ornament typical of the Gothic period, developed from geometric forms. In addition to tracery windows with pointed arches, these patterns can also be found in the circular rose windows. The master builders were inspired by the plant world for their ornaments.
The stained glass window of the cathedral in Chartres, France, shows a twelvefold rotational symmetry in the rosette, broken by the individual images and a point symmetry around the center of the circle; axial symmetries around mirror axes through the center of the circle. The elongated windows below break these symmetries, leaving only an axial symmetry through the central, vertical image axis, broken again by the various image motifs.
Important buildings of the Gothic period
Over the years, the Gothic period developed many of the most famous churches in Northern Europe. Among them, from France, on the one hand, Notre Dame in Paris (1163), which can be counted among the early Gothic. The first High Gothic building is generally understood to be the cathedral in Chartres (after 1194).
Churches – New bells for Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris
It is true that the Gothic style found its origin in France and the French style was formative for all of Europe. However, country-specific differences can be explained by the fact that French Gothic was received but not uniformly adopted.
In England, the beginning of the Gothic style is equated with the construction of Canterbury Cathedral (from 1185). The famous Westminster Abbey in London can also be attributed to this style.
Neo-Gothic: Gothic revival in the 19th century
Although the Gothic period seemed to have petered out by the 16th century at the latest, it experienced a brief revival in the 19th century with the Neo-Gothic style. For within the framework of historicism, there was increased recourse to an idealized image of the Middle Ages, which was found again in the Gothic.
Cologne Cathedral by night
The completion of Cologne Cathedral, one of the most famous examples of Gothic architecture in Germany, coincides with this very period. It should be noted, however, that although the foundation stone of the world-famous sacred building was laid in the 13th century, it was not completed until the 19th century after construction had been halted for centuries.