Gothic Architecture

Definition of Medieval Gothic Architecture

Gothic Architecture, also referred to as medieval architecture, is the result of multiple generations of influence. It is characterized by ribbed vault, pointed arch and flying buttresses.

Spanning from the mid-12th century to the late 16th century, this style of architecture flourished during the high and late medieval period. With time it developed from the Romanesque architecture, which later evolved into Renaissance architecture.

The term “Gothic” commonly used to describe this form of architecture implies that this design of architecture was influenced by the Visigoth and Goth tribes; however, this is misleading because these tribes had been vanquished by the 6th century.

Gothic Architectural designs are common all over the world, especially in European countries. They are distinctive from other art designs, making them mysterious and amazing at the same time. They were mainly used in cathedrals during the 13th century in France; one of the famous examples is The Cathedral Basilica of St. Denis.

Gothic Architecture Styles

Basically, Gothic architecture transformed how cathedrals, churches and castles were built in Europe. In the 11th century, building skills and materials were limited, Stone castles were simple, cold dark and damp. However, Gothic architecture solved these unpleasant problems and created pleasant buildings.

Gothic Architecture Vaulted Ceiling

Gothic Architecture Magnificent High Vaulted Ceiling

There are seven key characteristics of Gothic architecture, which include:

• Grand, Tall Designs
• The Flying Buttress
• The Pointed Arch
• The Vaulted Ceiling
• The Light and Airy Interior
• The Gargoyles of Gothic Architecture
• The Emphasis on the Decorative Designs and the Ornate

During the Gothic period, architecture transformed and embraced these characteristics in building designs, churches and cathedrals were largely influenced.

Early Medieval Gothic Architecture

This was during the early English Gothic Style, also referred to as Lancet Gothic, between the 12th and 13th century. During this period, frescos, sculptures, manuscript illumination, panel paintings and stained glass paintings were the chief art forms, portraying both secular and Christian essence.

Frescos were the main medium for representing religious views, particularly in Southern Europe. However, some of the frescos portrayed the plutocratic society, like the princes and kings. Tapestries, Metalwork and embroidered vestments were also used for religious depictions in this era.

Christianity was evolving during the early Gothic period; as a result, it was embarking on a new chapter in history. This change was significant in the early Gothic art though outstanding Gothic churches constructed all over Europe.

1140 became the onset of early Gothic architecture on the walls of the “Basilica of St. Denis,” in Paris, France, followed by the “Chartres Cathedral” of Paris in 1145. Other famous cathedrals were the ones across Northern France in “Amiens” and “Reims.”

High Medieval Gothic Architecture

This was during the 13th and 14th century. Gothic architecture succeeded the Romanesque designs of building by developing Gothic arches, flying buttresses and ribbed vaults.

This period was largely influenced by the religious background of the time.As opposed to the bulky and dark designs of the previous Romanesque style, buildings were designed to appear light and weightless.

One of the famous saints of that period, Saint Augustine of Hippo often expressed his views, claiming that light was an expression of God. Consequently, architectural designs were modified to reflect his teachings.

The use of colourful glass windows also enhanced the spirit of lightness; this had a lot of impact to the common citizens since colour was rare during the medieval times.

High-rising fan vaulting and later complex ribbed symbolized movement toward heaven. Additionally, the large size of churches and cathedrals expressed veneration to God.

Late Medieval Gothic Architecture

This was the period that led to the onset of the Perpendicular Gothic Style during the 14th and 15th centuries. In most European countries, Gothic architecture persisted and Gothic churches and cathedrals were further elaborated. However, in Italy architecture took a different direction which was inspired by classical ideas.

This era saw the intellectual transformation of the Renaissance, which is regarded as the bridge between the middle ages and the modern world. Classical ideas lead to the invention of printing, which enabled the spread of democratized learning that later lead to the Protestant Reformation.

Europeans also pioneered the discovery of new trading routes. First was Columbus who travelled to America in 1492 and later Vasco da Gama who travelled to India and Africa in 1498. Their discoveries fortified the power and economy of European nations.

Italian Medieval Cathedral

Stunning medieval Italian Gothic Cathedral

Famous Gothic Architecture

Below is a list of Gothic architecture, some of which are documented as UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

• Florence Cathedral in Florence, Italy
• Basilica of St Denis in Paris, France
• Cologne Cathedral in Cologne, Germany
• Milan Cathedral in Milan, Italy
• Notre Dame de Paris in Paris, France
• Amiens Cathedral in Amiens, France
• Rheims Cathedral in Rheims, France
• Canterbury Cathedral in Canterbury, Kent, England
• Salisbury Cathedral in Salisbury, England
• Chartres Cathedral in Chartres, France

Gothic Architecture History

Gothic Architecture developed between the Renaissance and the Romanesque style of architecture. The history of Gothic architecture is characterized by the introduction of pointed arches, flying buttresses, gargoyles, tall spires and of stained-glass windows.

Gothic architecture symbolized giant steps from the common basic building designs that had prevailed. From the 10th to the 14th century, several significant churches and cathedrals were built, especially in France and Britain, giving architects a chance to develop more daring and complex designs.

A lot of religious buildings have been preserved from this period, of which even the smallest are commonly constructions of architectural distinction, whereas many of the large cathedrals are viewed as priceless works of art.

Gothic Medieval Church Architecture

The Gothic era coincided with a superior knowledge of engineering; this is reflected in churches built during this era. Gothic cathedrals and churches were different from normal building, the increase in skills and knowledge acquired meant that the stones were custom cut to fit next to other stone blocks with accurate precision.

Shaped stones were therefore used to replace the large stone blocks preferred by the Normans. Additionally, the hollow walls were not used by later architects. Pillars and wall were solid which allowed them to hack though much greater weight. This simple idea made it possible for churches to be built bigger than Norman ones.

Decline of Gothic Architecture

As the Renaissance fever thrived across the world, the Gothic period came to a close in most parts of Europe. The Renaissance marked an era of improvement in people’s life style and the return of the arts and architecture of the Greek and Roman periods, ushering in neoclassicism.

The Italians particularly disliked the Gothic-era architecture; they often considered the oppressive height and massive size of the buildings as gloomy and barbaric.

Later in the 19th century, historian art supporters struggled to change the negative conception surrounding the Gothic period. They acknowledged the significance of the innovations in designs and engineering that took place during the Gothic period.


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