Gothic architecture is a style of architecture, particularly associated
with cathedrals and other churches, which flourished in Europe during the thhigh and late medieval period. Beginning in 12 century France, it was
known as "the French Style" during the period, with the term Gothic first
appearing in the Reformation era as a stylistic insult. It was succeeded by Renaissance architecture beginning in Florence in the th15 century.
thA series of Gothic revivals began in mid-18 century England, spread ththrough 19 century Europe and continued, largely for ecclesiastical and thuniversity structures, into the 20 century
The style originated at the abbey church of Saint-Denis in Saint-Denis,
near Paris, where it exemplified the vision of Abbot Suger. Suger wanted
to create a physical representation of the Heavenly Bethlehem, a building
of a high degree of linearity that was suffused with light and color. The façade was actually designed by Suger, whereas the Gothic nave was added some hundred years later. He designed the façade of Saint-Denis to be an
echo of the Roman Arch of Constantine with its three-part division. This
division is also frequently found in the Romanesque style. The eastern
"rose" window, which is credited to him as well, is a re-imagining of the Christian "circle-square" iconography. The first truly Gothic
construction was the choir of the church, consecrated in 1144. With its thin columns, stained-glass windows, and a sense of verticality with an ethereal look, the choir of Saint-Denis established the elements that would later be elaborated upon during the Gothic period. This style was adopted first in northern France and by the English, and spread throughout
France, the Low Countries and parts of Germany and also to Spain and
The Term "Gothic"
Gothic architecture has nothing to do with the historical Goths. It was
a pejorative term that came to be used as early as the 1530s to describe culture that was considered rude and barbaric. François Rabelais imagines
an inscription over the door of his Utopian Abbey of Thélème, "Here enter
no hypocrites, bigots..." slipping in a slighting reference to "Gotz"
(rendered as "Huns" in Thomas Urquhart's English translation) and th"Ostrogotz." In English 17 century usage, "Goth" was an equivalent of
"vandal," a savage despoiler with a Germanic heritage and so came to be applied to the architectural styles of northern Europe before the revival of classical types of architecture. "There can be no doubt that the term
'Gothic' as applied to pointed styles of ecclesiastical architecture was
used at first contemptuously, and in derision, by those who were ambitious to imitate and revive the Grecian orders of architecture, after the revival of classical literature. Authorities such as Christopher Wren
lent their aid in deprecating the old mediæval style, which they termed
", Gothic, as synonymous with every thing that was barbarous and rude.according to a correspondent in Notes and Queries No. 9. December 29, 1849.
Style emphasizes verticality and features almost skeletal stone structures with great expanses of glass, pointed arches using the ogive
shape, ribbed vaults, clustered columns, sharply pointed spires, flying
buttresses and inventive sculptural detail such as gargoyles and even
butterflies attacking men. These features are all the consequence of the use of the pointed arch and a focus on large stained-glass windows that allowed more light to enter than was possible with older styles. To achieve this "light" style, flying buttresses were used as a means of support to enable higher ceilings and slender columns. Many of these features had already appeared, for example in Durham Cathedral, whose construction
started in 1093.
As a defining characteristic of Gothic Architecture, the pointed arch was introduced for both visual and structural reasons. Visually, the verticality suggests an aspiration to Heaven. Structurally, its use gives a greater flexibility to Architectural form. The Gothic vault, unlike the semi-circular vault of Roman and Romanesque buildings, can be used to roof rectangular and irregularly shaped plans such as trapezoids. The other advantage is that the pointed arch channels the weight onto the bearing piers or columns at a steep angle.
In Gothic Architecture the pointed arch is utilized in every location where a vaulted shape is called for, both structural and decorative. Gothic openings such as doorways, windows, arcades and galleries have pointed arches. Gothic vaulting above spaces both large and small is usually supported by richly molded ribs. Rows of arches upon delicate shafts form a typical wall decoration known as blind arcading. Niches with pointed arches and containing statuary are a major external feature. The pointed arch leant itself to elaborate intersecting shapes which
developed within window spaces into complex Gothic tracery forming the structural support of the large windows that are characteristic of the style.
thConservative 13 century Gothic in Provence: Basilica of Mary Magdalene,
Saint Maximin la Sainte Baume.
Gothic cathedrals could be highly decorated with statues on the outside and painting on the inside. Both usually told Biblical stories,
emphasizing visual typological allegories between Old Testament prophecy
and the New Testament.
Important Gothic churches could also be severely simple. At the Basilica
of Mary Magdalene in Saint-Maximin, Provence (illustration, right), the
local traditions of the sober, massive, Romanesque architecture were thstill strong. The basilica, begun in the 13 century under the patronage
of Charles of Anjou, was laid out on an ambitious scale (it was never completed all the way to the western entrance front) to accommodate pilgrims that came to venerate relics. Building in the Gothic style
continued at the basilica until 1532.
In Gothic architecture new technology stands behind the new building style. The Gothic cathedral was supposed to be a microcosm representing the world, and each architectural concept, mainly the loftiness and huge dimensions of the structure, were intended to pass a theological message: the great glory of God versus the smallness and insignificance of the mortal being.