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The Evolution of Gothic Architecture

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Gothic architecture, with the particularly predominating characteristics of spires peaking to the sky, carving in the stone, and extensive stained glass windows, is unarguably one of the most marvelous styles in the annals of architecture. 

It began in the 12th century and went through many changes throughout centuries, it left a great impact on the cathedrals, churches and the buildings of Europe. This blog will look at the changes in Gothic architecture right from its infancy to the peak of its development and to when it started changing. 

Origins of Gothic Architecture 

Gothic architecture began in the twelfth century although the style was initially developed in France. It emerged from the Romanesque architecture style that was notable for the construction with thick walls, rounded pendentives, and numerous narrow windows

Origins of Gothic Architecture

The term ‘Gothic’ had been used by the critics of renaissance to depict barbarism of the style in comparison to the classical style. But again, Gothic architecture is a form of progression in construction methods and in architectural aesthetics. 

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Some points that are worth noting about the Gothic early stage are as follows: 

  • Pointed Arches: Thus, instead of rounded arches that were characteristic of Romanesque architecture, the Gothic ones used pointed arches. It also gave better height and variety in the shape of the structure as will be seen from the development of the arch and the dome. 
  • Ribbed Vaults: Ribbed vaulting contributed to the construction of the skeleton of the roof that had light and thin construction where the weight of the roof was shed effectively hence leading to the construction of tall stretched structures. 
  • Flying Buttresses: These external propping was used to shift the load of the roof and walls to where it required less roof space, window span, and wall thickness. It was this that facilitated the construction of Gothic cathedrals; this invention. 
  • Stained Glass Windows: Through stained glass, dominated the enlarged windows that allowed bright, painted scenes from the Bible and the stories of saints, to enter the premises.

 Early Gothic Examples 

  • Saint-Denis Basilica: Choir of Saint-Denis by Abbot Suger is deemed as the first example of gothic where pointed arches, ribbed vaults and large windows were used
  • Notre-Dame de Paris: As commenced in 1163 by Maestro Pierre, Notre-Dame is characterized with early features of Gothic style in terms of elements that were to define flying buttresses and a relatively balanced proportions of the facade.

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High Gothic Architecture 

Around the late Twelfth to Early Thirteenth Century Gothic architecture had developed to High Gothic.

High Gothic Architecture

This phase was characterized by a further elaboration of the construction methods of Gothic structures, as well as the enlargement of those spaces that had already been filled with such architectures, resulting in larger constructions with concepts that are more focused on the themes of height and light. 

Some of the Key elements of High Gothic architecture Include; 

  • Increased Height: In this period the cathedrals were to be built to soaring heights of infinity, to represent the spirit and the divine. 
  • Complex Tracery: Tracery-that is decoration of the stonework in the windows– advanced to possibility of cutting out sensational patterns and additional extensive areas of stained glass. 
  • More Refined Ribbed Vaults: It became common to have the ribbed vaults delicately interlaced throughout and crossing each other in geometrical designs. 

High Gothic Examples 

  • Chartres Cathedral: One of the most beautiful pieces of high Gothic architecture with beautiful stained glass windows and the main facade. 
  • Amiens Cathedral: The cathedral also has the seeming height and consistently High Gothic design that is typical of the style’s builders’ goals. 

Rayonnant Gothic Architecture 

In the mid-13th century, Rayonnant Gothic style developed, the style of Raymond, which was more concentrated on the ornament and light, not on the height or massive construction as the earlier ones. 

Rayonnant Gothic Architecture

Features of Rayonnant Gothic Architecture 

  • Emphasis on Light: This created a possibility of more light coming into the buildings since there were large windows and less structural mass. 
  • Decorative Tracery: It became more detailed, and the patterns resembled a spider’s web most of the time. 
  • Skeletal Structures: The constructions looked more elegant, lighter: the number of car gebruik van glas en slankere steenwerck is increasing. 

Rayonnant Gothic Examples 

  • Sainte-Chapelle: Originally constructed as a royal chapel in Paris, Sainte Chapelle is, and for most of the walls, more than half of it is made of stained glass
  • Reims Cathedral: Reims Cathedral that represents the Rayonnant style is a famous construction for its Gothic decorative works including sculptures and the structure of the building.

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Late Gothic Architecture: Gothic Barock: Opulent und Stehend 

The last stages of this style are the Flamboyant in France and the Perpendicular in England or the Hundred Years’ War period of Gothic. 

Late Gothic Architecture

Flamboyant Gothic Architecture 

  • Flame-Like Tracery: The name “Flamboyant” is attributed from the flame like designs of Curvilinear tracery in windows and stoneworks. 
  • Excessive Decoration: During this period of time, people started to watch out for the details as such elements were incorporated lavishly. 

 Flamboyant Gothic Examples 

  • Rouen Cathedral: West front of Rouen cathedral is classified as Flamboyant Gothic style characterized by stone sculptures and geometric patterns of the tracery. 
  • Saint-Maclou Church: This church is also in Rouen: it has nice Flamboyant decoration, the most revealing of which is in the church’s frontispiece at the entrance. 

 Perpendicular Gothic Architecture 

  • Vertical Lines: As with the previous case, Perpendicular Gothic uses vertical lines which exhibit height and linearity in buildings
  • Fan Vaulting: Another typical element of this style; fan vaulting is a design on the ceiling that resembles a fan. 

 Perpendicular Gothic Examples 

  • King’s College Chapel, Cambridge: This chapel has a distinctive fan vault and big stained glass windows and is one of the excellent examples of perpendicular Gothic style of architecture. 
  • Gloucester Cathedral: The latter, the choir and cloisters of Gloucester Cathedral, display the typical vertical emphasis and elaborate work of the Perpendicular style.

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The Substitution and the Impression of Gothic Architecture 

Gothic soon waned by the 16th century, thus giving way for the new ideals of renaissance that emphasized elegance and symmetry with an incorporation of classical form. 

Substitution and the Impression of Gothic Architecture

Nonetheless, the features of gothic architecture continued to be utilized throughout later centuries and were successfully revived in the XIX century in the course of the gothic revival. 

 Gothic Revival 

  • Houses of Parliament, London: The construction of this building was carried out by Charles Barry and Augustus Pugin and the architectural style used is the Gothic Revival. 
  • St. Patrick’s Cathedral, New York: This is a cathedral built in the 19th century which reflected the never fading beauty of Gothic structure complex arched ceilings, ribbed vaults and detailed exterior.

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Gothic architectural style in terms of new methods of construction and sensation-filled visuals is one of the epitomes of medieval architecture

Stemming from the twelfth century up to Rayonnant and Flamboyant periods as well as revived in the Victorian period, this architectural style has an unmistakable impact on the built environment and it still elicits admiration to this date. 

Culture goes hand in hand with architecture, and as culture changes, the buildings, mainly the churches also evolve; thus making Gothic architecture an intriguing field of study of how art responds to trends in sociology and even religion

Regardless of whether you find yourself standing before hundreds of tall, thin pillars which unite in the middle of the church or the elaborate ironwork of Gothic Revival – the spirit of Gothic architecture remains invincible, and the desire of people to build amazing structures that would seem to heavens is unvanquished.

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