Gothic architecture is an architectural style that flourished in
Europe during the High and Late Middle Ages. It evolved from
Romanesque architecture and was succeeded by
Originating in 12th century
France and lasting into the 16th century,
Gothic architecture was known during the period as Opus Francigenum
("French work") with the term Gothic first appearing during the later
part of the Renaissance. Its characteristics include the pointed arch,
the ribbed vault (which evolved from the joint vaulting of Romanesque
architecture) and the flying buttress.
Gothic architecture is most
familiar as the architecture of many of the great cathedrals, abbeys
and churches of Europe. It is also the architecture of many castles,
palaces, town halls, guild halls, universities and to a less prominent
extent, private dwellings, such as dorms and rooms.
It is in the great churches and cathedrals and in a number of civic
buildings that the Gothic style was expressed most powerfully, its
characteristics lending themselves to appeals to the emotions, whether
springing from faith or from civic pride. A great number of
ecclesiastical buildings remain from this period, of which even the
smallest are often structures of architectural distinction while many
of the larger churches are considered priceless works of art and are
UNESCO as World Heritage Sites. For this reason a study of
Gothic architecture is often largely a study of cathedrals and
A series of Gothic revivals began in mid-18th century England, spread
Europe and continued, largely for ecclesiastical
and university structures, into the 20th century.
2 Definition and scope
3.4 Possible Eastern influence
4.1 Romanesque tradition
4.2 Transition from Romanesque to Gothic architecture
4.3 Abbot Suger
5 Characteristics of the Gothic style
5.1 Pointed arch
5.4 Light and windows
5.6 Basic shapes of Gothic arches and stylistic character
5.6.1 Lancet arch
5.6.2 Equilateral arch
5.6.4 Depressed arch
5.7 Symbolism and ornamentation
6 Regional differences
6.3 Czech lands,
Germany and Poland
Spain and Portugal
7 Other Gothic buildings
8 Gothic survival and revival
8.1 Gothic Revival
9 See also
9.1 Medieval Gothic
9.2 Gothic architecture
11.1 Further reading
12 External links
Unlike with past and future styles of art, like the Carolingian style
as noted by French art historian
Louis Grodecki in his work Gothic
Architecture, Gothic's lack of a definite historical or geographic
nexus results in a weak concept of what truly is Gothic. This is
further compounded by the fact that the technical, ornamentation, and
formal features of Gothic are not entirely unique to it. Though modern
historians have invariably accepted the conventional use of "Gothic"
as a label, even in formal analysis processes due to a longstanding
tradition of doing so, the definition of "Gothic" has historically
The term "Gothic architecture" originated as a pejorative description.
Giorgio Vasari used the term "barbarous German style" in his 1550
Lives of the Artists to describe what is now considered the Gothic
style, and in the introduction to the Lives he attributes various
architectural features to "the Goths" whom he held responsible for
destroying the ancient buildings after they conquered Rome, and
erecting new ones in this style. Vasari was not alone among 15th
and 16th Italian writers, as
Giannozzo Manetti had also
written scathing criticisms of the Gothic style, calling it a
"barbaric prelude to the Renaissance." Vasari and company were writing
at a time when many aspects and vocabulary pertaining to Classical
architecture had been reasserted with the
Renaissance in the late 15th
and 16th centuries, and they had the perspective that the "maniera
tedesca" or "maniera dei Goti" was the antithesis of this resurgent
style leading to the continuation of this negative connotation in the
17th century. François Rabelais, also of the 16th century,
imagines an inscription over the door of his utopian
Thélème, "Here enter no hypocrites, bigots..." slipping in a
slighting reference to "Gotz" and "Ostrogotz."[a]
Molière also made
this note of the Gothic style in the 1669 poem La Gloire:
(in French): "...fade goût des ornements gothiques, Ces monstres
odieux de siècles ignorants, Que de la barbarie ont produit les
(in English): "...the insipid taste of Gothic ornamentation, these
odious monstrosities of an ignorant age, produced by the torrents of
— Molière, La Gloire
In English 17th 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 from before the revival
of classical types of architecture. According to a 19th-century
correspondent in the
London Journal Notes and Queries:
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 medieval style, which they
termed Gothic, as synonymous with everything that was barbarous and
The first movements that reevaluated medieval art took place in the
18th century, even when the
Académie Royale d'Architecture
Académie Royale d'Architecture met in
Paris on 21 July 1710 and, amongst other subjects, discussed the new
fashions of bowed and cusped arches on chimneypieces being employed to
"finish the top of their openings. The Academy disapproved of several
of these new manners, which are defective and which belong for the
most part to the Gothic." Despite resistance in the 19th and 20th
centuries, such as the writings of Wilhelm Worringer, critics like
Père Laugier, William Gilpin, August Wilhelm Schlegel and other
critics began to give the term a more positive meaning. Johann
Goethe called Gothic the "deutsche Architektur" and the
"embodiment of German genius," while some French writers like Camille
Enlart instead nationalised it for France, dubbing it "architecture
français." This second group made some of their claims using the
chronicle of Burchard von Halle that tells of the Church of Bad
Wimpfen's construction "opere francigeno," or "in the French style."
Today, the term is defined with spatial observations and historical
and ideological information.
Definition and scope
Since the studies of the 18th century, many have attempted to define
the Gothic style using a list of characteristic features, principally
with the pointed arch,[b] the vaulting supported by intersecting
arches, and the flying buttress. Eventually, historians composed a
fairly large list of those features that were alien to both early
medieval and Classical arts that includes piers with groups of
colonettes, pinnacles, gables, rose windows, and openings broken into
many different lancet-shaped sections. Certain combinations thereof
have been singled out for identifying regional or national sub-styles
of Gothic or to follow the evolution of the style. From this emerge
labels such as Flamboyant, Rayonnant, and the English Perpendicular
because of the observation of components like window tracery and pier
moldings. This idea, dubbed by
Paul Frankl as "componential," had also
occurred to mid
19th century writers such as Arcisse de Caumont,
Robert Willis and Franz Mertens.[c]
As an architectural style, Gothic developed primarily in
ecclesiastical architecture, and its principles and characteristic
forms were applied to other types of buildings. Buildings of every
type were constructed in the Gothic style, with evidence remaining of
simple domestic buildings, elegant town houses, grand palaces,
commercial premises, civic buildings, castles, city walls, bridges,
village churches, abbey churches, abbey complexes and large
The greatest number of surviving Gothic buildings are churches. These
range from tiny chapels to large cathedrals, and although many have
been extended and altered in different styles, a large number remain
either substantially intact or sympathetically restored, demonstrating
the form, character and decoration of Gothic architecture. The Gothic
style is most particularly associated with the great cathedrals of
Northern France, the Low Countries,
England and Spain, with other fine
examples occurring across Europe.
The scope of Gothic architecture
Glasgow Cathedral, Glasgow, Scotland
Basilica of the Assumption of Mary, Kraków, Poland
The Parish Church of St Mary Redcliffe, Bristol, England
Cathedral of Saint-Gatian, Tours, France
The Palazzo Pubblico, Siena, Italy
Oudenaarde Town Hall, Oudenaarde, Belgium
Church of San Pablo, Valladolid, Spain
Choir of Beauvais Cathedral, looking east.
Interior of Beauvais choir, looking west.
The roots of the Gothic style lie in those towns that, since the 11th
century, had been enjoying increased prosperity and growth, began to
experience more and more freedom from traditional feudal authority.
At the end of the 12th century,
Europe was divided into a multitude of
city states and kingdoms. The area encompassing modern Germany,
southern Denmark, the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, Switzerland,
Liechtenstein, Austria, Slovakia,
Czech Republic and much of northern
Venice and Papal State) was nominally part of the
Holy Roman Empire, but local rulers exercised considerable autonomy
under the system of Feudalism. France, Denmark, Poland, Hungary,
Portugal, Scotland, Castile, Aragon, Navarre,
independent kingdoms, as was the Angevin Empire, whose Plantagenet
England and large domains in what was to become modern
Norway came under the influence of England, while the other
Scandinavian countries and
Poland were influenced by trading contacts
with the Hanseatic League. Angevin kings brought the Gothic tradition
France to Southern Italy, while
Lusignan kings introduced French
Gothic architecture to Cyprus.
Gothic art is sometimes viewed as the
art of the era of feudalism but also as being connected to change in
medieval social structure, as the Gothic style of architecture seemed
to parallel the beginning of the decline of feudalism.
Nevertheless, the influence of the established feudal elite can be
seen in the
Chateaux of French lords and in those churches sponsored
by feudal lords.
Europe at this time there was a rapid growth in trade and
an associated growth in towns, and they would come to be
Europe by the end of the 13th century.
Low Countries had large flourishing towns that grew in comparative
peace, in trade and competition with each other or united for mutual
weal, as in the Hanseatic League. Civic building was of great
importance to these towns as a sign of wealth and pride.
France remained largely feudal and produced grand domestic
architecture for their kings, dukes and bishops, rather than grand
town halls for their burghers. Viollet-le-Duc
contended that the blossoming of the Gothic style came about as a
result of growing freedoms in construction professions.
The geographical expanse of the Gothic style is analogous to that of
the Catholic Church, which prevailed across
Europe at this time and
influenced not only faith but also wealth and power.
appointed by the feudal lords (Kings, Dukes, and other landowners) and
they often ruled as virtual princes over large estates. The early
Medieval periods had seen a rapid growth in monasticism, with several
different orders being prevalent and spreading their influence widely.
Foremost were the
Benedictines whose great abbey churches vastly
outnumbered any others in
France and England. A part of their
influence was that towns developed around them and they became centers
of culture, learning and commerce. The Cluniac and Cistercian Orders
were prevalent in France, the great monastery at
established a formula for a well planned monastic site which was then
to influence all subsequent monastic building for many centuries. In
the 13th century
St. Francis of Assisi
St. Francis of Assisi established the Franciscans, a
mendicant order. The Dominicans, another mendicant order founded
during the same period but by
St. Dominic in
Toulouse and Bologna,
were particularly influential in the building of Italy's Gothic
The primary use of the Gothic style is in religious structures,
naturally leading it to an association with the Church and it is
considered to be one of the most formal and coordinated forms of the
physical church, thought of as being the physical residence of God on
Earth. According to Hans Sedlmayr, it was "even the considered the
temporal image of Paradise, of the New Jerusalem." The horizontal and
vertical scope of the Gothic church, filled with the light thought of
as a symbol of the grace of God admitted into the structure via the
style's iconic windows are among the very best examples of Christian
architecture. Grodecki's Gothic Architecture also notes that the glass
pieces of various colors that make up those windows have been compared
to "precious stones encrusting the walls of the New Jerusalem," and
that "the numerous towers and pinnacles evoke similar structures that
appear in the visions of Saint John." Another idea, held by Georg
Dehio and Erwin Panofsky, is that the designs of Gothic followed the
current theological scholastic thought. The
PBS show NOVA explored
the influence of the Holy
Bible in the dimensions and design of some
The transition from Romanesque to Gothic styles is visible at the
Cathedral in England, where both pointed and round arches are
used in the cathedral's design.
From the 10th to the 13th century,
Romanesque architecture had become
a pan-European style and manner of construction, affecting buildings
in countries as far apart as
Ireland and Croatia, and
Sicily. The same wide geographic area was then affected by the
development of Gothic architecture, but the acceptance of the Gothic
style and methods of construction differed from place to place, as did
the expressions of Gothic taste. The proximity of some regions meant
that modern country borders did not define divisions of style. On the
other hand, some regions such as
Spain produced defining
characteristics rarely seen elsewhere, except where they have been
carried by itinerant craftsmen, or the transfer of bishops.[citation
needed] Many different factors like geographical/geological, economic,
social, or political situations caused the regional differences in the
great abbey churches and cathedrals of the Romanesque period that
would often become even more apparent in the Gothic. For example,
studies of the population statistics reveals disparities such as the
multitude of churches, abbeys, and cathedrals in northern
in more urbanised regions construction activity of a similar scale was
reserved to a few important cities. Such an example comes from Roberto
López, wherein the French city of
Amiens was able to fund its
architectural projects whereas
Cologne could not because of the
economic inequality of the two. This wealth, concentrated in rich
monasteries and noble families, would eventually spread certain
Italian, Catalan, and Hanseatic bankers. This would be amended
when the economic hardships of the 13th century were no longer felt,
allowing Normandy, Tuscany, Flanders, and the southern
enter into competition with France.
The local availability of materials affected both construction and
style. In France, limestone was readily available in several grades,
the very fine white limestone of
Caen being favoured for sculptural
England had coarse limestone and red sandstone as well as
Purbeck marble which was often used for architectural
features. In northern Germany, Netherlands, northern Poland, Denmark,
and the Baltic countries local building stone was unavailable but
there was a strong tradition of building in brick. The resultant
style, Brick Gothic, called Gotyk ceglany in
Poland and Backsteingotik
Germany and Scandinavia. The style is also associated with the
Hanseatic League. In Italy, stone was used for fortifications, so
brick was preferred for other buildings. Because of the extensive and
varied deposits of marble, many buildings were faced in marble, or
were left with undecorated façade so that this might be achieved at a
later date. The availability of timber also influenced the style of
architecture, with timber buildings prevailing in Scandinavia.
Availability of timber affected methods of roof construction across
Europe. It is thought that the magnificent hammerbeam roofs of England
were devised as a direct response to the lack of long straight
seasoned timber by the end of the Medieval period, when forests had
been decimated not only for the construction of vast roofs but also
for ship building.
Possible Eastern influence
Al-Ukhaidir Fortress (completed 775 AD), Iraq
Al-Aqsa Mosque, Jerusalem
Ibn Tulun Mosque (completed 879 AD), Egypt
Delal Bridge, Iraq
Arches at Al-Raqqah, Syria
Monreale Cathedral, Sicily
The Armenian cathedral of Ani, completed in the early 11th century.
The pointed arch, one of the defining attributes of Gothic, was
earlier incorporated into
Islamic architecture following the Islamic
Roman Syria and the
Sassanid Empire in the 7th
century. The pointed arch and its precursors had been employed in
Late Roman and Sassanian architecture; within the Roman context,
evidenced in early church building in
Syria and occasional secular
structures, like the Roman Karamagara Bridge; in Sassanid
architecture, in the parabolic and pointed arches employed in palace
and sacred construction. Use of the pointed arch seems to have
taken off dramatically after its incorporation into Islamic
architecture. It begins to appear throughout the Islamic world in
close succession after its adoption in the late Umayyad or early
Abbasid period. Some examples are the Al-Ukhaidir
Palace (775 AD), the
Abbasid reconstruction of the Al-Aqsa mosque in 780 AD, the Ramlah
Cisterns (789 AD), the
Great Mosque of Samarra
Great Mosque of Samarra (851 AD), and the
Mosque of Ibn Tulun
Mosque of Ibn Tulun (879 AD) in Cairo. It also appears in one of the
early reconstructions of the
Great Mosque of Kairouan
Great Mosque of Kairouan in Tunisia, and
Cathedral of Córdoba in 987 AD.
David Talbot Rice points
out that, "The pointed arch had already been used in Syria, but in the
mosque of Ibn Tulun we have one of the earliest examples of its use on
an extensive scale, some centuries before it was exploited in the West
by the Gothic architects."
Increasing military and cultural contacts with the Muslim world,
including the Norman conquest of Islamic
Sicily in 1090, the Crusades
(beginning 1096), and the Islamic presence in Spain, may have
influenced Medieval Europe's adoption of the pointed arch, although
this hypothesis remains controversial. Certainly, in those
parts of the
Western Mediterranean subject to Islamic control or
influence, rich regional variants arose, fusing Romanesque and later
Gothic traditions with Islamic decorative forms, for example in
Monreale and Cefalù Cathedrals, the Alcázar of Seville, and Teruel
A number of scholars have cited the Armenian
Cathedral of Ani,
completed 1001 or 1010, as a possible influence on the Gothic,
especially due to its use of pointed arches and cluster
piers. However, other scholars such as Sirarpie Der
Nersessian, who rejected this notion as she argued that the pointed
arches did not serve the same function of supporting the vault.
Lucy Der Manuelian contends that some
documented as being in Western
Europe in the Middle Ages) could
have brought the knowledge and technique employed at
Ani to the
The view held by the majority of scholars however is that the pointed
arch evolved naturally in Western
Europe as a structural solution to a
technical problem, with evidence for this being its use as a stylistic
feature in Romanesque French and English churches.
The south western tower at Ely Cathedral, England
The nave vault with pointed transverse arches at Durham Cathedral
The sexpartite ribbed vault at Saint Etienne, Caen
Interior of the
Cathedral of Cefalu.
The Gothic style originated in the Ile-de-
France region of
the Romanesque era in the first half of the 12th century, at the
Cathedral of Sens (1130–62) and
Abbey of St-
Denis (c. 1130–40 and
1140–44), and did not immediately supersede it. An example
of this lack clean break is the blossoming of the Late Romanesque
(German: Spätromanisch) in the
Holy Roman Empire
Holy Roman Empire under the
Rhineland while the Gothic style spread into England
France in the 12th century.
Main article: Romanesque architecture
By the 12th century, Romanesque architecture, termed Norman Gothic in
England, was established throughout
Europe and provided the basic
architectural forms and units that were to remain in evolution
throughout the Medieval period. The important categories of building:
the cathedral, parish church, monastery, castle, palace, great hall,
gatehouse, and civic building had been established in the Romanesque
Many architectural features that are associated with Gothic
architecture had been developed and used by the architects of
Romanesque buildings, but not fully exploited. These include
ribbed vaults, buttresses, clustered columns, ambulatories, wheel
windows, spires, stained glass windows, and richly carved door
tympana. These features, namely the rib vault and the pointed
arch, had been used since the late 11th century in Southern Italy,
Durham, and Picardy.
It was principally the widespread introduction of a single feature,
the pointed arch, which was to bring about the change that separates
Gothic from Romanesque. The technological change permitted a stylistic
change which broke the tradition of massive masonry and solid walls
penetrated by small openings, replacing it with a style where light
appears to triumph over substance. With its use came the development
of many other architectural devices, previously put to the test in
scattered buildings and then called into service to meet the
structural, aesthetic and ideological needs of the new style. These
include the flying buttresses, pinnacles and traceried windows which
typify Gothic ecclesiastical architecture.
Transition from Romanesque to Gothic architecture
Gothic architecture did not emerge from a dying Romanesque tradition,
but from a Romanesque style at the height of its popularity, and it
would supplant it for many years. This shift in style beginning in
the mid 12th century came about in an environment of much intellectual
and political development as the
Catholic Church began to grow into a
very powerful political entity. Another transition made by Gothic
was the move from the rural monasteries of the Romanesque into urban
environments with new Gothic churches built in wealthy cities by
secular clergy knowing full well the growing unity and power of the
Church. The characteristic forms that were to define Gothic
architecture grew out of
Romanesque architecture and developed at
several different geographic locations, as the result of different
influences and structural requirements. While barrel vaults and groin
vaults are typical of Romanesque architecture, ribbed vaults were used
in many later Romanesque churches. The first examples of the ribbed
vault, atop the thick walls of the Romanesque church, appeared at the
same time in Sicily,
England at Durham
1093-before 1110), Winchester,
Peterborough and Gloucester, the choir
and transept of
Duclair and Church of Saint Paul in
Rouen. The geometric ornamentation borne by the moldings of some
of these vaults attests to the want for more decoration, and this
would be answered later by architects working in Ile-de-France,
Valois, and Vexin.
Later French projects from 1125 to 1135 show the lightening up of
vaults contoured in a single or double convex profile and thinner
Notre Dame de Morienval
Notre Dame de Morienval in Valois is one such
example, with vaulting covering trapezoidal around an ambulatory,
lightened supports and vaulting that would be copied at Sens Cathedral
Basilica of Saint-Denis. While Norman architects would
also participate in this development, the Romanesque in the Holy Roman
Lombardy would remain the same with only little
experimentation with vaulting. Two more features of Norman Romanesque,
the wall buttress and the thick "double shell" wall at window height,
were to later play a role in the birth of Gothic architecture. This
double wall, a convenient way to reach the windows, hosted a
passageway of recycled space that first appeared in the transepts of
Bernay and Jumièges
Abbey around 1040-50. This window-level
passageway gave an illusion of weightlessness, inspired Noyon
Cathedral, and would affect the entirety of the Gothic form of
Other characteristics of early Gothic architecture, such as vertical
shafts, clustered columns, compound piers, plate tracery and groups of
narrow openings had evolved during the Romanesque period. The west
front of Ely
Cathedral exemplifies this development. Internally the
three tiered arrangement of arcade, gallery and clerestory was
established. Interiors had become lighter with the insertion of more
and larger windows.
Sicily is an example of social-cultural interaction between
Western, Islamic and Byzantine cultures on the island which gave rise
to new concepts of space, structure and decoration. The new Norman
rulers started to build various constructions in what is called the
Arab-Norman style. They incorporated the best practices of Arab and
Byzantine architecture into their own art. In this period there
are strong relations between Roger II of
Abbot Suger in
All modern historians agree that Suger's St.-
Denis and Henri
Cathedral exemplify the development of Norman
Romanesque architectural features into the Gothic through a new
ordering of interior space, accented by support from supports
freestanding and otherwise, and the shift of emphasis from sheer size
to admittance of light. Later additions or remodeling prevent the
observation of either structure in the time of their construction, the
original plan was nonetheless recreated the plans of each and, as
Francis Salet points out, Sens (the older of the two) still uses a
Romanesque plan with an ambulatory and no transept and echoes with its
supports the old Norman alternations. Its three-story high pointed
arcade, openings above the vaulting, and windows are not derived from
Burgundy, but rather from the triple division present in
England. Even the sexpartite vaulting of Sens's nave is likely of
Norman origin, though the presence of wall ribbing belies Burgundian
influence in design. Sens would, in spite of its archaic Norman
features, exert much influence. From Sens spread the shrinking or
omitting of the transept, the sexpartite vault, alternating interior,
and the three-story elevation of future churches.
The west front at the
Abbey of Saint Denis, with its three deep
The ambulatory at the
Abbey of Saint-Denis
The west front at Noyon Cathedral, showing transitional
The interior of Noyon Cathedral
The beginning of the Gothic style is held by all modern historians to
be in the first half of the 12th century at the
Basilica of St Denis
in the Ile-de-France, the royal domain of the Capetian kings rich
in industry and the wool trade, because of the records he left
during reconstruction of what he desired of this renovation, rather
than the contemporary churches that explore some of the same ideas
used at St. Denis. Suger believed in the spiritual power of light
and colour, following in the philosophy of the 3rd century pagan
Dionysius the Areopagite, whose identity was fused with that of the
patron saint of Paris, and leading him in the end to require large
windows of stained glass.[e] This new church also needed to be larger
than the previous Carolingian building to allow a greater number of
pilgrims to feast inside the church. The solution, Suger found,
was to make unprecedented use of the ribbed vault and the pointed
arch. St. Denis's plan possesses some very irregular shapes in its
bays, prompting its architect to build the arches first so that arches
of different height had keystones at the same height. Next the infill
was added, and this method was proven to both provide more visual
stimulation and speed up construction.
The choir and west front of the
Abbey of Saint-
Denis both became the
prototypes for further building in the royal domain of northern France
and in the Duchy of Normandy. Through the rule of the Angevin dynasty,
the new style was introduced to
England and spread throughout France,
the Low Countries, Germany, Spain, northern
Italy and Sicily.
Compared to Sens Cathedral, St.-
Denis is more complex and innovative.
There is an obvious difference between the enclosing ambulatory around
the choir, dedicated 11 June 1144 in the presence of the King,[f]
and the pre-Suger narthex, or antenave, (1140) that is derived from
pre-Romanesque Ottonian Westwerk, and it shows in the heavily molded
cross-ribbing and multiple projecting colonnettes positioned directly
under the volutes of the rib's archivolts. However, in
iconographical terms, the three portals display, for the first time,
sculpture that is demonstrably no longer Romanesque.
Even as the role of the monastic orders seemed to diminish in the dawn
of the Gothic era, the orders still had their own parts to play in the
spread of the Gothic style, also disproving the common evaluation of
Romanesque as the rural monastic style and Gothic as the urban
ecclesiastical style. Chief among early promoters of this style were
Benedictines in England, France, and Normandy. Gothic churches
that can be associated with them include Durham
Cathedral in England,
Abbey of St Denis, Vézelay Abbey, and
Abbey of Saint-Remi in
France. Later Benedictine projects (constructions and renovations),
made possible by the continued prominence of the Benedictine order
throughout the Middle Ages, include Reims's
Abbey of Saint-Nicaise,
Abbey of Saint-Ouen,
Abbey of St. Robert at La Chaise-Dieu,
and the choir of
Mont Saint-Michel in France; English examples are
Westminster Abbey, and the reconstruction of the Benedictine church at
Canterbury. The Cistercians also had a hand in the spread of the
Gothic style, first utilizing the Romanesque style for their
monasteries since their inception as a reflection of their poverty,
they became the total disseminators of the Gothic style as far east
and south as
Poland and Hungary. Smaller orders, the Carthusians
and Premonstratensians, also built some 200 churches (usually near
cities), but it was the mendicant orders, the
Dominicans, who would most affect the change of art from the
Romanesque to the Gothic in the 13th and 14th centuries. Of the
military orders, the
Knights Templar did not much contribute while the
Teutonic Order spread
Gothic art into Pomerania, East Prussia, and the
Characteristics of the Gothic style
Various elements of
Gothic architecture highlighted in red.
While many secular buildings exist from the Late Middle Ages, it is in
the cathedrals and great churches that
Gothic architecture displays
its pertinent structures and characteristics to the fullest advantage.
19th century art historians and critics, used to the Baroque or
Neoclassical works of the 17th and 18th centuries, were astounded by
the soaring heights of a Gothic cathedral and made note of the extreme
length compared to proportionally modest width and accentuating
clusters of support colonnettes. This emphasis on verticality and
light was applied to an ecclesiastical building was achieved by the
development of certain architectural features of the Gothic style
that, when together, provided inventive solutions to various
engineering problems. As
Eugène Viollet-le-Duc observed, the Gothic
cathedral, almost always laid out in a cruciform shape, was based on a
logical skeleton of clustered columns, pointed ribbed vaults and
flying buttresses arranged in a system of diagonal arches and arches
enclosing the vault field that allows the outward thrust exerted by
the groin vaults to be channeled from the walls and into specific
points on a supporting mass. The result of this curvature in the
vaults and arches of the church was the casting of indeterminable
localised thrust that architects learned to counter with an opposing
thrust in the form of the flying buttress and application of
calculated weight via the pinnacle. This dynamic system of various
constituent elements filling a certain role allowed for the slimming
of previously massive walls or replacement thereof with windows.
Gothic churches were also very ornamented and highly decorated,
serving as a
Poor Man's Bible
Poor Man's Bible and a record of their construction in
the stained glass windows that admit light into the church interior
and some of the gargoyles. These structures, for centuries the
principle landmark in a town, would then often be surmounted by one or
more towers and pinnacles and perhaps tall spires.
Cathedrals and great churches in their cityscapes
Chartres Cathedral, France
Lincoln Cathedral, England
Church of Our Lady, Czech Rep.
Florence Cathedral, Italy[g]
Ogive and Rib vault
Norman blind-arcading at
15th century rib vaulting in St. Olaf's Church, Tallinn.
One of the defining characteristics of
Gothic architecture is the
pointed (or ogival) arch, and it is used in nearly all places a
vaulted shape might be called for structural or decorative
consideration, like doorways, windows, arcades, and galleries. Gothic
vaulting above spaces, regardless of size, is sometimes supported by
richly moulded ribs. The constant use of the pointed arch in Gothic
arches and tracery eventually led to the creation of the now extinct
term "ogival architecture."
The pointed arch is also a characteristic feature of Near Eastern
Sassanian architecture that was adopted in the 7th century
Islamic architecture and appears in structures like the Al-Ukhaidir
Palace (775 AD), the Abbasid reconstruction of the Al-Aqsa mosque in
780 AD, Ramlah Cistern (789 AD), the
Great Mosque of Samarra
Great Mosque of Samarra (851 AD),
Mosque of Ibn Tulun
Mosque of Ibn Tulun (879 AD) in Cairo. It also appears in the
Great Mosque of Kairouan, Mosque–
Cathedral of Córdoba, and several
structures of Norman Sicily. Then, it appeared in some Romanesque
Cathedral of Modena)
Burgundy (Autun Cathedral), later
being mastered by Gothic architects for the cathedrals of Notre-Dame
Paris and Noyon Cathedral. The majority view of scholars
however is the idea that the pointed arch was a simultaneous and
natural evolution in Western
Europe as a solution to the problem of
vaulting spaces of irregular plan, or to bring transverse vaults to
the same height as diagonal vaults, as evidenced by Durham
Cathedral's nave aisles, built in 1093. Pointed arches also occur
extensively in Romanesque decorative blind arcading, where
semi-circular arches overlap each other in a simple decorative pattern
and their points an accident in design. In addition to being able
to its applicability to rectangular or irregular shapes, the pointed
arch channels weight onto the bearing piers or columns at a steep
angle, enabling architects to raise vaults much higher than was
possible in Romanesque architecture. When used with other typical
features of Gothic construction, a system of mutual independence in
dispensing the immense weight of a Gothic cathedral's roof and
Rows of pointed 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
lent 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
The ribbed vault, another key feature of the Gothic style, has a
history just as colorful, having long been adapted for the Roman
Villa of Sette Bassi), Sassanian, Islamic (Abbas I's Mosque at
Isfahan, Mosque of Cristo de la Luz), Romanesque
(L'Hôpital-Saint-Blaise), and then Gothic styles. Until the
height of the Gothic era, few Western rib vaults matched the
complexity of Islamic (mostly Moorish), beginning with experiments in
Armenia and Georgia, from the 10th to the 13th centuries, such as
ribbed domes (
Cathedral and Nikortsminda Cathedral), diagonal
arches on a square field (Ani), and arches perpendicular to walls
(Homoros Vank). However, the function of these vaults is entirely
structural rather than decorative, as in Gothic cathedrals.
However, their indrect method of supporting the vault via its
shoulders has been found at Casale Monferrato, Tour Guinette, and at a
tower at Bayeux Cathedral. One reason for this perhaps is the record
of economic and political exchange between some of western
Armenia, which might explain the similarities between Armenian
architecture and the ribbed vaults at
San Nazzaro Sesia
San Nazzaro Sesia and at Lodi
Lombardy and the
Abbey of Saint Aubin in Angers. Ribbed
vaults saw something of a golden age of development in the
Anglo-Norman period, and led to the establishment of
French Gothic and
outlined many future Gothic solutions to the problem of support with
Central nave of the Milan
Cathedral is 45 m (148 ft) high.
Cologne Cathedral: east end is medieval, west facade with its twin
tracery spires were completed in the
19th century according to the
A characteristic of Gothic church architecture is its height, both
absolute and in proportion to its width, the verticality suggesting an
aspiration to Heaven. A section of the main body of a Gothic church
usually shows the nave as considerably taller than it is wide. In
England the proportion is sometimes greater than 2:1, while the
greatest proportional difference achieved is at
a ratio of 3.6:1. The highest internal vault is at Beauvais Cathedral
at 48 metres (157 ft). The pointed arch, itself a suggestion
of height, is appearance is characteristically further enhanced by
both the architectural features and the decoration of the
Cathedral has the tallest spire in England.
Verticality is emphasised on the exterior in a major way by the towers
and spires, a characteristic of Gothic churches both great and small
varying from church to church, and in a lesser way by strongly
projecting vertical buttresses, by narrow half-columns called attached
shafts which often pass through several storeys of the building, by
long narrow windows, vertical mouldings around doors and figurative
sculpture which emphasises the vertical and is often attenuated. The
roofline, gable ends, buttresses and other parts of the building are
often terminated by small pinnacles, Milan
Cathedral being an extreme
example in the use of this form of decoration. In Italy, the tower, if
present, is almost always detached from the building, as at Florence
Cathedral, and is often from an earlier structure. In
Spain, two towers on the front is the norm. In England,
Scandinavia this is often the arrangement, but an English cathedral
may also be surmounted by an enormous tower at the crossing. Smaller
churches usually have just one tower, but this may also be the case at
larger buildings, such as Salisbury
Ulm Minster in Ulm,
Germany, completed in 1890 and possessing the tallest spire in the
world, slightly exceeding that of Lincoln Cathedral, the tallest
spire that was actually completed during the medieval period, at 160
metres (520 ft).
On the interior of the building attached shafts often sweep unbroken
from floor to ceiling and meet the ribs of the vault, like a tall tree
spreading into branches. The verticals are generally repeated in the
treatment of the windows and wall surfaces. In many Gothic churches,
particularly in France, and in the Perpendicular period of English
Gothic architecture, the treatment of vertical elements in gallery and
window tracery creates a strongly unifying feature that counteracts
the horizontal divisions of the interior structure.
Most large Gothic churches and many smaller parish churches are of the
Latin cross (or "cruciform") plan, with a long nave making the body of
the church, a transverse arm called the transept and, beyond it, an
extension which may be called the choir, chancel or presbytery. There
are several regional variations on this plan.
The nave is generally flanked on either side by aisles, usually
single, but sometimes double. The nave is generally considerably
taller than the aisles, having clerestory windows which light the
central space. Gothic churches of the Germanic tradition, like St.
Stephen of Vienna, often have nave and aisles of similar height and
are called Hallenkirche. In the South of
France there is often a
single wide nave and no aisles, as at Sainte-Marie in
In some churches with double aisles, like Notre Dame, Paris, the
transept does not project beyond the aisles. In English cathedrals
transepts tend to project boldly and there may be two of them, as at
Salisbury Cathedral, though this is not the case with lesser churches.
The eastern arm shows considerable diversity. In
England it is
generally long and may have two distinct sections, both choir and
presbytery. It is often square ended or has a projecting Lady Chapel,
dedicated to the Virgin Mary. In
France the eastern end is often
polygonal and surrounded by a walkway called an ambulatory and
sometimes a ring of chapels called a "chevet." While German churches
are often similar to those of France, in Italy, the eastern projection
beyond the transept is usually just a shallow apsidal chapel
containing the sanctuary, as at
Another very characteristic feature of the Gothic style, domestic and
ecclesiastical alike, is the division of interior space into
individual cells according to the building's ribbing and vaults,
regardless of whether or not the structure actually has a vaulted
ceiling. This system of cells of varying size and shape juxtaposed in
various patterns was again totally unique to antiquity and the Early
Middle Ages and scholars, Frankl included, have emphasised the
mathematical and geometric nature of this design. Frankl in particular
thought of this layout as "creation by division" rather than the
Romanesque's "creation by addition." Others, namely Viollet-le-Duc,
Wilhelm Pinder, and August Schmarsow, instead proposed the term
"articulated architecture." The opposite theory as suggested by
Henri Focillon and
Jean Bony is of "spacial unification", or of the
creation of an interior that is made for sensory overload via the
interaction of many elements and perspectives. Interior and
exterior partitions, often extensively studied, have been found to at
times contain features, such as thoroughfares at window height, that
make the illusion of thickness. Additionally, the piers separating the
isles eventually stopped being part of the walls but rather
independent objects that jut out from the actual aisle wall
Gothic cathedral plans
St. Mary's Church, Lübeck
Light and windows
One of the most ubiquitous elements of
Gothic architecture is the
shrinking of the walls and inserting of large windows. Notables such
as Viollet-le-Duc, Focillon, Aubert, and
Max Dvořák contended that
this is one of the most universal features of the Gothic style. Yet
another departure from the Romanesque style, windows grew in size as
the Gothic style evolved, eventually almost eliminating all the
wall-space as in Paris's Sainte-Chapelle, admitting immense amounts of
light into the church. This expansive interior light has been a
feature of Gothic cathedrals since their inception, and this is
because of the function of space in a Gothic cathedral as a function
of light that is very widely referred to in contemporary text. The
metaphysics of light in the
Middle Ages led to clerical belief in its
divinity and the importance of its display in holy settings. Much of
this belief was based on the writings of Pseudo-Dionysius, a
6th-century mystic whose book, The Celestial Hierarchy, was popular
among monks in France.
Pseudo-Dionysius held that all light, even
light reflected from metals or streamed through windows, was divine.
To promote such faith, the abbot in charge of the Saint-
on the north edge of Paris, the Abbot Suger, encouraged architects
remodeling the building to make the interior as bright as possible.
Rayonnant rose window of Notre-Dame de Paris. Rose windows were
characteristic of Gothic French great churches.
Ever since the remodeled
Basilica of Saint-Denis
Basilica of Saint-Denis opened in 1144,
Gothic architecture has featured expansive windows, such as at Sainte
Chapelle, York Minster,
Gloucester Cathedral. The increase in size
between windows of the Romanesque and Gothic periods is related to the
use of the ribbed vault, and in particular, the pointed ribbed vault
which channeled the weight to a supporting shaft with less outward
thrust than a semicircular vault. Walls did not need to be so
A further development was the flying buttress which arched externally
from the springing of the vault across the roof of the aisle to a
large buttress pier projecting well beyond the line of the external
wall. These piers were often surmounted by a pinnacle or statue,
further adding to the downward weight, and counteracting the outward
thrust of the vault and buttress arch as well as stress from wind
The internal columns of the arcade with their attached shafts, the
ribs of the vault and the flying buttresses, with their associated
vertical buttresses jutting at right-angles to the building, created a
stone skeleton. Between these parts, the walls and the infill of the
vaults could be of lighter construction. Between the narrow
buttresses, the walls could be opened up into large windows.
Through the Gothic period, thanks to the versatility of the pointed
arch, the structure of Gothic windows developed from simple openings
to immensely rich and decorative sculptural designs. The windows were
very often filled with stained glass which added a dimension of colour
to the light within the building, as well as providing a medium for
figurative and narrative art.
Notre Dame de Paris
The façade of a large church or cathedral, often referred to as the
West Front, is generally designed to create a powerful impression on
the approaching worshipper, demonstrating both the might of God and
the might of the institution that it represents. One of the best known
and most typical of such façades is that of Notre Dame de Paris.
Central to the façade is the main portal, often flanked by additional
doors. In the arch of the door, the tympanum, is often a significant
piece of sculpture, most frequently Christ in Majesty and Judgment
Day. If there is a central doorjamb or a trumeau, then it frequently
bears a statue of the Madonna and Child. There may be much other
carving, often of figures in niches set into the mouldings around the
portals, or in sculptural screens extending across the façade.
Above the main portal there is generally a large window, like that at
York Minster, or a group of windows such as those at Ripon Cathedral.
France there is generally a rose window like that at Reims
Cathedral. Rose windows are also often found in the façades of
Spain and Italy, but are rarer elsewhere and are not found
on the façades of any English Cathedrals. The gable is usually richly
decorated with arcading or sculpture or, in the case of Italy, may be
decorated with the rest of the façade, with polychrome marble and
mosaic, as at Orvieto Cathedral.
The West Front of a French cathedral and many English, Spanish and
German cathedrals generally have two towers, which, particularly in
France, express an enormous diversity of form and decoration.
However some German cathedrals have only one tower located in the
middle of the façade (such as
Ripon Cathedral's façade presents a composition of pointed arches
Basic shapes of Gothic arches and stylistic character
The way in which the pointed arch was drafted and utilised developed
throughout the Gothic period. There were fairly clear stages of
development which did not progress at the same rate or in the same way
in every country. Moreover, the names used to define various periods
or styles within
Gothic architecture differs from country to country.
The work of art historians Hans R. Hahnloser and
Robert Branner in
studying manuscripts and architectural drawings showed that the use of
geometric shapes and proportions in squares, circles, semi-circular
shapes, and equilateral triangles, abandoned in the Renaissance, was a
constant effort in the Middle Ages.
Transverse arches, perpendicular to the upper level of the walls and
hidden under gallery roofing, appeared circa 1100 at Durham Cathedral
and at Cérisy-la-Forêt and are thought to have been used to
facilitate roofing and the construction of wall buttressing, as there
was no need to give any further support to already thick Romanesque
walls. Used at the nave of Durham and at Caen's
Saint-Trinité, this practice would also be used by Gothic architects
Abbey and Laon Cathedral. Further application
and refinement of this technique since the 11th century made the
purpose of the transverse clearer, culminating in the late 12th
century as architects used its gallery to buttress the upper echelons
of a church.
The simplest shape is the long opening with a pointed arch known in
England as the lancet. Lancet openings are often grouped, usually as a
cluster of three or five. Lancet openings may be very narrow and
steeply pointed. Lancet arches are typically defined as two-centered
arches whose radii are larger than the arch's span.
Cathedral is famous for the beauty and simplicity of its
Lancet Gothic, known in
England as the Early English Style. York
Minster has a group of lancet windows each fifty feet high and still
containing ancient glass. They are known as the Five Sisters. These
simple undecorated grouped windows are found at Chartres and Laon
Cathedrals and are used extensively in Italy.
Windows in the Chapter House at
York Minster show the equilateral arch
with typical circular motifs in the tracery.
Many Gothic openings are based upon the equilateral form. In other
words, when the arch is drafted, the radius is exactly the width of
the opening and the centre of each arch coincides with the point from
which the opposite arch springs. This makes the arch higher in
relation to its width than a semi-circular arch which is exactly half
as high as it is wide.
The Equilateral Arch gives a wide opening of satisfying proportion
useful for doorways, decorative arcades and large windows.
The structural beauty of the Gothic arch means, however, that no set
proportion had to be rigidly maintained. The Equilateral Arch was
employed as a useful tool, not as a principle of design. This meant
that narrower or wider arches were introduced into a building plan
wherever necessity dictated. In the architecture of some Italian
cities, notably Venice, semi-circular arches are interspersed with
The Equilateral Arch lends itself to filling with tracery of simple
equilateral, circular and semi-circular forms. The type of tracery
that evolved to fill these spaces is known in
England as Geometric
Decorated Gothic and can be seen to splendid effect at many English
and French Cathedrals, notably Lincoln and Notre Dame in Paris.
Windows of complex design and of three or more lights or vertical
sections, are often designed by overlapping two or more equilateral
Flamboyant tracery at Limoges Cathedral.
Flamboyant Arch is one that is drafted from four points, the upper
part of each main arc turning upwards into a smaller arc and meeting
at a sharp, flame-like point. These arches create a rich and lively
effect when used for window tracery and surface decoration. The form
is structurally weak and has very rarely been used for large openings
except when contained within a larger and more stable arch. It is not
employed at all for vaulting.
Some of the most beautiful and famous traceried windows of Europe
employ this type of tracery. It can be seen at St Stephen's in Vienna,
Sainte Chapelle in Paris, at the Cathedrals of Limoges and
England the most famous examples are the West Window of
York Minster with its design based on the Sacred Heart, the
extraordinarily rich nine-light East Window at Carlisle
the exquisite East window of Selby Abbey.
Doorways surmounted by
Flamboyant mouldings are very common in both
ecclesiastical and domestic architecture in France. They are much
rarer in England. A notable example is the doorway to the Chapter Room
at Rochester Cathedral.
The style was much used in
England for wall arcading and niches. Prime
examples in are in the Lady Chapel at Ely, the Screen at Lincoln and
externally on the façade of Exeter Cathedral. In German and Spanish
Gothic architecture it often appears as openwork screens on the
exterior of buildings. The style was used to rich and sometimes
extraordinary effect in both these countries, notably on the famous
The depressed arch supported by fan vaulting at King's College Chapel,
The depressed or four-centred arch is much wider than its height and
gives the visual effect of having been flattened under pressure. Its
structure is achieved by drafting two arcs which rise steeply from
each springing point on a small radius and then turn into two arches
with a wide radius and much lower springing point.
This type of arch, when employed as a window opening, lends itself to
very wide spaces, provided it is adequately supported by many narrow
vertical shafts. These are often further braced by horizontal
transoms. The overall effect produces a grid-like appearance of
regular, delicate, rectangular forms with an emphasis on the
perpendicular. It is also employed as a wall decoration in which
arcade and window openings form part of the whole decorative surface.
The style, known as Perpendicular, that evolved from this treatment is
specific to England, although very similar to contemporary Spanish
style in particular, and was employed to great effect through the 15th
century and first half of the 16th as
Renaissance styles were much
slower to arrive in
England than in
Italy and France.
It can be seen notably at the East End of
the East Window is said to be as large as a tennis court. There are
three very famous royal chapels and one chapel-like
Abbey which show
the style at its most elaborate: King's College Chapel, Cambridge; St
George's Chapel, Windsor;
Henry VII's Chapel
Henry VII's Chapel at Westminster
Bath Abbey. However very many simpler buildings, especially
churches built during the wool boom in East Anglia, are fine examples
of the style.
Symbolism and ornamentation
Cathedral architecture of Western
Europe and Poor Man's
Portal of Chartres Cathedral.
The Gothic cathedral represented the universe in microcosm and each
architectural concept, including the loftiness and huge dimensions of
the structure, were intended to convey a theological message: the
great glory of God. The building becomes a microcosm in two ways.
Firstly, the mathematical and geometrical nature of the construction
is an image of the orderly universe, in which an underlying
rationality and logic can be perceived.
Secondly, the statues, sculptural decoration, stained glass and murals
incorporate the essence of creation in depictions of the Labours of
the Months and the Zodiac[h] and sacred history from the Old and New
Testaments and Lives of the Saints, as well as reference to the
eternal in the
Last Judgment and Coronation of the Virgin.
The Devil tempting the Foolish Virgins at Strasbourg.
The decorative schemes usually incorporated Biblical stories,
emphasizing visual typological allegories between Old Testament
prophecy and the New Testament.
Many churches were very richly decorated, both inside and out.
Sculpture and architectural details were often bright with coloured
paint of which traces remain at the
Cathedral of Chartres. Wooden
ceilings and panelling were usually brightly coloured. Sometimes the
stone columns of the nave were painted, and the panels in decorative
wall arcading contained narratives or figures of saints. These have
rarely remained intact, but may be seen at the Chapterhouse of
Some important Gothic churches could be severely simple such as the
Mary Magdalene in Saint-Maximin, Provence where the local
traditions of the sober, massive,
Romanesque architecture were still
Main article: Architecture of cathedrals and great churches
Amiens Cathedral, France.
Gothic architecture is found, it is subject to local
influences, and frequently the influence of itinerant stonemasons and
artisans, carrying ideas between cities and sometimes between
countries. Certain characteristics are typical of particular regions
and often override the style itself, appearing in buildings hundreds
of years apart.
French Gothic architecture
The distinctive characteristic of French cathedrals, and those in
Belgium that were strongly influenced by French churches,
is their height and their impression of verticality. Each French
cathedral tends to be stylistically unified in appearance when
compared with an English cathedral where there is great diversity in
almost every building. They are compact, with slight or no projection
of the transepts and subsidiary chapels. The west fronts are highly
consistent, having three portals surmounted by a rose window, and two
large towers. Sometimes there are additional towers on the transept
ends. The east end is polygonal with ambulatory and sometimes a
chevette of radiating chapels. In the south of France, many of the
major churches are without transepts and some are without aisles.
Main article: English Gothic architecture
The longitudinal emphasis in the nave of Wells is typically English.
The distinctive characteristic of English cathedrals is their extreme
length, and their internal emphasis upon the horizontal, which may be
emphasised visually as much or more than the vertical lines. Each
English cathedral (with the exception of Salisbury) has an
extraordinary degree of stylistic diversity, when compared with most
French, German and Italian cathedrals. It is not unusual for every
part of the building to have been built in a different century and in
a different style, with no attempt at creating a stylistic unity.
Unlike French cathedrals, English cathedrals sprawl across their
sites, with double transepts projecting strongly and Lady Chapels
tacked on at a later date, such as at Westminster Abbey. In the west
front, the doors are not as significant as in France, the usual
congregational entrance being through a side porch. The West window is
very large and never a rose, which are reserved for the transept
gables. The west front may have two towers like a French Cathedral, or
none. There is nearly always a tower at the crossing and it may be
very large and surmounted by a spire. The distinctive English east end
is square, but it may take a completely different form. Both
internally and externally, the stonework is often richly decorated
with carvings, particularly the capitals.
Germany and Poland
Polish Gothic architecture
Polish Gothic architecture and Czech Gothic
Interior of the
Vladislav Hall at the
Romanesque architecture in Germany,
Poland and the Czech Republic
(earlier called Bohemia) is characterised by its massive and modular
nature. This characteristic is also expressed in the Gothic
architecture of Central
Europe in the huge size of the towers and
spires, often projected, but not always completed.[i] Gothic design in
Germany and Czech lands, generally follows the French formula, but the
towers are much taller and, if complete, are surmounted by enormous
openwork spires that are a regional feature. Because of the size of
the towers, the section of the façade between them may appear narrow
and compressed. The distinctive character of the interior of German
Gothic cathedrals is their breadth and openness. This is the case even
when, as at Cologne, they have been modelled upon a French cathedral.
German and Czech cathedrals, like the French, tend not to have
strongly projecting transepts. There are also many hall churches
(Hallenkirchen) without clerestory windows. In contrast to the
Gothic designs found in western German and Czech areas, which followed
the French patterns,
Brick Gothic was particularly prevalent in Poland
and northern Germany. The Polish gothic architecture is characterised
by its utilitarian nature, with very limited use of sculpture and
heavy exterior design.
Spain and Portugal
Cathedral in Burgos, Spain.
Spanish Gothic architecture
Spanish Gothic architecture and Portuguese Gothic
The distinctive characteristic of Gothic cathedrals of the Iberian
Peninsula is their spatial complexity, with many areas of different
shapes leading from each other. They are comparatively wide, and often
have very tall arcades surmounted by low clerestories, giving a
similar spacious appearance to the Hallenkirche of Germany, as at the
Church of the Batalha
Monastery in Portugal. Many of the cathedrals
are completely surrounded by chapels. Like English cathedrals, each is
often stylistically diverse. This expresses itself both in the
addition of chapels and in the application of decorative details drawn
from different sources. Among the influences on both decoration and
Islamic architecture and, towards the end of the period,
Renaissance details combined with the Gothic in a distinctive manner.
The West front, as at Leon Cathedral, typically resembles a French
west front, but wider in proportion to height and often with greater
diversity of detail and a combination of intricate ornament with broad
plain surfaces. At Burgos
Cathedral there are spires of German style.
The roofline often has pierced parapets with comparatively few
pinnacles. There are often towers and domes of a great variety of
shapes and structural invention rising above the roof.
Catalan Gothic and Valencian Gothic
Cathedral has a wide nave with the clerestory windows
nestled under the vault.
In the territories under the
Crown of Aragon
Crown of Aragon (Aragon, Catalonia,
Roussillon in France, the Balearic Islands, the Valencian Community,
among others in the Italian islands), the Gothic style suppressed the
transept and made the side-aisles almost as high as the main nave,
creating wider spaces, and with few ornaments. There are two different
Gothic styles in the Aragonese lands:
Catalan Gothic and Valencian
Gothic, which are different from those in the
Kingdom of Castile
Kingdom of Castile and
The most important samples of
Catalan Gothic style are the cathedrals
of Girona, Barcelona,
Perpignan and Palma (in Mallorca), the basilica
of Santa Maria del Mar (in Barcelona), the Basílica del Pi (in
Barcelona), and the church of Santa Maria de l'Alba in Manresa.
The most important examples of
Valencian Gothic style in the old
Kingdom of Valencia
Kingdom of Valencia are the
Valencia Cathedral, Llotja de la Seda
(Unesco World Heritage site), Torres de Serranos, Torres de Quart,
Monastery of Sant Jeroni de Cotalba, in Alfauir,
Palace of the Borgias
Monastery of Santa María de la Valldigna,
Santa Maria, in Alicante, Orihuela Cathedral, Castelló
El Fadrí, Segorbe Cathedral, etc.
Main article: Italian Gothic architecture
The clear proportions of
Cathedral are defined by dark stone
against the colour-washed plastered brick.
The distinctive characteristic of Italian Gothic is the use of
polychrome decoration, both externally as marble veneer on the brick
façade and also internally where the arches are often made of
alternating black and white segments, and where the columns may be
painted red, the walls decorated with frescoes and the apse with
mosaic. The plan is usually regular and symmetrical, Italian
cathedrals have few and widely spaced columns. The proportions are
generally mathematically equilibrated, based on the square and the
concept of "armonìa," and except in
Venice where they loved
flamboyant arches, the arches are almost always equilateral. Colours
and moldings define the architectural units rather than blending them.
Italian cathedral façades are often polychrome and may include
mosaics in the lunettes over the doors. The façades have projecting
open porches and occular or wheel windows rather than roses, and do
not usually have a tower. The crossing is usually surmounted by a
dome. There is often a free-standing tower and baptistry. The eastern
end usually has an apse of comparatively low projection. The windows
are not as large as in northern
Europe and, although stained glass
windows are often found, the favourite narrative medium for the
interior is the fresco.
Other Gothic buildings
Gothic secular and domestic architecture
Gothic secular and domestic architecture and Castle
Façade of Doge's
Palace in Venice, Italy.
Synagogues were commonly built in the Gothic style in
the Medieval period. A surviving example is the
Old New Synagogue
Old New Synagogue in
Prague built in the 13th century.
Palais des Papes
Palais des Papes in Avignon is the best complete large royal
palace, alongside the Royal palace of Olite, built during the 13th and
14th centuries for the kings of Navarre. The Malbork
Castle built for
the master of the
Teutonic order is an example of Brick Gothic
architecture. Partial survivals of former royal residences include the
Palace of Venice, the
Palau de la Generalitat
Palau de la Generalitat in Barcelona,
built in the 15th century for the kings of Aragon, or the famous
Conciergerie, former palace of the kings of France, in Paris.
Palau de la Generalitat
Palau de la Generalitat in Barcelona, Spain.
Gothic architecture can also be found in a number of public
buildings such as town halls, universities, markets or hospitals. The
Stralsund town halls are remarkable examples of
Brick Gothic built in the late 14th centuries. The Belfry of
Bruges or Brussels Town Hall, built during the 15th century, are
associated to the increasing wealth and power of the bourgeoisie in
the late Middle Ages; by the 15th century, the traders of the trade
Burgundy had acquired such wealth and influence that they
could afford to express their power by funding lavishly decorated
buildings of vast proportions. This kind of expressions of secular and
economic power are also found in other late mediaeval commercial
cities, including the
Llotja de la Seda
Llotja de la Seda of Valencia, Spain, a purpose
built silk exchange dating from the 15th century, in the partial
remains of Westminster Hall in the Houses of Parliament in London, or
Palazzo Pubblico in Siena, Italy, a 13th-century town hall built
to host the offices of the then prosperous republic of Siena. Other
Italian cities such as
Florence (Palazzo Vecchio),
Mantua or Venice
also host remarkable examples of secular public architecture.
Collegium Maius in Kraków, Poland.
By the late
Middle Ages university towns had grown in wealth and
importance as well, and this was reflected in the buildings of some of
Europe's ancient universities. Particularly remarkable examples still
standing nowadays include the
Collegio di Spagna
Collegio di Spagna in the University of
Bologna, built during the 14th and 15th centuries; the Collegium
Carolinum of the University of
Prague in Bohemia; the Escuelas mayores
University of Salamanca
University of Salamanca in Spain; the chapel of King's College,
Cambridge; or the
Collegium Maius of the
Jagiellonian University in
In addition to monumental secular architecture, examples of the Gothic
style in private buildings can be seen in surviving medieval portions
of cities across Europe, above all the distinctive Venetian Gothic
such as the Ca' d'Oro. The house of the wealthy early 15th century
Jacques Coeur in Bourges, is the classic Gothic bourgeois
mansion, full of the asymmetry and complicated detail beloved of the
Other cities with a concentration of secular Gothic include
Siena. Most surviving small secular buildings are relatively plain and
straightforward; most windows are flat-topped with mullions, with
pointed arches and vaulted ceilings often only found at a few focal
points. The country-houses of the nobility were slow to abandon the
appearance of being a castle, even in parts of Europe, like England,
where defence had ceased to be a real concern. The living and working
parts of many monastic buildings survive, for example at Mont
Exceptional works of
Gothic architecture can also be found on the
Sicily and Cyprus, in the walled cities of
Famagusta. Also, the roofs of the Old Town Hall in
Prague and Znojmo
Tower in the
Czech Republic are an excellent example of late
Gothic survival and revival
Main article: Gothic Revival architecture
Western façade of Westminster Abbey, London, completed in 1745
In 1663 at the Archbishop of Canterbury's residence, Lambeth Palace, a
Gothic hammerbeam roof was built to replace that destroyed when the
building was sacked during the English Civil War. Also in the late
17th century, some discrete Gothic details appeared on new
Oxford University and
Cambridge University, notably on
Tower at Christ Church, Oxford, by Christopher Wren. It is not
easy to decide whether these instances were Gothic survival or early
appearances of Gothic revival.
Ireland was a focus for
Gothic architecture in the 17th and 18th
Cathedral (completed 1633), Sligo
1730), and Down
Cathedral (1790-1818) are notable examples. The term
"Planter's Gothic" has been applied to the most typical of these.
England in the mid-18th century, the Gothic style was more widely
revived, first as a decorative, whimsical alternative to
is still conventionally termed 'Gothick', of which Horace Walpole's
Twickenham villa, Strawberry Hill, is the familiar example.
Tower (Big Ben) (completed in 1859) and the Houses of
Parliament in London
The middle of the
19th century was a period marked by the restoration,
and in some cases modification, of ancient monuments and the
construction of Neo-Gothic edifices such as the nave of Cologne
Cathedral and the Sainte-Clotilde of
Paris as speculation of medieval
architecture turned to technical consideration. London’s
Westminster, St. Pancras railway station, New York’s Trinity Church
and St. Patrick’s
Cathedral are also famous examples of Gothic
Revival buildings. Such style also reached the
Far East in the
period, for instance, the Anglican St. John's
Cathedral which was
located at the centre of Victoria City in Central, Hong Kong.
While some credit for this new ideation can reasonably be assigned to
German and English writers, namely Johannes Vetter, Franz Mertens, and
Robert Willis respectively, this emerging style's champion was Eugène
Viollet-le-Duc, whose lead was taken by archaeologists, historians,
and architects like Jules Quicherat, Auguste Choisy, and Marcel
Aubert. In the last years of the 19th century, a trend among study
in art history emerged in
Germany that a building, as defined by Henri
Focillon was an interpretation of space. When applied to Gothic
cathedrals, historians and architects used to the dimensions of 17th
and 18th Baroque or Neoclassical structures, were astounded by the
height and extreme length of the cathedrals compared to its
proportionally modest width. Goethe, in the preceding century, was
mesmerised by the space within a Gothic church and succeeding
historians like Georg Dehio, Walter Ueberwasser, Paul Frankl, and
Maria Velte sought to rediscover the methodology used in their
construction by making measurements and drawings of the buildings, and
reading and making conjectures from documents and treaties pertaining
to their construction.
In England, partly in response to a philosophy propounded by the
Oxford Movement and others associated with the emerging revival of
'high church' or
Anglo-Catholic ideas during the second quarter of the
19th century, neo-Gothic began to become promoted by influential
establishment figures as the preferred style for ecclesiastical, civic
and institutional architecture. The appeal of this Gothic revival
(which after 1837, in Britain, is sometimes termed Victorian Gothic),
gradually widened to encompass "low church" as well as "high church"
clients. This period of more universal appeal, spanning 1855–1885,
is known in Britain as High Victorian Gothic.
The Houses of Parliament in
London by Sir
Charles Barry with interiors
by a major exponent of the early Gothic Revival, Augustus Welby Pugin,
is an example of the
Gothic revival style from its earlier period in
the second quarter of the 19th century. Examples from the High
Victorian Gothic period include George Gilbert Scott's design for the
Albert Memorial in London, and William Butterfield's chapel at Keble
College, Oxford. From the second half of the
19th century onwards it
became more common in Britain for neo-Gothic to be used in the design
of non-ecclesiastical and non-governmental buildings types. Gothic
details even began to appear in working-class housing schemes
subsidised by philanthropy, though given the expense, less frequently
than in the design of upper and middle-class housing.
Gasson Hall on the campus of
Boston College in Chestnut Hill,
In France, simultaneously, the towering figure of the Gothic Revival
was Eugène Viollet-le-Duc, who outdid historical Gothic constructions
to create a Gothic as it ought to have been, notably at the fortified
Carcassonne in the south of
France and in some richly
fortified keeps for industrial magnates.
Viollet-le-Duc compiled and
coordinated an Encyclopédie médiévale that was a rich repertory his
contemporaries mined for architectural details. He effected vigorous
restoration of crumbling detail of French cathedrals, including the
Abbey of Saint-
Denis and famously at Notre Dame de Paris, where many
of whose most "Gothic" gargoyles are Viollet-le-Duc's. He taught a
generation of reform-Gothic designers and showed how to apply Gothic
style to modern structural materials, especially cast iron.
St. Alexander Nevsky Gothic Chapel (Peterhof), completed in 1834
In Germany, the great cathedral of
Cologne and the
Ulm Minster, left
unfinished for 600 years, were brought to completion, while in Italy,
Cathedral finally received its polychrome Gothic façade. New
churches in the Gothic style were created all over the world,
including Mexico, Argentina, Japan, Thailand, India, Australia, New
Zealand, Hawaii and South Africa.
As in Europe, the United States, Canada,
Australia and New Zealand
utilised Neo-Gothic for the building of universities, a fine example
University of Sydney
University of Sydney by Edmund Blacket. In Canada, the
Canadian Parliament Buildings in
Ottawa designed by Thomas Fuller and
Chilion Jones with its huge centrally placed tower is influenced by
Flemish Gothic buildings.
Although falling out of favour for domestic and civic use, Gothic for
churches and universities continued into the 20th century with
buildings such as Liverpool Cathedral, the
Cathedral of Saint John the
Divine, New York and São Paulo Cathedral, Brazil. The Gothic style
was also applied to iron-framed city skyscrapers such as Cass
Woolworth Building and Raymond Hood's Tribune Tower.
Post-Modernism in the late 20th and early 21st centuries has seen some
revival of Gothic forms in individual buildings, such as the Gare do
Oriente in Lisbon, Portugal and a finishing of the
Cathedral of Our
Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico.
Czech Gothic architecture
English Gothic architecture
French Gothic architecture
Italian Gothic architecture
List of Gothic architecture
Middle Ages in history
Polish Gothic architecture
Portuguese Gothic architecture
Renaissance of the 12th century
Spanish Gothic architecture
Gothic secular and domestic architecture
Architecture of cathedrals and great churches
Gothic Revival architecture
Collegiate Gothic in North America
^ "Gotz" is rendered as "Huns" in Thomas Urquhart's English
^ Grodecki notes that the term, ogive, is "today used to designate not
the pointed arch but a rib that stretches diagonally across a vault."
Note that "today" refers to 1977, the year of publishing for the
edition of Gothic Architecture used in the writing of this article.
^ Componential study has led to some complication as, for example,
Laon Cathedral's façade neglects the pointed arch in favor of the
rounded arch in its façade and would otherwise be excluded from the
Gothic category while some Romanesque churches would be included.
^ Section from "L'art Gothique," translated into English: "
one of the first regions to adopt, during the first half of the 12th
century, the new
Gothic architecture born in France. Historic
relationships between the two countries played a determining role: in
1154, Henry II (1154–1189) became the first of the Anjou Plantagenet
kings to ascend to the throne of England."
^ In addition,
Dionysius the Areopagite
Dionysius the Areopagite was also confused by a 9th
century writer for the early Gaulish Christian martyr and first Bishop
of Paris, Saint Denis.
^ Of this structure, all that remains is the choir.
^ While the engineering and construction of the dome of Florence
Brunelleschi is often cited as one of the first works of
the Renaissance, the octagonal plan, ribs and pointed silhouette were
already determined in the 14th century.
Zodiac comprises a sequence of twelve constellations which
appear overhead in the
Northern Hemisphere at fixed times of year. In
a rural community with neither clock nor calendar, these signs in the
heavens were crucial in knowing when crops were to be planted and
certain rural activities performed.
^ Freiburg, Regensburg, Strasbourg, Vienna, Ulm, Cologne, Antwerp,
^ a b c d e f g Grodecki 1977, p. 9.
^ Vasari 1991, pp. 117, 527.
^ Vasari, Brown & Maclehose 1907, pp. b. & 83.
^ Notes and Queries, No. 9. 29 December 1849
^ Fiske 1943, p. 66.
^ a b c d Grodecki 1977, p. 11.
^ Mitchell 1968, p. 9.
^ Grodecki 1977, p. 20, 24.
^ a b c d Grodecki 1977, p. 24.
^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u Banister Fletcher, A
History of Architecture on the Comparative Method.
^ a b c d e f John Harvey, The Gothic World
^ a b Grodecki 1977, p. 20.
^ Tiffany, Scott; Tinworth, Rob; Barako, Tristian (19 October 2010).
"Building the Great Cathedrals". Nova. PBS.
^ Grodecki 1977, p. 25-26.
^ Grodecki 1977, p. 25.
^ a b Grodecki 1977, p. 26.
^ a b c d e f g h i Alec Clifton-Taylor, The Cathedrals of England
^ Warren, John (1991). "Creswell's Use of the Theory of Dating by the
Acuteness of the Pointed Arches in Early Muslim Architecture".
Muqarnas. BRILL. 8: 59–65 (61–63). doi:10.2307/1523154.
^ Petersen, Andrew (2002-03-11). Dictionary of Islamic Architecture at
pp. 295-296. Routledge. ISBN 978-0-203-20387-3. Retrieved
^ Rice, David T. (1979). Islamic Art. Thames & Hudson. p. 45.
^ a b c Scott 2003, p. 113.
^ Bony 1983, p. 17.
^ Harvey, L. P. (1992). "Islamic Spain, 1250 to 1500." Chicago :
University of Chicago Press. ISBN 0-226-31960-1; Boswell, John
(1978). Royal Treasure: Muslim Communities Under the Crown of Aragon
in the Fourteenth Century. Yale University Press.
^ Lang 1980, p. 223: "With this experience behind him, it is not
surprising that Trdat's creation of the
Ani turned out to
be a masterpiece. Even without its dome, the cathedral amazes the
onlooker. Technically, it is far ahead of the contemporary Anglo-Saxon
Norman architecture of Europe. Already, pointed arches and
clustered piers, whose appearance together is considered one of the
hallmarks of mature Gothic architecture, are found in this remote
corner of the Christian East."
^ Kite, Stephen (September 2003). "'South Opposed to East and North':
Adrian Stokes and Josef Strzygowski. A study in the aesthetics and
historiography of Orientalism". Art History. 26 (4): 519. To Near
Eastern scholars the Armenian cathedral at
Ani (989–1001), designed
by Trdat (972–1036), seemed to anticipate Gothic.
^ Stewart 1959, p. 80: "The most important examples of Armenian
architecture are to be found at Ani, the capital, and the most
important of these is the cathedral. [...] The most interesting
features of this building are its pointed arches and vaults and the
clustering or coupling of the columns in the Gothic manner."
^ Talbot Rice 1972, p. 179: "The interior of
Ani cathedral, a
longitudinal stone building with pointed vaults and a central dome,
built about 1001, is astonishingly Gothic in every detail, and
numerous other equally close parallels could be cited."
^ Garsoïan 2015, p. 300.
^ a b Grodecki 1977, p. 37.
^ Der Manuelian 2001, p. 7.
^ a b c Raeburn 1980, p. 102.
^ a b c Grodecki 1977, p. 36.
^ Ross, David. "Gothic Architecture in England". Britainexpress.com.
^ a b c Raeburn 1980, p. 104.
^ a b c d e Nikolaus Pevsner, An Outline of European Architecture.
^ Raeburn 1980, pp. 102-03.
^ a b Raeburn 1980, p. 103.
^ Grodecki 1977, pp. 37, 39.
^ a b c Grodecki 1977, p. 39.
^ ”Le genie architectural des Normands a su s’adapter aux lieux en
prenant ce qu’il y a de meilleur dans le savoir-faire des batisseurs
arabes et byzantins”, Les Normands en Sicile, p.14
^ a b c d Grodecki 1977, p. 41.
^ Mitchell 1968, p. 11.
^ a b Raeburn 1980, pp. 103-04.
^ "Hieromartyr Dionysius of Paris, Bishop". oca.org. Retrieved
^ Grodecki 1977, pp. 41, 43.
^ Grodecki 1977, p. 28.
^ Grodecki 1977, pp. 29-30.
^ Grodecki 1977, p. 30.
^ a b Grodecki 1977, p. 13.
^ a b c d e f g Wim Swaan, The Gothic Cathedral
^ a b "Architectural Importance". Durham World Heritage Site.
^ Grodecki 1977, pp. 36-37.
^ Grodecki 1977, p. 37: "Once the relationship of the roofing and the
division of interior space, as well as the attendant considerations of
articulation and lighting, were fully established and developed,
Gothic architecture was born."
^ Oggins, R.O. (2000). "Cathedrals". Metrobooks. Friedman/Fairfax
Publishers. Retrieved 6 October 2010.
^ "A Brief History of the World's Tallest Buildings". Time
^ a b c Grodecki 1977, p. 14.
^ Grodecki 1977, pp. 14, 17.
^ Grodecki 1977, p. 17.
^ Ching 2012, p. 6.
^ Begun in 1443. "House of Jacques Cœur at
Bourges (Begun 1443),
aerial sketch". Liam’s Pictures from Old Books. Retrieved 29
^ -Bob Hunter "Londonderry Cathedtral". BBC.
^ "Gothic Architecture and Churches Architectural Digest".
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Wikimedia Commons has media related to Gothic architecture.
Wikivoyage has a travel guide for Gothic architecture.
Wikisource has the text of the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica article
Mapping Gothic France, a project by Columbia University and Vassar
College with a database of images, 360° panoramas, texts, charts and
Gothic Architecture Encyclopædia Britannica
Holbeche Bloxam, Matthew (1841). Gothic
Elucidated by Question and Answer. Gutenberg.org, from Project
Brandon, Raphael; Brandon, Arthur (1849). An analysis of Gothick
architecture: illustrated by a series of upwards of seven hundred
examples of doorways, windows, etc., and accompanied with remarks on
the several details of an ecclesiastical edifice. Archive.org,
from Internet Archive
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