The term Gothic was first used during the later Renaissance, and as a term of contempt. Says Vasari, "Then arose new architects who after the manner of their barbarous nations erected buildings in that style which we call Gothic", while Evelyn but expresses the mental attitude of his own time when he writes, "The ancient Greek and Roman architecture answered all the perfections required in a faultless and accomplished building" -- but the Goths and Vandals destroyed these and "introduced in their stead a certain fantastical and licentious manner of building: congestions of heavy, dark, melancholy, monkish piles, without any just proportion, use or beauty." For the first time, an attempt was made to destroy an instinctive and, so far as Europe was concerned, an almost universal form of art, and to substitute in its place another built up by artificial rules and premeditated theories; it was necessary, therefore, that the ground should be cleared of a once luxuriant growth that still showed signs of vitality, and to effect this the schools of Vignola, Palladio, and Wren were compelled to throw scorn on the art they were determined to discredit. As ignorant of the true habitat of the style as they were of its nature, the Italians of the Renaissance called it the "maniera Tedesca", and since to them the word Goth implied the perfection of barbarism, it is but natural that they should have applied it to a style they desired to destroy. The style ceased, for the particular type of civilization it expressed had come to an end; but the name remained, and when, early in the nineteenth century, the beginnings of a new epoch brought new apologists, the old title was taken over as the only one available, and since then constant efforts have been made to define it more exactly, to give it a new significance, or to substitute in its place a term more expressive of the idea to be conveyed.
The word itself, in its present application, is repugnant to any sense of exact thought; ethnically, the art so described is immediately Franco-Norman in its origins, and between the Arian Goths, on the one hand, and the Catholic Franks and Normans. on the other, lies a racial, religious, and chronological gulf. With the conquest of Italy and Sicily by Justinian (535-553) "the race and name of Ostrogoths perished for ever" (Bryce, "The Holy Roman Empire", III, 29) five centuries before the beginnings of the art that bears their name. Modern scholarship seeks deeper even than racial tendencies for the root impulses of art in any of its forms, and apart from the desirable correction of an historical anachronism it is felt that medieval art (of which Gothic architecture is but one category ), since it owes its existence to influences and tendencies stronger than those of blood, demands a name that shall be exact and significant, and indicative of the more just estimation in which it now is held.
But little success has followed any of the attempts at definition. The effort has produced such varying results as the epithets of Vasari and Evelyn, the nebulous or sentimental paraphrases of the early nineteenth century romanticists, the narrow archeological definitions of De Caumont, and the rigid formalities of the more learned logicians and structural specialists, such as MM. Viollet le Duc, Anthyme St-Paul, and Enlart, and Professor Moore. The only scientific attempt is that of which the first was the originator, the last the most scholarly and exact exponent. Concisely stated, the contention of this school is thatthe whole scheme of the building is determined by, and its whole strength is made to reside in a finely organized and frankly confessed framework rather than in walls. This framework, made up of piers, arches and buttresses, is freed from every unnecessary incumbrance of wall and is rendered as light in all its parts as is compatible with strength -- the stability of the building depending not upon inert massiveness, except in the outermost abutment of active parts whose opposing forces neutralize each other and produce a perfect equilibrium. It is thus a system of balanced thrusts in contradistinction to the ancient system of inert stability. Gothic architecture is such a system carried out in a finely artistic spirit (Charles H. Moore, "Development and Character of Gothic Architecture", I, 8).
This is an admirable statement of the fundamental structural element in Gothic architecture, but, carried away by enthusiasm for the crowning achievement of the human intellect in the domain of construction, those who have most clearly demonstrated its pre- eminence have usually fallen into the error of declaring this one quality to be the touchstone of Gothic architecture, minimizing the importance of all æsthetic considerations, and so denying the name of Gothic to everything where the system of balanced thrusts, ribbed vaulting, and concentrated loads did not consistently appear. Even Professor Moore himself says, "Wherever a framework maintained on the principle of thrust and counter-thrust is wanting, we have not Gothic" (Moore, op. cit., I, 8). The result is that all the medieval architects of Western Europe, with the exception of that produced during the space of a century and a half, and chiefly within the limits of the old Royal Domain of France, is denied the title of Gothic. Of the whole body of English architecture produced between 1066 and 1528 it is said, "The English claim to any share in the original development of Gothic, or to the consideration of the pointed architecture of the Island as properly Gothic at all, must be abandoned" (Moore, op. cit., Preface to first ed., 8), and the same is said of the contemporary architecture of Germany, Italy, and Spain. Logically applied this rule would exclude also all the timber-roofed churches and the civil and military structures erected in France contemporaneously with the cathedrals and (though this point is not pressed) even the west fronts of such admittedly Gothic edifices as the cathedrals of Paris, Amiens, and Reims. As one commentator on Gothic architecture has said, "A definition so restricted carries with it its own condemnations" (Francis Bond, "Gothic Architecture in England ", I, 10).
A still greater argument against the acceptance of this structural definition lies in the fact that while, as Professor Moore declares, "the Gothic monument, thought wonderful as a structural organism, is even more wonderful as a work of art" (op. cit., V, 190), this great artistic element, which for more than three centuries was predominant throughout the greater part of Western Europe, existed quite independently of the supreme structural system, and varies only in minor details of racial bias and of presentation, whether it is found in France or Normandy, Spain or Italy, Germany, Flanders, or Great Britain -- this, which is in itself the manifestation of the underlying impulses and the actual accomplishments of the era it connotes, is treated as an accessory to a structural evolution, and is left without a name except the perfunctory title of "Pointed", which is even less descriptive than the word Gothic itself.
The structural definition has failed of general acceptance, for the temper of the time is increasingly impatient of materialistic definitions, and there is a demand for broader interpretations that shall take cognizance of underlying impulses rather than of material manifestations. The fact is recognized that around and beyond the structural aspects of Gothic architecture lie other qualities of equal importance and greater comprehensiveness, and, if the word is still to be used in the general sense in which it always has been employed, viz., as denoting the definite architectural expression of certain peoples acting under definite impulses and within definite limitations of time, a completely evolved structural principle cannot be used as the sole test of orthodoxy, if it excludes the great body of work executed within that period, and which in all other respects has complete uniformity and a consistent significance.
It may be said of Gothic architecture that it is an impulse and a tendency rather than a perfectly rounded accomplishment; aesthetically, it never achieved perfection in any given monument, or group of monuments, nor were its possibilities ever fully worked out except in the category of structural science. Here alone, finality was achieved by the cathedral -builders of the Ile-de-France, but this fact cannot give to their work exclusive claim to the name of Gothic. The art of any given time is the expression of certain racial qualifications modified by inheritance, tradition, and environment, and working themselves out under the control of religious and secular impulses. When these elements are sound and vital, combined in the right proportions, and operating for a sufficient length of time, the result is a definite style in some one or more of the arts. Such a style is Gothic architecture, and it is to this style, regarded in its most inclusive aspect, that the term Gothic is applied by general consent, and in this sense the word is used here.
Gothic architecture and Gothic art are the æsthetic expression of that epoch of European history when paganism had been extinguished, the traditions of classical civilization destroyed, the hordes of barbarian invaders beaten back, or Christianized and assimilated; and when the Catholic Church had established itself not only as the sole spiritual power, supreme and almost unquestioned in authority, but also as the arbiter of the destinies of sovereigns and of peoples. During the first five centuries of the Christian Era the Church had been fighting for life, first against a dying imperialism, then against barbarian invasions. The removal of the temporal authority to Constantinople had continued the traditions of civilization where Greek, Roman, and Asiatic elements were fused in a curious alembic one result of which was an architectural style that later, and modified by many peoples, was to serve as the foundation-stone of the Catholic architecture of the West. Here, in the meantime, the condition had become one of complete chaos, but the end of the Dark Ages was at hand, and during the entire period of the sixth century events were occurring which could only have issue in the redemption of the West. The part played in the development of this new civilization by the Order of St. Benedict and by Pope St. Gregory the Great cannot be over estimated: through the former the Catholic Faith became a more living and personal attribute of the people, and began as well to force its way across the frontiers of barbarism, while by its means the long-lost ideals of law and order were in a measure re-established. As for St. Gregory the Great , he may almost be considered the foundation-stone of the new epoch. The redemption of Europe was completed during the four centuries following his death, and largely at the hands of the monks of Cluny and Pope St. Gregory VII (1073-1085), who freed the Church from secular dominion. With the twelfth century were to come the Cistercian reformation, the revivifying and purification of the episcopate and the secular clergy by the canons regular, the development of the great schools founded in the preceding century, the communes, the military orders, and the Crusades ; while the thirteenth century, with the aid of Pope Innocent III, Philip Augustus, St. Louis, and the Franciscans and Dominicans, was to raise to the highest point of achievement the spiritual and material potentialities developed in the immediate past.
This is the epoch of Gothic architecture. As we analyse the agencies that together were to make possible a civilization that could blossom only in some pre-eminent art, we find that they fall into certain definite categories. Ethnically the northern blood of the Lombards, Franks, and Norsemen was to furnish the physical vitality of the new epoch. Political the Holy Roman Empire, the Capetian sovereigns of the Franks, and the Dukes of Normandy were to restore that sense of nationality without which creative civilization is impossible, while the papacy, working through the irresistible influence of the monastic orders gave the underlying impulse. Normandy in the eleventh century was simply Cluny in action, and during this period the structural elements in Gothic architecture were brought into being. The twelfth century was that of the Cistercians, Carthusians, and Augustinians, the former infusing into all Europe a religious enthusiasm that clamoured for artistic expression, while by their antagonism to the over-rich art of the elder Benedictines, they turned attention from decoration to plan and form, and construction. The Cluniac and the Cistercian reforms through their own members and the other orders which they brought into being were the mobile and efficient arm of a reforming papacy, and from the day on which St. Benedict promulgated his rule, they became a visible manifestation of law and order. With the thirteenth century, the episcopate and the secular clergy joined in the labour of adequately expressing a united and unquestioned religious faith, and we may say, therefore, that the civilization of the Middle Ages was what the Catholic Faith organized and invincible had made it. We may, therefore, with good reason, substitute for the undescriptive title "Gothic" the name "The Catholic Style" as being exact and reasonably inclusive.
The beginnings of the art that signalized the triumph of Catholic Christianity are to be found in Normandy. Certain elements may be traced back to the Carolingian builders, the Lombards in Italy and the Copts and Syrians of the fourth century, and so to the Greeks of Byzantium. They are but elements however, germs that did not develop until infused with the red blood of the Norsemen and quickened by the spirit of the Cluniac reform. The style developed in Normandy during the eleventh century contained the major part of these elemental norms, which were to be still further fused and co-ordinated by the Franks, raised to final perfection, and transfigured by a spirit which was that of the entire medieval world. Marvellous as was this achievement, that of the Normans was even more remarkable, for in the style they handed on to the Franks was inherent every essential potentiality. At this moment Normandy was the focus of northern vitality and almost, for the moment, the religious centre of Europe. The founding of monasteries was very like a mania and the result a remarkable revival of learning; the Abbeys of Bec, Fécamps, and Jumièges became famous throughout all Europe, drawing to themselves students from every part of the continent; even Cluny herself had in this to take second place. It was a very vigorous and a very widespread civilization, and architectural expression became imperative. Convinced that
she was playing a part and a leading part in the civilization of Europe. . . Normandy perceived and imitated the architectural progress of nations even far removed from her own borders. At this time there was no other country in Europe that for architectural attainment could compare with Lombardy. Therefore it was to Lombardy that the Normans turned for inspiration for their own buildings. They adopted what was vital in the Lombard style, combined this with what they had already learned from their French neighbours, and added besides a large element of their own national character (Arthur Kingsley Porter, "Mediaeval Architecture", VI, 243, 244).
What are these elements which were borrowed from the Lombards and the Franks, and which were to form the foundations of Gothic architecture? They are, from the former:
- the compound pier and archivolt,
- the alternate system, and
- the ribbed and domed vault.
- the modified basilican plan with its triple aisles crossed by a projecting transept, and its three apses. This, the basis of the typical Norman and Gothic plan, was derived directly from the Church of the Nativity at Bethlehem, the date of which is unknown. It may have been built by Constantine, or by Justinian, or at any date between. In any case it is not earlier than A.D. 300, nor later than 550;
- the doubled western towers,
- the lantern or central tower over the crossing, and
- the threefold interior system of arcade, triforium, and clerestory.
The actual steps in the development of what may be called the Gothic order, from the primitive basilica to the full perfection of Chartres, fortunately exist, and we may trace the progress year by year and at the hands of diverse peoples. By the beginning of the tenth century, the available supply of ancient columns having become exhausted, square piers built up of small stones had everywhere taken the place of circular monolithic shafts, but the old basilican system remained intact (except in the polygonal, Carolingian churches), arcades supporting roof-bearing walls pierced by narrow windows, and an enclosing wall independent in its construction and forming aisles covered by lean-to roofs of wood. In Sant' Eustorgio at Milan (c. 900) we find evidences that transverse arches were thrown from each pier of the arcade to the aisle wall, so necessitating the addition of a flat pilaster to each pier to take the spring of the arch. These arches may have been evolved for the purpose of strengthening the fabric, or for ornamental reasons, or in imitation of similar arches in the Carolingian domical churches; but whatever their source the fact remains that they form the first structural step towards the evolution of the Gothic system of construction. Next, transverse arches were thrown across the nave, the first recorded example being the church of SS. Felice e Fortunato at Vicenza, dated 985. Neither for structural nor æsthetic reasons was it necessary that these nave arches should spring from every pier, so every alternate pier was chosen, the intermediate transverse aisle arch being suppressed and the pier, that no longer had a lateral arch to support, reduced in size. To support the great nave arches, pilasters were of course attached to the nave face of the pier, and these, as well as the aisle pilasters, were made semicircular in plan. If we assume, as we may, that in other examples all the transverse arches of the aisle were retained, while only each alternate pier bore a nave arch, we shall have a plan made up of compound piers supporting longitudinal and transverse wall-bearing arches that divide the entire area into squares, large and small, the great square often being four times the area of each aisle square.
The next step for a people on the highway of progress would be the vaulting, in masonry, of these squares, for the wooden roofs were inflammable; moreover the Carolingian builders had constantly so vaulted their smaller square roof areas. The process began at once, and of course with the aisle squares, where the structural problem was simplest. The date is not recorded; no early examples remain in Lombardy, but in Normandy we find, about 1050, churches which possess aisles covered by square, groined vaults, with the transverse arches showing. The next step was of course the vaulting of the great squares of the nave, but before this was attempted the rib vault was devised, and the task rendered structurally more simple. The old transverse aisle arches had given the hint; where an aisle so spanned was to be vaulted, the arches already in place formed a very convenient shelf on which some of the vault stones might rest, and, by so much, a portion of the temporary centering might be dispensed with. Intelligence could not fail to suggest that an expedient useful in the case of the transverse arch might be equally useful in that of the diagonals, which were far more difficult of construction, as well the most liable to give way in the case of ribless, groined vaults. When did this era-making invention take place, and at the hands of what people? Where, we shall probably never know, nor yet the exact date ; but it could not have been earlier than 1025, nor later than 1075. San Flaviano at Montefiascone, authentically dated 1032, has aisles with rib vaults which are original and, if so, are the earliest on record, while the nave vault of Sant' Ambrogio at Milan (c.1060) is of fully developed rib construction. "The most rent authorities (such as Venturi, Storia dell' Arte Italiana, 1903, who cites Stiehl, 1898) accept the view hat the vaults are of foreign fashion derived from Burgundy, and were about contemporaneous with the campanile  . . . . It seems that on the evidence we are compelled to suppose that Sant' Ambrogio derived its scheme of construction from Normandy. It may be that the origin of the vault is to be sought for even in England ; but there are many reasons for thinking that the seed idea, like so many others, came from the East." (W. R. Lethaby, "Mediaeval Art", IV, 100-111.)
In all probability the Lombards are the originators of this device so pregnant of future possibilities. The new vault, groined, ribbed, and domed, was in a class by itself, apart from anything that had gone before. Particularly did it differ from the Roman vault in that, while the latter had a level crown, obtained by using semicircular lateral and transverse arches and elliptical groin arches (naturally formed by the intersection of two semicircular barrel vaults of equal radius), the "Lombard" vault was constructed with semicircular diagonals, the result being that domical form which was always retained by the Gothic builders of France because of its intrinsic beauty. Finally, the new diagonals suggested new vertical supports in the angles of the pier, and so we obtain the fully developed compound pier, which later, at the hands of the English, was to be carried to such extremes of beauty, and to form a potent factor in the development of the Gothic structural system.
The last step in the working-out of the Gothic vaulting plan remained to be taken - the substitution of oblong for square vaulting areas. This was finally accomplished in the Ile-de-France after various Norman experiments, the evidences of which remain in the vaults of St-Georges de Bocherville and the two great abbeys of Caen. The sexpartite vaulting of the latter, together with that of the five other similarly vaulted Norman churches and of the choir of St-Denis at Paris, has always been an architectural puzzle, since it is manifestly a stage in the development of the oblong quadripartite vault, and yet is found in these cases some years after the latter system is known to have been fully understood in France, and nearly three-quarters of a century later than the vault of Sant' Ambrogio. There is reason to suppose that it is a revival of some of the earlier experiments in the development of the large, oblong, high vault from the small, square, aisle vault. It is conceivable that sexpartite vaults may once have existed in Lombardy and before the quadripartite vault was evolved; this would explain the persistence in Sant' Ambrogio of the vaulting shafts on the intermediate piers, for which no apparent reason exists. The vault of the Abbaye aux Dames may be considered either as a ribbed quadripartite vault of square plan, bisected and strengthened by a transverse arch with solid spandrels, or as a series of transverse arches, one on each pair of nave piers, with the roof spaces filled in by curved surfaces of stone supported on diagonal ribs meeting on the crown of each alternate transverse arch. In the first case would be indicated a fear to trust the stability of so large a quadripartite vault, until experiment proved its efficiency; in the second, a stage in the evolution of the great Sant' Ambrogio vault, all local evidence of which has been lost. The vault of the Abbaye aux Hommes is one more stage in the development; here the vault spaces are curved both from the transverse arch and from the intermediate arch, which so becomes, not an arch -- as in the Abbaye aux Dames -- but a true vaulting rib. The result is a very strong vaulting system, particularly effective in its light and shade and its line composition, and it does not seem surprising that the Norman builders should have reverted to it from time to time, or that Abbot Suger himself should have borrowed it for his fine new abbey, choosing it for its strength or its beauty in place of the simpler and more open quadripartite vault.
In the meantime the second great structural problem, that of the abutment of the vault thrusts, had been solved by the Normans. In Roman construction the thrust of barrel vaults had been neutralized by walls of great thickness, that of groin vaults either by the same clumsy expedient or by transverse walls; when the Lombards first threw their transverse arches across narrow aisles, they added shallow exterior pilaster-strips at the point of contact, rather it would seem for decorative than for structural reasons, as the walls already were strong enough to take the slight thrust of the small arches. With the vaulting of the nave the problem became serious; in Sant' Ambrogio they dared not raise the spring of the high vault above the triforium floor, and the thrust of the vault was taken by two massive arches spanning the aisles, one below this floor, the other above, the latter being hidden under the wide, sloping roof of the nave which was continued unbroken to the aisle walls. This was, of course, but the transverse wall of the Romans, pierced by arched openings; the result was unbeautiful, and the task fell to the Normans of devising a better and more scientific method. At their hands the Lombard pilaster-strip became at once a functional buttress instead of a decorative adjunct, while the successive steps in the evolution of the flying buttress remain on record and are peculiarly interesting. In the Abbaye aux Hommes,
the expedient was adopted of constructing half-barrel vaults springing from the aisle walls and abutting against the vaults of the nave beneath the lean-to roof. These were in reality concealed flying buttresses , but they were flying buttresses of bad form; for only a small part of their action met the concentrated action of the vaults that they were designed to stay, the greater part of it operating against the walls between the piers where no abutments were required (Moore, op. cit., I, 12, 13).
In the Abbaye aux Dames these defects were remedied, for all the barrel vault was cut away except that narrow part which abutted against, the spring of the vault. The flying buttress had been invented. As yet it was hidden under the triforium roof and did not declare itself to the eye. but functionally it was complete.
The fruit of the Cluniac reform working on Norman blood had been the evolution of the main lines of the Gothic plan (barring the eastern termination, or chevet) together with the development of the Gothic system of vaulting and the Gothic principle of concentrated thrusts met by pier buttresses and flying buttresses. The true "Gothic system" is therefore the product of Normandy. In the meantime what had been done towards the working-out of the other half of the Gothic idea -- the discovering anew of the underlying principles of pure beauty, their analysis into the elements of form and composition, proportion, relation and rhythm, line and colour, and chiaroscuro and finally what had been accomplished in the direction of evolving that new quality of form-expression which, differing as it does from any school of the past, gives to Gothic art its peculiar personality ? -- Nothing, so far as Normandy is concerned, except as regards certain large architectonic qualities first revealed in Jumièges, and, following this, in the Abbeys of Caen and St-Georges de Bocherville. The Abbaye aux Hommes is the norm of all French cathedrals ; the Abbaye aux Dames, of the English order; while Jumièges, the first in date, remains one of the most astonishing buildings in history. If it had antecedents, if it came as the culmination of a long and progressive series of experiments in the development of architectonic form, the evidence is forever lost, for, as it now stands, it is isolated, almost preternatural. So far as we know, it had no precursors, and yet here are the majestical ruins of a monastic church larger than any since the time of Constantine and far in advance, so far as design and development are concerned, of any contemporary structure. Montier en Der, an abbey of Haute-Marne, built by Abbots Adso and Bérenger (960, 998), is the only recorded structure which bears the least kinship to Jumièges, and the difference between the two separated by only fifty years -- is that between barbarism and civilization. All that was good in Lombard architecture has been assimilated, and in addition we find fixed for the whole Gothic period those lofty and monumental proportions, that masterly setting out of plan, the powerful grouping of lofty towers, the final organism of arcaded triforium, and clerestory that together were to set the type of Gothic architecture for its entire term and endure unchanged, though infinitely perfected, so long as the Christian civilization of the Middle Ages remained operative. After Jumièges the abbeys of Caen were easy, and, given a continuation of cultural conditions, Amiens and Lincoln inevitable.
During the latter half of the eleventh century these cultural conditions ceased in Normandy. After the death of William the Conqueror the duchy fell on evil times, and the working out to its logical and supreme conclusion of the great style fell into other hands, viz., those of the French of the old Royal Domain and of the transplanted Normans in England. In France the eleventh century had been marked by royal inefficiency, unchecked feudal tyranny, episcopal insubordination to papal control, indifference to the Cluniac reform, and general anarchy. By the middle of the century Cluny had done its immediate work and had begun to lapse from its lofty ideals, but others were to take its place and do its work, and in 1075 St. Robert of Molesme founded in Burgundy the first house of that Cistercian Order which was to play in the twelfth century the part that Cluny had played in the eleventh. The preliminary fight that was to clear the ground in France began with the Council of Reims called by Pope Leo IX (1049-1054), when the sovereign pontiff and the monastic orders made common cause against the simony, secularism, and independence of the French episcopate. The contest was carried on simultaneously with the even greater fight against the empire, and, as there, the victory remained with the papacy. With the close of the eleventh century conditions in France had become such that the torch that fell from the hands of the decadent Norman could be caught by the crescent Frank and carried on without a pause.
During the first half of the twelfth century the outburst of architectural vigour in the Ile-de-France is very remarkable. Soissons, Amiens, and Beauvais became simultaneously centres of activity, and the rib vault makes its appearance at the same time in many places.
During the first phase of the transition, 1100-40, the builders struggled to master the rib vault in its simpler problems: they learned to construct it on square and on oblong plans and even over the awkward curves of ambulatory aisles, but their experiments were always on a small scale. During the second phase (1140-80) the problem of vaulting great naves was attacked; the evolution centres in the peculiar development which the genius of the French builders gave to the concealed flying buttress and to the sexpartite vault, both borrowed from Normandy (Porter, op. cit., II, 54).
The semicircular ambulatory of Morienval (c. 1122), with its vaulting supported on ribs curved in plan, and the church of St-Etienne at Beauvais (c. 1130), of which Professor Moore says that with the exception of St-Louis of Poissy it is "the only Romanesque structure extant on the soil of France that was unmistakably designed for ribbed, groined vaulting over both nave and aisles ", are valuable landmarks in the development. The second task of the French builders was simplified by the introduction of the pointed arch. As in the case of the ribbed vault, there is no means of knowing the exact source from whence this was derived. It had been in use in the East for nearly a thousand years before it appeared in the West; it was established in the South France as an effective and economical contour for barrel vaults by the year 1050, whence it migrated to Burgundy and so to Berry (where it appears in 1110), but always in connection with vaults rather than arches. The earliest structural pointed arch recorded in France is in the ambulatory of Morienval, referred to above, and is dated 1122.
This form, so pregnant of structural and artistic possibilities, may have been brought from the Holy Land by returning pilgrims, or it may have been independently evolved. Whatever its source, its advantages were so great from a practical standpoint that it is hard to believe that the races that had produced Sant' Ambrogio and Jumièges should not have worked out independently the idea of the pointed arch. Its two great virtues are its slight thrust as compared with the round arch, and its infinite possibilities of variation in height. The elliptical diagonals of the Romans did not commend themselves to the builders of the North, and the doming that resulted from the uniform use of semicircular arches, while not offensive in the case of square areas, became impossible where oblong spaces were to be covered, the expedient of stilting the longitudinal arches not yet having suggested itself. With the pointed arch in use, all difficulties disappeared. Once introduced it became in a few years the universal form, and its beauty was such that it immediately won its way against the round arch for the spanning of all voids. Almost coincidentally with the acceptance of the pointed arch came the device of stilting, the transverse arches of Bury (c. 1125) being so treated. This would seem to indicate that to the Gothic builders the value of the pointed arch lay rather in its comparatively small thrust and in its intrinsic beauty than in the facility with which it might be used for obtaining level crowns in oblong vaulting areas. This stilting of the longitudinal arches was from the beginning almost invariable in France ; structurally, it concentrated the vault thrust on a comparatively narrow vertical line, where it could be easily handled by the flying buttress ; it permitted the largest possible window area in the clerestory, while the composition of lines and the delicately waved or twisted surfaces were so beautiful in themselves that, once discovered, they could not be abandoned by the logical and beauty-loving Franks.
The structural and æsthetic advance was now headlong in its impetuosity. A few years after Bury, St-Germer de Fly was built, the date assigned by Professor Moore being about, 1130. Here we find a building almost as surprising as Jumièges ; for if the date quoted above is correct, the church has no prototype, no promising stages of experiment. The vaulting, both of the ambulatory and of the apse, is stilted and has its full complement of ribs, the shafting throughout is finely articulated, the dimensions are stately, the proportions just and effective, while the easterly termination is a perfectly developed apse with rudimentary chapels -- a chevet in posse. The flying buttresses are still concealed under the triforium roof, and outwardly the building has no Gothic character whatever; but the Gothic organism is practically complete.
With Abbot Suger's St-Denis, the easterly termination of which is of original construction and is dated 1140, we come to what is almost the fully developed Gothic plan, order and system, together With the true chevet of double apsidal aisles and chapels. This last feature, perhaps the most brilliant in conception and splendid in effect of the several parts of a Gothic church, may have been derived either from the triapsidal termination of the Carolingian basilican church, or from the polygonal domed structures of the same epoch. Transitional forms are found throughout the eleventh century, and the development from such a plan as that of St. Generou, on the one hand, or Aachen, on the other, to St-Denis presupposes only that degree of inventive force and overflowing vitality which, as a matter of fact, existed during the eleventh and twelfth centuries.
With the chevet as fully developed as it now appears in St-Denis, there remains only the gradual perfection and refinement of the structural system and the giving it that quality of distinctive beauty in every aspect that was to be the very flowering of the Catholic civilization of the Middle Ages. From the middle of the twelfth century both processes went on apace and simultaneously. Noyon followed immediately, and here, it is maintained, the flying buttress for the first time emerged through the roof, displaying in logical fashion the system of construction, and at the same time bringing the abutment above the springing of the vault, where the greatest thrust actually occurred, while permitting the lowering of the triforium roof so that the clerestory window might be given great height and brought into better proportion with the arcade and triforium. Senlis, of the same date, exhibits a great advance in mechanical skill and logical exactitude, with an innovation that commands less admiration -- the substitution of cylindrical columns for the intermediate piers on the caps of which rest the shafts of the intermediate ribs of the sexpartite vault. Continued in Notre-Dame, Paris, this clever but unconvincing, device proved to be but an experimental form, and was abandoned as unsatisfactory in the greatest monuments of French Gothic, such Chartres, Reims, Bourges, and Amiens, where recourse was had to the specifically Gothic compound pier, with the shafts of the transverse ribs, at least, of the vault brought frankly and firmly down to the pavement.
The cathedral of Paris was begun in 1163 with the choir, and completed in 1235 with the raising of the western towers. From East to West there is a steady growth in certainty of touch, in structural efficiency, and in the expression through beauty of form and line of the culminating civilization of medievalism. The interior order exhibits the defects of the imperfectly organized Norman system, particularly in the lofty, vaulted triforium or gallery, so great in size that there is no rhythm in the relationship of arcade, triforium and clerestory, together with the columnar scheme of Sens and Noyon (the imposing of the vault shafts on the caps of plain cylindrical columns), which must be regarded as falling back from the perfect articulation of the true Gothic system. The plan, however, is nobly developed, the general relations of height and breadth fine to a degree, while in the west front (1210-35) Gothic design reaches, perhaps, the highest point it ever achieved so far as classical simplicity, power, and proportion are concerned. The seed of Jumièges has developed into full fruition. The façade of Notre-Dame must rank as one of the few entirely perfect architectural accomplishments of man. With the cathedral of Paris, also, the new art shows itself in all its wonderful inclusiveness; design, as apart from constructive science, appears full flood in the entire treatment of the exterior; the Lombard rose window has been evolved to its final point; decorative detail, both in design and in placing, has become sure and perfectly competent; while sculpture, stained glass, and, we know from records, painting have all forged forward to a point at least even with the sister art of architecture. In sculpture especially the advance has been amazing. For many generations it was held that the restoration of sculpture as a fine art was due to Italy, and specifically to Niccolo Pisano, but as a matter of fact the task was accomplished in France a century before his time. The revival began in the South, where Byzantine remains were numerous and the tradition still lingered. At Clermont-Ferrand, by the end of the eleventh century, a school of competent sculptors had been developed; Toulouse and Moissac followed suit, and by 1140 the Ile-de-France was producing works which show "a grace and mastery of design, a truth and tenderness of sentiment, and a fineness and precision of chiselling that are unparalleled in any other schools save those of ancient Greece and of Italy in the fifteenth century" (Moore, op. cit., XIII, 366). The sculptures of St-Denis, of Chartres, of Senlis, and of Paris are perfect examples of sculpture beyond criticism in itself and exquisitely adapted to its architectonic function; the statue of Our Lady in the portal of the north transept of Paris may be placed for comparison side by side with the masterpieces of Hellenic sculpture and lose nothing by the test. Of stained glass enough remains here and elsewhere to show how marvellous was the wholly new art brought into being by the genius of medievalism ; and that the painting and guilding of all the interior surfaces was on a scale of equal perfection, we are compelled to believe. As the cathedrals and churches now remain to us -- much of the glass destroyed by savage iconoclasm and brutality, every trace of colour vanished from the walls, while the original altars themselves have been swept away together with their gorgeous hangings and decorations (monstrosities like that of Chartres, for instance, taking their places); shrines, screens, and tombs, all wonderfully wrought and glorious in colour and gold, shattered and cast into the rubbish heap -- they can give but an inadequate idea at best of the nature of that Christian art which in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries came as the result of a fusion of all the arts, each one of which had been raised to the highest point of efficiency. Of the lost colour of Gothic art Mr. Prior says,
We can readily be assured that nothing of crudity found place in the colour scheme of the Middle Ages -- for have we not their illuminated manuscripts in evidence? For its pure and delicate harmony, a page of a thirteenth or fourteenth century manuscript may compete with the work of the greatest masters of colour that the world has known, and we cannot doubt that the same mastery of brilliant and harmonious tints was shown in the colour scheme of cathedral painting (op. cit., Introd., 19).
The defects of Paris are almost wholly absent in Chartres, which is the most nearly perfect of all Gothic cathedrals both in conception and in the details of its working out. It is unquestionably the noblest interior in Christendom, even thou
More Volume: G 539
Click/Touch the sub-volume below to view encyclopedia articles within the sub-volume.
by Catholic Online
- Catholic Charities is collecting airline miles to reunite refugee ...
- Benedict XVI defends resignation and title pope emeritus in private ...
- Prayer Requests Live for Thursday, September 20th, 2018 HD Video
- Daily Readings for Friday, September 21, 2018
- Publicaran libro inedito escrito por San Juan Pablo II
- Daily Reading for Saturday, September 22nd, 2018 HD Video
- St. Matthew: Saint of the Day for Friday, September 21, 2018
- Prayer Requests Live for Wednesday, September 19th, 2018 HD
- Daily Reading for Friday, September 21st, 2018 HD
- Prayer Requests Live for Tuesday, September 18th, 2018 HD
- Daily Reading for Thursday, September 20th, 2018 HD
Sts. Andrew Kim Taegon, Paul Chong Hasang, and Companions
September 20: Feastday: September 20 The evangelization of ... Read More
Learn about Catholic world
Inform - Inspire - Ignite
Catholic Online Saints
Your saints explained
Catholic Online Prayers
Prayers for every need
Catholic Online Bible
Complete bible online
Catholic Online News
Your news Catholic eye
Today's bible reading
Products and services we offer
Catholic Online Shopping
Catholic medals, gifts & books
The California Network
Inspiring streaming service
Learn the Catholic way
Teacher lesson plans & resources
Support Free Education
Tax deductible support Free education