What is Gothic Architecture?
Gothic Architecture emerged following the Romanesque style of Norman Architecture. Gothic architecture is the term used to describe the building styles which were used between 1200 to 1500. The different types of English Gothic Architecture styles are divided into three phases:
- 1200 to 1300 - Early English Gothic Style ( also called Lancet)
- 1300 to 1400 - Decorated Gothic Style
- 1400 to 1500 - Perpendicular Gothic Style
This phased Gothic Architecture terminology was devised by the English architect Thomas Rickman and used in his book 'An Attempt to Discriminate the Styles of English Architecture from the Conquest to the Reformation' which was published in 1817. Each of the three phases of Gothic Architecture has a unique characteristic. Understanding the Characteristics provide the answer to " What is Gothic Architecture?"
What is Gothic Architecture? Characteristics of Early English Gothic Architecture
The style of Gothic Architecture described as Early English ( Lancet ) used during the period of 1200 - 1300 is characterised by the following elements:
- The large blocks of stone used by the Normans, were replaced by shaped stone. The stone of Medieval Gothic castles was cut with precision
- The Norman hollow walls were replaced with solid walls and pillars - allowing them to hold far greater weights - the Gothic style of Castle Building and Architecture provided much bigger castles!
- Early English Gothic architecture emphasized height and used the pointed arch
- The pointed arch could support greater weight, allowing walls to be thinner with wider window openings
- The introduction of flying buttresses, which distributed the weight of roofs and walls right down to the ground
- Gothic architecture and design allowed architects to spread the weight to different points of the castle
- Towers were often surmounted with very slender towers. Use of the chisel, as opposed to axes, led to more decorative designs
- Sculptures of Stone Gargoyles were introduced as waterspouts protecting the foundations from rain
What is Gothic Architecture? Characteristics of the Decorated Gothic Architecture
The style of Gothic Architecture described as Decorated used during the period of 1300 - 1400 is characterised by the following elements:
- The Decorated Gothic style was characterised by wider windows
- The wider windows were decorated with tracery (a system of window decoration) and ornamentation
- Gothic Rose Windows are associated with great Gothic Churches and Cathedrals however some small Rose Windows were featured in the Chapels of Gothic Castles. Rose Windows were a decorative by-product of the development of stained glass. The innovative use of vaults and buttresses in weight support allowed for the elaborate Rose Windows to be featured in the building as a major entry of light
What is Gothic Architecture? Characteristics of Perpendicular Gothic Architecture
The style of Gothic Architecture described as Perpendicular, used during the period of 1400 - 1500, is characterised by the following elements:
- Fan vaulting
- Hammerbeam roofs
- Towers were often surmounted with very slender towers
- Use of the chisel, as opposed to axes, led to more decorative designs.
The History of Gothic Architecture
The History of Gothic Architecture dates back to the 12th Century. This was an exciting time in Medieval European history. Many Knights had travelled to the Holy Land on Crusades. They had seen the magnificent solid fortresses of the Byzantine Empire and these massive buildings influenced and revolutionised castle building ideas, engineering and architecture. The new, Gothic Style of architecture and decoration emerged in France. It was initially simply called "The French Style". The views expressed during the Renaissance period of history led to a different name for the style of architecture - Gothic. Appalled at the abandonment of classical Romanesque lines and proportion it was derisively called "Gothic". This title alluded to the Barbaric Goths, or Visigoths, who, led by their leader Alaric sacked Rome in 410AD which ultimately led to the fall of the Roman Empire.
Gothic Castle Architecture
The castles built to the design of Norman Romanesque architecture had many problems in terms of defence.
- The corners of the Square Keeps were weak and at risk of collapse due to mining techniques employed by attackers
- There was only one defensive wall
- The Norman Castles were dark, dank and cold
- Norman Castles were particularly at risk from siege warfare
The weaknesses of the early Norman style of Castle Architecture had to be addressed. Enter Gothic Castles Architecture and the Concentric Castles!
Edwardian Gothic Architecture - Concentric Castles!
The magnificent Medieval Castles built by the Plantagenet King Edward I are excellent examples of the early Gothic style of Castle Architecture. King Edward I employed the services of the best architect and builder of this era of the Middle Ages called Master James of St George. The style of Gothic Architecture of the Medieval era is demonstrated in the innovative design of the Concentric Castles. A good description of a Concentric Castle is "a Castle within a Castle". The concentric castle is effectively lots of buildings, walls, towers and gatehouses in one massive castle complex built within in successive lines of defence. Concentric Castles provided great vehicles for examples of early Gothic architecture!
Gothic Architecture - The Gothic Arch
The Medieval Gothic Arch was a major feature of the architecture of the Middle Ages. The Gothic architects and builders discovered the amazing strength and stability of using pointed arches. The walls of Gothic buildings could be thinner because the weight of the roof was supported by the arches rather than the walls. The use of the Gothic arch gave the builders tremendous flexibility. The arch could not only support greater weights but could also could span greater distances, allowing vaults to be taller and wider. Thinner walls had wider window openings which encouraged the use of stained glass and the magnificent Gothic Rose Windows.
The definition of an arch is as follows:
- Gothic Arch : a curved structural device, usually of masonry, used to support a structure as well as enlarge an opening. The arch, whether semi-circular or lancet, is one the principal components of medieval Gothic architectural design
The Gothic pointed arch styles included diagonal, longitudinal and transverse arch. A transverse arch was a supporting arch which ran across the vault from side to side, dividing the bays.
Gothic Architecture - Gargoyles!
Gargoyles are a fascinating element of Gothic Architecture. These frightening sculptures are most often associated with Medieval Churches and Cathedrals but they were also used to great effect in English Gothic castles. Gargoyles are frightening and intimidating sculptures - perfect for the likes of great Lords and Kings who built elaborate fortresses and castles in order to crush and intimidate the indigenous population.
The origins of the word 'gargoyle' are derived from the old French word 'gargouille' meaning throat. Gargoyles came into gothic architecture in the early 13th century and are defined as "a waterspout, projecting from an upper part of a building to throw water clear of walls or foundations."
The number of Gargoyles added to castles were numerous as dividing the flow of water minimized potential water damage. The materials used for early Gothic gargoyles were stone but the later gargoyles, especially in churches, were predominantly limestone and marble, although metals such as lead were used in fashioning some gargoyles. Stone masons had free choice of their gargoyles should depict or look like. It is an interesting fact that there is no two gargoyles which are exactly the same!
Gothic Architecture - Defining Features
Gothic Architecture can be defined as having the following features:
- Stone was cut with precision
- Walls were solid walls and pillars - allowing them to hold far greater weights - the Gothic style of Castle Building and Architecture provided much bigger castles!
- Able to hold greater weights which meant bigger castles
- The use of the Gothic arch led to the construction of light and airy structures - lightening and heightening of Gothic structures
- Wider window openings and Gothic Rose Windows
- The introduction of flying buttresses
- More Towers
- Decorative designs and sculptures including Gargoyles