Notre-Dame Cathedral seen from the River Seine.
The Term "Gothic"
Gothic architecture has nothing to do with the historical Goths. It was a pejorative term that came to be used as early as the 1530s to describe culture that was considered rude and barbaric. Fran?ois Rabelais imagines an inscription over the door of his Utopian Abbey of Th?l?me, "Here enter no hypocrites, bigots..." slipping in a slighting reference to "Gotz" (rendered as "Huns" in Thomas Urquhart's English translation) and "Ostrogotz." 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 before the revival of classical types of architecture. "There can be no doubt that the term 'Gothic' as applied to pointed styles of ecclesiastical architecture was used at first contemptuously, and in derision, by those who were ambitious to imitate and revive the Grecian orders of architecture, after the revival of classical literature. Authorities such as Christopher Wren lent their aid in deprecating the old medi?val style, which they termed Gothic, as synonymous with every thing that was barbarous and rude.", according to a correspondent in Notes and Queries No. 9. December 29, 1849.
The style emphasizes verticality and features almost skeletal stone structures with great expanses of glass, pointed arches using the ogive shape, ribbed vaults, clustered columns, sharply pointed spires, flying buttresses and inventive sculptural detail such as gargoyles and even butterflies attacking men. These features are all the consequence of the use of the pointed arch and a focus on large stained-glass windows that allowed more light to enter than was possible with older styles. To achieve this "light" style, flying buttresses were used as a means of support to enable higher ceilings and slender columns. Many of these features had already appeared, for example in Durham Cathedral, whose construction started in 1093.
As a defining characteristic of Gothic Architecture, the pointed arch was introduced for both visual and structural reasons. Visually, the verticality suggests an aspiration to Heaven. Structurally, its use gives a greater flexibility to Architectural form. The Gothic vault, unlike the semi-circular vault of Roman and Romanesque buildings, can be used to roof rectangular and irregularly shaped plans such as trapezoids. The other advantage is that the pointed arch channels the weight onto the bearing piers or columns at a steep angle.
In Gothic Architecture the pointed arch is utilised in every position where an arched shape is called for, both structural and decorative. Gothic openings such as doorways, windows, arcades and galleries have pointed arches. Gothic vaulting over spaces both large and small is usually supported by richly moulded ribs. Rows of arches upon delicate shafts form a typical wall decoration known as blind arcading. Niches with pointed arches and containing statuary are a major external feature. The pointed arch leant itself to elaborate intersecting shapes which developed within window spaces into complex Gothic tracery forming the structural support of the large windows that are characteristic of the style.
Conservative 13th century Gothic in Provence: Basilica of Mary Magdalene, Saint Maximin la Sainte Baume.
Gothic cathedrals could be highly decorated with statues on the outside and painting on the inside. Both usually told Biblical stories, emphasizing visual typological allegories between Old Testament prophecy and the New Testament.
Important Gothic churches could also be severely simple. At the Basilica of Mary Magdalene in Saint-Maximin, Provence (illustration, right), the local traditions of the sober, massive, Romanesque architecture were still strong. The basilica, begun in the 13th century under the patronage of Charles of Anjou, was laid out on an ambitious scale (it was never completed all the way to the western entrance front) to accommodate pilgrims that came to venerate relics. Building in the Gothic style continued at the basilica until 1532.
In Gothic architecture new technology stands behind the new building style. The Gothic cathedral was supposed to be a microcosm representing the world, and each architectural concept, mainly the loftiness and huge dimensions of the structure, were intended to pass a theological message: the great glory of God versus the smallness and insignificance of the mortal being.
The Teutonic Knights Castle of Malbork
In Northern Germany, Scandinavia and northern Poland, in areas where native stone was unavailable, simplified provincial gothic churches were built of brick. The resultant style is called Backsteingotik in Germany and Scandinavia. The biggest brick gothic building is the Teutonic Knights Castle of Malbork in Poland and the biggest brick gothic church is the St. Mary's Church, Gda?sk in Gdansk. The most famous example in Denmark is Roskilde Cathedral. Brick gothic buildings were associated with the Hanseatic League and the Teutonic Knights. There are over one hundred brick gothic castles in northern Poland, Baltic States, and western Russia.
Sequence of Gothic Styles: France
The designations of styles in French Gothicarchitecture are as follows:
" Early Gothic
" High Gothic
" Late Gothic or Flamboyant style
These divisions are effective, but debatable. Because Gothic cathedrals were built over several successive periods, each period not necessarily following the wishes of previous periods, the dominant architectural style changes throughout a particular building. Consequently, it is often difficult to declare one building as a member of a certain era of Gothic architecture. It is more useful to use the terms as descriptors for specific elements within a structure, rather than applying it to the building as a whole.
Coutances Cathedral in France
" The East end of the Abbey Church of St Denis
" Amiens Cathedral
" The main body of Chartres Cathedral
" Notre-Dame of Laon
" Notre Dame de Paris
" Reims Cathedral
" The nave of the Abbey Church of St Denis
" The north tower of Chartres Cathedral
" The rose window of Amiens Cathedral
" The west facade of the Rouen Cathedral
" Church of St. Maclou, Rouen.
" The south transept of the Cath?drale Saint-Pierre de Beauvais