domingo, 8 de junio de 2008

Gothic Architecture

Technically Gothic architecture led to the end of the innovations of the former period and assuming Byzantine influences. The cathedral is the main building in which the architect realised a complex and perfect structure, standing on pillars and covered with ribbed vaults, of great height and precise combination of supports to transmit all the strengths to the floor. This structure is clear, full of light, thanks to the use of the flying buttress that liberated the wall so that it was possible to open wide windows.

The buildings has two main axes: the longitudinal one leading to the altar, with the main nave and the aisles that continue around it forming an ambulatory that can be double, and the vertical underlined by the pillars. The repetition of supports increases the tension once approaching to the crossing, where the church expands in the transept. After that it is common to find a higher number of aisles.

The elevation of the church is similar to that of the pilgrimage Romanesque churches, with a first floor in which different naves communicate with arches and pillars and in which light coming from the sides enters indirectly in the main nave. The second floor is the triforium, with the corridor over the aisles overlooking the central nave and finally there is the clerestory, which proportions direct light to the nave, creating an illusionist effect.

Gothic architecture has three main characteristics: walls become transparent due to the number of windows covered normally with stained glasses. In relation to this, the building, apart from its function, pursues beauty in general. The building is a combination of supports and clear structure, with the elimination of the non essential mass.

But European world had changed: civil and human elements substituted the religious ones. Cities are more important than monasteries. Richness and power are concentrated in the cities and in some social groups such as the bourgeoisie, that soon became and Art costumer. Apart from churches a new typology of buildings appeared.

Cities where governed by an oligarchy who needed a place from where they could direct the destinies of their cities. Council houses were of paramount importance in this moment. There is a double typology. In the Netherlands where life was quiet, buildings are courtesan, elegant, full of windows and decoration but without any defensive element. On the other side, Italian buildings are stronger, with less windows and a dominance of the wall, even with crenelations at the top and a very high tower from which they could control all the area around to prevent any attack. This bear witness to the lack of security in one region full of independent republic that not always had a pacific relation.

Related to the new activities are the storeys, in which internal wide spaces are designed in order to contain products and be the place where exchange transactions were hold. This is the case of the lonjas .

In addition of these buildings, influential social sectors commanded palaces related to their status.
Gothic style developed all over Europe and we can distinguish a series of geographical particularities:

The distinctive characteristic of French cathedrals, and those in Germany and Belgium that were strongly influenced by them, is their height and their impression of verticality. They are compact, with slight or no projection of the transepts and subsidiary chapels. The west fronts have three portals surmounted by a rose window, and two large towers. 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.

The distinctive characteristic of English cathedrals is their extreme length and their internal emphasis upon the horizontal. 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. English cathedrals sprawl across their sites, with double transepts projecting strongly and Lady Chapels tacked on at a later date. In the west front the doors are not significant. The West window is very large and never a rose, which are reserved for the transept gables. The west front may have two towers 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.
It uses polychrome decoration, both externally as marble veneer on the brick facade and also internally where the arches are often made of alternating black and white segments. The plan is usually regular and symmetrical and has few and widely spaced columns. The proportions are generally mathematically simple, based on the square, the arches are almost always equilateral. It may include mosaics in the lunettes over the doors. The facades have projecting open porches and ocular 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 baptistery. The windows are not as large as in northern Europe and, although stained glass windows are used, the decoration is fresco or mosaic.

It is characterised by huge towers and spires. The west front generally follows the French formula, but the towers are taller, and if complete, are surmounted by enormous openwork spires. The eastern end follows the French form. The distinctive character of the interior of German Gothic cathedrals is their breadth and openness. Cathedrals tend not to have strongly projecting transepts. There are also many hallenkirke without clerestory windows.


Spanish Gothic cathedrals are of spatial complexity. They are comparatively short and wide, and are often completely surrounded by chapels. Spanish Cathedrals are stylistically diverse. Influences on both decoration and form are Islamic architecture, and towards the end of the period, Renaissance details combined with the Gothic in a distinctive manner. The West front resembles a French west front. There are spires of German style. There are few pinnacles. There are often towers and domes of a great variety of shapes and structural invention rising above the roof.

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