Gothic Architecture Characteristics Gothic Architecture History Gothic Style

Important facts on Gothic architecture are:

  • Gothic architecture flourished and became popular in Europe during the Late Middle Ages.
  • It is mostly characterised by its rib vaults and flying buttresses.
  • Lighting also played a significant role in the design of the church or the cathedral.

Origins and development

Gothic Architecture Characteristics Gothic Architecture History Gothic Style

The reconstruction of the choir of the abbey of Saint-Denis (Paris), began in 1137 and was completed in the year 1144. This date is considered to be the starting date of the Gothic style, which shortly after that spread to the dioceses of the Île-de-France and then to the rest of France, England, and the rest of Europe, encountering significant resistance only in Italy.

Techicnal innovarions

Unlike Roman and Romanesque architecture, Gothic was dynamic, airy and light. Gothic architecture was characterised by accentuated vertical proportions. Gothic churches usually had three naves, preceded by a porch and had a short transept. The choir is generally very long and surrounded by one or more ambulatories, which lead to the radial chapels arranged radially around the apse.

However, it was the new technical innovations that made Gothic architecture modern. These innovations were:

  • the pointed arch (replacing the round arch).
  • ribbed rib vault (replacing the cross vault).
  • the rampant arch (replacing or supporting the buttresses).
  • the pinnacle (an aesthetic element that also contributed to balance).
  • Large spaces with stained glass windows.

The pointed arch is more robust than the rounded one since it reduces lateral pressure, unloading the weight vertically on the piers. Then, the construction of supporting walls is not necessary, since the weight is supported by the massive pillars, formed by the extensions and by the ribs. Thanks to this innovation, it became possible to build thinner walls.

The pinnacle was another element introduced in Gothic architecture. Pinnacles add weight to the pillars and buttresses on which it is placed, straightening the oblique pressure and contributing to the building’s static. They were made of stone and acts as a decorative element. In fact, they include a pyramidal element enriched by detailed sculptures, which give a sense of vertical movement to the building.

These structures that support the entire construction reduce the thickness of the walls since they no longer have a supporting function. Therefore, large parts of the walls were decorated with large windows with rich colours creating a suggestive atmosphere in the interior. The portion of the wall occupied by the stained-glass windows is called clerestory. 

3.1. La pintura sobre tabla y la vidriera. Técnicas | El arte de la Edad  Media: El arte Gótico

The idea of making the interiors of buildings luminous and spacious is achieved thanks to the use of the rib vault and the pointed arch. The absence of load from the vault on the perimeter walls, absorbed by the external pillars and buttresses, allowed to introduce glass windows which reached dimensions never seen before.

Generally, cathedrals and other Gothic churches were also decorated with sculptures depicting a variety of fabulous and frightening grotesque monsters. Such creatures were the gargoyle, the chimera, a mythical hybrid creature which the body of a lion and the head of a goat, and the Strix, a creature resembling an owl or bat, which was said to eat human flesh.

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Historia del Arte: Comentario a la Fachada de Notrê Dame, París.



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