Gothic Architecture, —The term 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 archaeological definitions of De Caumont, and the rigid formalities of the more learned logicians and structural specialists, such as MM. Viollet le Due, 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 that “the 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 abutments, but upon logical adjustment 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 aesthetic 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, there we have not Gothic” (Moore, op. cit., I, 8). The result is that all the medieval architecture 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 of the most recent commentators on Gothic architecture has said, “A definition so restricted carries with it its own condemnation” (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, though 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 through 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 of the Franks, and the Dukes of Normandy were to impulse and a tendency rather than a perfectly restore that sense of nationality without which creative rounded accomplishment; aesthetically, it never civilization is impossible, while the papacy, working achieved perfection in any given monument, or group through the irresistible influence of the monastic orders of monuments, nor were its possibilities ever fully worked out except in the category of structural science. Here alone, as Professor Moore has admirably shown, 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 qualities 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 here used.
Gothic architecture and Gothic art are the aesthetic 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 overestimated: 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 reestablished. 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 equally potent 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. Politically 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 clamored 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 labor 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 coordinated by the Franks, raised to final perfection, and transfigured by a spirit which was that of the entire medieval world. Marvelous 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 center of Europe. The founding of monasteries was very like a mania and the result a remarkable revival of learning; the Abbeys of Bee, Fecamp, and Jumieges became famous throughout all Europe, drawing to themselves students from every portion of the continent; even Cluny herself had in this to take second place. It was a very vigorous and a very wide-spread 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 neighbors, 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, the ribbed and domed vault; from the latter (i.e. from the Carolingian remains), 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, Professor Lethaby leaning to the latter conclusion. In any case it is not earlier than A.D. 300, nor later than 550.—From the Franks were also borrowed the doubled western towers, the lantern or central tower over the crossing, and the threefold interior system of arcade, triforium, and clerestory. It will be seen that the main dispositions of the Gothic plan are derived from Carolingian developments of Byzantine modifications of the early Christian basilica, itself but an adaptation of that of pagan Rome; from the Lombards, however, had been acquired three elements which were to lie at the base of Gothic construction. Many of the most characteristic features of Byzantine, Carolingian, and Lombard architecture had been permanently rejected, showing that the process followed was not one of Slavish imitation but rather of conscious selection; the vast possibilities inherent in others had not been appreciated, as for instance the polygonal, domed motive of San Vitale and Aachen, surrounded by its vaulted ambulatory, from which the Franks were to evolve the Gothic chevet, while the pointed arch the Normans never used, though they must have known of, or imagined, its existence.
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 aesthetic 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 of the nave being four times the area of each aisle square.
The next step for the 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 as 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 possibly 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 recent authorities (such as Venturi, Storia dell’ Arte Italiana, 1903, who cites Stiehl, 1898) accept the view that 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 in Normandy, or 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, 109-111.)
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 pure logic 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 surfaces 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 the 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 easterly 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 color, 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 Jumieges, 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 Jumieges, 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 Berenger (960, 998), is the only recorded structure which bears the least kinship to Jumieges, 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 arcade, 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 Jumieges 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 it had initiated 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 has 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 out-burst of architectural vigor in the Ile-de-France is very remarkable. Soissons, Amiens, and Beauvais became simultaneously centers 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 ambulatories, 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 centers 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 suported on ribs curved in plan, and the church of St-Etienne e 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 of 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 Jumieges 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 coincidently 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 aesthetic 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 Jumieges; for if the date quoted above is correct, the church has no prototype, no preceding 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 Carlovingian 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 spring of the vault, where the greatest thrust actually occurred, while permitting the lowering of the triforium roof so that the clerestory windows might be given greater 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 cyndrical 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 as 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 a 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 Jumieges has developed into full fruition. The facade of Notre-Dame must rank as one of the few entirely perfect architecturally 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 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 chiseling 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 an art 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 marvelous was the wholly new art brought into being by the genius of medievalism; and that the painting and gilding 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 color 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 color 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 color of Gothic art Mr. Prior says, “We can readily be assured that nothing of crudity found place in the color 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 color that the world has known, and we cannot doubt that the same mastery of brilliant and harmonious tints was shown in the color scheme of cathedral painting” (op. cit., Introd., 19). Some hint of what has been lost may be obtained from the faded frescoes of Cimabue and the painters of Siena, as they may be seen today at Assisi and Florence and Siena itself.
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 though the lower portions of its choir have been ruined by the most aggressive vandalism known to the eighteenth century. Its relations of dimension are of the same final and classical type as are those of the west front of Paris, while it stands at that middle point of achievement when the defects of the Norman system had been eliminated, and those of the too exuberant vitality of the thirteenth century had not yet appeared. As has been said above, Gothic architecture is an impulse and a tendency rather than a perfectly rounded accomplishment; the element of personality entered into it as into no other of the great styles, and it was therefore subject not only to dazzling flights of spontaneous genius, but also to the misguided imaginings of daring innovators. The noble calm of the Paris façade was followed by the nervous complexity and lack of relation of Laon. Only five years after this same masterpiece of Notre-Dame was achieved, the flying buttresses of the chevet were reconstructed, and in place of the original fine simplicity and logic of the system of double arcs, announcing perfectly the fundamental plan, were substituted the present daring and superb, but illogical and ungainly arches soaring from the outer abutments across both aisles soaring from the outer abutments across both aisles sheer to the spring of the high vault. Similarly, when Amiens was built, the just proportions of Chartres were sacrificed to the pride of structural ability, and a faultless harmony of parts and proportions yielded to wiredrawn elegance and awe-inspiring altitudes, destined a little later, in Beauvais, to be the Nemesis of Gothic art. Finally, the system of concentrated loads, which made possible a structure of masonry that was but a skeleton of shafts, arches, and buttresses, supporting vaults of stone and filled in by walls of glass, was so tempting to the sense of daring and to the inevitable logic of the French genius that it led to a recklessness in the reduction of solids to a minimum that, however much it may have justified itself structurally, however marvelous may have been the results it made possible in the line of glowing and translucent walls of Apocalyptic color, must be considered as falling away from the justice and the grandeur of a classically architectonic scheme such as that of Chartres. “It was the Logic of the Parisian that brought to his Gothic both its extreme excellence and its decay: the science of vault construction fell in with his bent. The idea once having attracted him, his logical faculty compelled him to follow it to the end. His vaults rose higher and higher; his poise and counterpoise, his linkage of thrust and strain grew more complicated and daring, until material mass disappeared from his design and his cathedrals were chain-works of articulated stone pegged to the ground by pinnacles” (Edward S. Prior, “A History of Gothic Art in England“, I, 9). The fact must not be ignored, that even in the culminating monuments of the thirteenth century in France the mania for skeleton construction led to unfortunate subterfuges. The reduction of masonry was carried beyond a possible minimum, and its insufficiency was supplemented by hidden bars, ties, and chains of iron. “The windows were sub-divided by strong grates of wrought-iron, some of the horizontal bars of which ran on through the piers continuously. At the Sainte Chapelle a chain was imbedded in the walls right round the building, and the stone vaulting ribs were reinforced by curved bands of iron placed on each side and bolted to them” (W. R. Lethaby, “Mediaeval Art”, VII, 161). In spite of these errors of a too-perfect mastery of the art of building, the great group of cathedrals that followed during the thirteenth century in France must always remain the crowning glory of Catholic architecture. Bourges, Reims, and Amiens, with the numberless other examples of a perfected art, from the Channel to the Pyrenees, the Alps to the sea, form the greatest cycle of buildings in a definite and highly developed style that has ever been produced by man, and is the most salient exposition in history of human capacity for evolving a material perfection and irradiating it with absolute beauty and spiritual significance, all under the control and by the impulse of a dominant and undivided religious faith.
There are three abstruse subjects connected with the nature and growth of Gothic architecture on which much has been written, yet nothing thus far that may be considered finally conclusive: (I) the Commacim, or seventh-century guild of masons; (2) the “structural refinements” to which Professor Goodyear has devote so much study; (3) the application of certain mystical numbers, and their relations to the solution of the problem of proportion. Of the Commancini, whose name first appears in a mid-fifth-century document, Mr. Lethaby says, “It is generally held by scholars that the word does not refer to a center at Como, but should be understood as signifying an association of guild of masons, and that the Magistri Commancini heard of in the seventh century were of no special importance. It does seem probable, however, that the expansion of N. Italian art over many parts of Europe, which appears to have taken place in the eleventh and twelfth centuries, may be traced to the fact that in Italy the guilds had privileges which made members free to travel at a time when Western masons were attached to manors or monastaries” (W.R. Lethaby, “Meiaeval Art”, IV, 114). Professor Goodyear may be assumed to have proved that the irregularities in plan, the variations in spacing, the inclination of walls, and all the other manifold peculiarities of medieval building are in many cases premeditated, and not the result of negligence or accident. The aesthetic excuse he makes less obvious, however, nor has he yet established any general law which holds as consistently as do those governing architectural refinements in Greek architecture. The mystical deductions as to the persistence of certain numerical laws, the occult properties of numbers, and the angle called the “pi pitch” from the time of the builders of the pyramids, all of which are supposed to express certain fundamental laws governing the universe, and to have been transmitted from father to son for thousands of years, until they appear as the controlling principles of Gothic proportion, and the setting out of Gothic plans, may be found in “Ideal Metronomy”, by the Rev. H. G. Wood (Boston, 1909).
When the chevet of Le Mans was finished, in 1254, the beginnings recorded in Jumieges two centuries before had worked themselves out to a point beyond which further wholesome development was impossible. The Franks had perfected what the Normans had initiated; the structural scheme inherent in Jumieges had progressed step by step to its conclusion; the great architectural harmonies of form and proportion and dimension, the mysterious and evocative powers of subtile and rhythmical relationship, had already achieved their highest fruition in Chartres and Reims, while an entirely new category of art, no sign of which had been accorded to the Normans, had by the Franks been brought again into being, viz., that of absolute beauty in ornament and decoration, whether in stone or glass or pigment, whether in itself as isolated detail or in regard to its placing and disposition. Moreover, this latter manifestation of art was in terms radically different to anything that had gone before, although the principles were identical with those of all great art: “In breadth of design, coordination of parts and measured recurrence of structural and ornamental elements, the Gothic artist obeyed, though in a different form, the same primary laws that had governed the ancient Greek” (Moore, op. cit., I, 22). The same was true of his sense of abstract and concrete beauty; in the contours of his moldings, the carving of his caps and crockets, bosses and spandrels, the development of his decorative compositions of mass and line, and light and shade, he fell in no respect behind his brothers of Greece, while he excelled those of Byzantium. The forms were different, wholly his own and original, but the essential spirit was the same.
In the meantime Gothic architecture had been following a parallel course of development in England, borrowing directly from Normandy and France, assimilating what it so acquired, and giving to all a distinctly national character that tended from year to year further to separate English Gothic from any other, both structurally and artistically. No sooner was the Conquest effected in 1066, than the building of Norman abbeys, cathedrals, and churches was put in hand. Actually the introduction of Norman Romanesque occurred sixteen years earlier, viz., in 1050, when St. Edward that Confessor began the building of Canterbury. The earliest work differs in no essential particular from that of Normandy, except as regards size, which in many cases was astonishing; not only were the abbeys often far larger than anything in Normandy, they were the greatest buildings in Europe. Winchester and St. Paul’s were more than double the ground area of the Abbaye aux Hommes, while the London cathedral and Bury St. Edmunds were each a fourth larger even than the gigantic Cluny itself. From the first the English peculiarity of great length combined with comparatively narrow nave (30-35 feet in clear span) is conspicuous. As the Norman buildings were destroyed, and rebuilt under Gothic influence, the original-setting out was generally adhered to, and Gothic naves are seldom found of a width greater than that of the Norman. Very early, also, occurs the typical deep English choir, Canterbury in 1096, having one nine bays in depth. This excessive length of the eastern arm was due quite as much to practical considerations as to those of beauty. Religion was popular in England for some centuries after the Conquest, and great quantities of worshippers had to be provided for. In Spain the choir of monks or secular clergy thrust itself through the nave half way to the west doors; in France it usually took in at least the crossing; the cathedrals of the Ile-de-France were secular and the very wide choirs easily accommodated the few canons. In England, however, the numbers of the monks and canons was so great, and so many of the cathedrals were monastic in their foundation, that enormously long choirs were necessary for the seating, in their narrow width, of those permanently attached to each church.
The great abbeys and cathedrals were seldom vaulted, being covered by timber roofs of low pitch, except as regards their easily vaulted aisles. Barrel vaults were occasionally used, groin vaults in innumerable cases; the groin vault with ribs first occurs in Durham in 1093, an astonishing date, since the earliest ribbed vault claimed for France is in the diminutive church of Rhuis, a structure the date of which is unknown, but is placed at about 1100. The earliest known rib vault is claimed by Rivoira to be that of San Flaviano, in Umbria, but there is some doubt as to whether this is the original vault of a church known to have been built in 1032. San Nazzaro Maggiore, at Milan, has an authentic rib vault of 1075, and it appears therefore that the choir vault of Durham is earlier than any certain example in France, however small, and that it was built within twenty years of the first dated rib vault in Lombardy. The vaults of Durham nave are pointed and ribbed, and are not later than 1128, six years after the pointed arch appears in the little French church of Morienval.
No further development towards Gothic occurred in England until the middle of the twelfth century. Great abbeys in the fully developed Norman style, such as Kirkstall and Fountains, Malmesbury, Peterborough, Norwich, and Ely, were reared all over England, but the prevailing monastic influence was Benedictine, and this was always architecturally conservative, and at the same time magnificent. Apseswith encircling ambulatories were almost invariable, and there was frequently the western transept, as at Bury and Ely. Towards the end of the Norman period the Cluniac influence greatly intensified the native richness in decoration of Benedictine art, and to this we owe in great measure the rich and intricate carving of the late Norman work that persisted down even to the chapel of Our Lady at Glastonbury, built in 1184. Before this date had occurred two events which were to initiate and, in varying degrees, control the growth of Gothic in England: the coming of the Cisterncians and the rebuilding of Canterbury choir by William of Sens. The Cistercians always favored Gothic, over the massive and grandiose Romanesque of the Benedictines and Cluniacs, because of its early austerity and the economies it made possible in building. Regular Canons, also, and for similar reasons, adopted the economical new form, and this double influence was constantly exerted towards structural and artistic simplicity—a fortunate thing for the new style, since it prevented a too early flowering in the richness and luxuriance of beautiful detail.
That William of Sens introduced to England and set before English eyes so much as he could of so much as then existed of French Gothic is quite true, but it does not appear that his was the first Gothic done in England, or that it had a wide or lasting influence. Mr. Bond divides the local adaptation of Gothic into three schools—of the West, the North, and the South—giving to the former priority in time. He says: “The first complete Gothic of England commences not with the choir of Lincoln, but of Wells, as begun by Reginald FitzBohun who was bishop from 1174 to 1191.
It was in the West of England that the art of Gothic vaulting was first mastered; first, so far as we know, at Worcester; and it was in the West, first apparently at Wells, that every arch was pointed and the semicircular arch exterminated” (opp cit., VII, 105). This development was under way at Worcester, Dore, Wells, Shrewsbury, and Glastonbury, to name only a few of the examples quoted, by the time the work at Canterbury passed from the hands of William of Sens to those of William the Englishman, and there is little evidence that it had any particular effect on the progress already begun. In the North, Lincoln choir followed close after Canterbury and was manifestly influenced by it in many ways, but as Mr. Bond says, “it is equally plain that the obligation is almost wholly to the English and not to the French part of that design” (op. cit., VII, 111-12), for not all of Canterbury choir is French, even in the case of the work of William of Sens himself; the slender shafts of Purbeck marble, the springing of the vault ribs from the level of the triforium caps rather than from the string course above, the penetrations of the clerestory, the elaborately compound angle piers, with their ring of detached columns, are all English, and it is precisely these features St. Hugh copied at Lincoln. Neither does there appear in the retro-choir of Chichester, begun about the time William of Sens went back to France, any evidence that his work had established a dominating precedent; here the work is of a distinctively native cast, the columns of the arcade in particular being original to a degree and of the most distinguished beauty.
The exotic element in Canterbury proved to be but an episode and English Gothic went on developing itself after its own independent fashion. The choir of Lincoln exerted far greater influence and became the general model for all parts of England. In some cases an attempt, and a successful one, was made to dispense with the vault entirely, as at Hexham, Tyne-mouth, and Whitby, where in each instance the timber roof of the Anglo-Norman abbey was retained, and the chief attention was devoted to refining and improving the detail and composition of the wall design, where extremely beautiful results were obtained, as at Whitby, by the strictly English elaboration of the arch mouldings and the profiling of the pier sections. The flying buttress also was slow of acceptance and never, indeed, became the striking feature it was in all the buildings of thirteenth-century France. The English cared little for logic and less for structural brilliancy, or even consistency; the goals they aimed at were beauty in all its forms, individual expression, novelty, originality—qualities they not seldom achieved at the expense of structural integrity. The Gothic of France was singularly consistent; it rapidly developed into a classical system from which no radical departures were made and into which the element of individual initiative hardly entered, once the body of laws and precedents had been established. The Gothic of England never possessed any such canon either of logic or of taste. Every bishop, abbot, or master-builder strove to outdo his fellows, to strike out some new and dazzling masterpiece, and if, as a result, the medieval building of England failed of the finality, the certainty, and the uniformity of that of France, it achieved a variety and personality far in advance of anything to be found across the channel. The second importation of French ideas, in the shape of Westminster Abbey, was apparently as helpless to change the English character as Canterbury choir had been; here also the French setting out, the chevet, the structural system, were overlaid with English qualities. “We may readily make the fullest allowance for French influence at Westminster, for so entirely is it translated into the terms of English detail that the result is triumphantly English. It is a remarkable thing indeed, that this church, which was so much influenced by French fads, should, in spirit, he one of the most English of English buildings” (Lethaby, “Westminster Abbey and the King’s Craftsmen”, V, 125). French “facts” were apparently as helpless to control the general building of a people as they had been to restrain English workmen in their detail, and after the great abbey was finished in all its beauty England went on as before. By this time the stylistic quality of English Gothic had been pretty well fixed in such works as Beverley choir and transepts; Christ Church and St. Patrick’s, Dublin; Ely presbytery, Southwell choir, Netley and Rievaulx Abbeys, together with the “Nine Altars” of Durham and Fountains, all completed between the years 1225 and 1250, the peculiar qualities of English work had taken on a definite and very beautiful form. This is the period usually denominated “Early English”, and, while it shows no particular advance in structural development, it records a notable change in point of design; nearly all the attention of the builders seems devoted to solving the problems of beauty in form and line, in detail and composition—this chiefly in the interior treatment. The relations of the arcade, triforium, and clerestory, the varying designs of the latter with their subtile arrangements of slender shafts and delicate lancets; the beautiful pier sections and molding profiles, together with the sculpture of capitals, bosses, crockets, and terminals—varying as between the many subschools of the four main architectural provinces, yet always marked by a quality of pure beauty seldom attained even in the Ile-de-France—all are significant of a distinctively national artistic development, even though it follows lines other than those that held across the Channel.
Coincidently with the building of Westminster went on such works as the retro-choir of Exeter, the presbytery of Lincoln, the nave of Lichfield, and Tin-tern Abbey, wherein are the first signs of change from Early English to Geometrical. This process was continued up to the end of the century, and in the works of its last quarter are to be found the highest attainments of English art. Carlisle choir and east front, Guisborough and Pershore choirs, and St. Mary’s Abbey, York, are all expressed in a type of art that rises to the level of the highest attainments of man. The exquisite line-composition of Pershore and of York Abbeys, the refinement combined with masculine strength, the swift, steel-like curves of the molding profiles, the perfected beauty of the carved foliage, together with the masterly arrangement of the lines and spaces of light, the hollows and depths of shade—all work together to build up a masterly art. Much of the product of this time has perished, and even of York Abbey, which seems to have represented the high-water mark of pure English design, nothing remains except a shattered aisle wall, a crossing pier, and a few piles of marble fragments. Though at the beginning of the nineteenth century the greater portion of the fabric was intact, about 1820 it was sold to speculators to be burned into lime.
During the first half of the fourteenth century architectural progress was cumulative, reaching its apogee during the reign of Edward III. The fine simplicity and almost Hellenic feeling for line visible in the work of the preceding half century, and that gives it a place in this respect in advance of any other Gothic work of any time or people, has yielded to decorative richness, the multiplication of ornament and detail, and an intricate composition of light and shade. The incomparable carving of Lincoln and Wells, York Abbey, West Walton, and Llandaff, architectural yet with all the qualities of form that are found in the noblest sculpture, yields first to the lovely, but dangerously naturalistic, type of Southwell chapter house, and then to the globular forms, the bulbous modeling, and the effete curves of Patrington, Heckington, and the fourteenth-century tombs of Beverley and Ely.
Curvilinear window tracery, in all its suave grace, has taken the place of the fine and vigorous geometrical forms as of Netley, advanced a stage beyond the prototypes of France. Finally, the brilliantly articulated lierne vaulting, with its intermediate ribs emphasizing the verticality of the composition and carrying out to completion in the roof the fine drawing of multiple piers and molded arches, is swerving towards the unjustifiable type that came just before the fan vault, i.e. the criss-crossing of a network of purely decorative ribs over the vault-surfaces in violation of structural principle.
Decadence and perfect achievement go hand in hand—Exeter nave, the finest English interior remaining intact, on the one hand, Wells presbytery, on the other. But whatever the weaknesses that were showing themselves, they entered little into the make-up of the great parish churches, which represent, more than the episcopal and monastic structures, the genius of the period. This was one of the three great epochs of such parish architecture in England, and it is not to be forgotten that the true qualities of English Gothic art reveal themselves quite as fully in the minor as in the major buildings of this country. For a full century, i.e. from 1350 until 1450, the history of English Gothic is largely a history of parish church-building. The Black Death, which in 1349 smote the land with a pestilence that cut its population almost in halves, was followed by the Wars of the Roses, and the peace and prosperity of Edward III did not wholly return until the accession of Henry VII. During this long period, however, the trend of stylistic development was wholly changed by the remarkable innovations initiated by Abbot Thokey at Gloucester in 1330, and carried on by William of Wykeham at Winchester from 1350. “The supreme importance of Gloucester in the history of the later Gothic has never been adequately recognized. She turned the current of English architecture in a wholly new direction. But for Gloucester, English Decorated work might well have developed into a Flamboyant as rich and fanciful as that of France. But to the remotest corners of the land, to cathedral, abbey church, collegiate and parish church, there was brought the influence of Gloucester by the countless pilgrims to the shrine of Edward the Second in her choir” (Bond, op. cit., VII, 134). The manifest tendencies of Decorated—not, it must be confessed, of the most promising kind—were terminated, and instead a new progress was instituted towards the development of what we now know as Perpendicular “the first style of architecture that can properly be called English” (Moore, op. cit., VI, 212). Hitherto English Gothic has been rather a lovely overlaying of Continental principles by a distinctively racial decoration and a certain fine fastidiousness of design, with minor modifications of plan and system that left the foundations intact, so far as they had been apprehended and assimilated. Now was to come a perfectly independent manifestation in which system, design, and decoration were all new and all exclusively English. The adoption of the French scheme of a structural framework, the walls being no longer of masonry, but of glass set in a thin scaffolding of stone mullions, was at last adopted, but its working-out bore almost no relation whatever to the French method. Before the architectural revolution there were signs that sense of proportion and composition was decaying, as for example in the Lady Chapel of Ely (1321), which has almost no architectonic qualities to commend it, but whether William of Wykeham or profounder psychological influences are responsible, the fact remains that the danger was averted, and England recalled to sounder principles, which resulted in a new life in Gothic that persisted until Henry VIII and the regents under Edward VI brought the whole epoch of medieval civilization to an end and surrendered an unwilling people to the Reformation. Winchester nave and York choir; Westminster Hall, King’s College Chapel, Cambridge, and St. George’s, Windsor; Sherborne and Malvern, the choir vault of Oxford cathedral and the chapel of Henry VII at Westminster, together with the major part of the Oxford and Cambridge colleges, the great central towers of many of the cathedrals and abbeys, and, finally, parish churches of all sizes and almost without number, are indicative of the surprising new life in art and therefore of the strength of the sound Catholic civilization of England. The beauty of the new style, its structural integrity, and its fecund variety are worthy of high admiration. What it lacked of the majesty of form and the serene reserve of an earlier time is almost made up for by a fineness of line, a richness of design without opulence, and a splendor of color that find few antecedents in history, while the fan vault takes its place as one of the very great inventions of architecture. “In these splendid vaultings of the fifteenth century we have indeed the last work of English monastic art” (Prior, op. cit., VII, 95).
Step by step, diverging steadily from her point of departure from the Gothic of France, England had worked out to the full her own form of Gothic artistic expression. French precedents sat lightly upon her, and she was not favorably disposed to coercion. In plan the Norman and Burgundian type had been adhered to, and instead of that concentration which had produced in France a parallelogram with one end semicircular, there had been an expansion which resulted in the episcopal or archiepiscopal cross plans of Lincoln, Beverley, and Salisbury—long, narrow naves, equally long choirs, widely-spreading, aisled transepts, and frequently choir transepts as well, with a deep Lady Chapel prolonging the main axis still further to the east. The plan of a French cathedral such as Paris or Amiens announces its ordonance but indifferently; that of an English cathedral, exactly. Outwardly, the former is hardly more than a mountainous mass without composition; vast and awe-inspiring, but without emphasis or variety, except in regard to its western front when taken by itself. The latter—with its long, lateral facade, its building-up by successive planes, both horizontal and vertical, its Lady Chapel, choir, central tower, and west towers, its bold transepts, porches, and chapels—becomes an elaborate yet monumental composition of brilliant masses and infinitely varied light and shade. With the exception of Hales, Lincoln, and Beaulieu (now destroyed), Tewkesbury, and Westminster, the chevet gained no hold in England, nor did the apsidal termination widely commend itself; instead, the square east end became the established type, and when to this was added a retro-choir with a still lower Lady Chapel still further to the east, the result was an independent architectural scheme equally admirable to that complex glory of the French chevet.—Mr. Prior advances the interesting theory that the square east end was a fixed feature of both Saxon and Celtic church-building, that it was taken to Burgundy by St. Stephen Harding, the Englishman, who had been a monk of Sherborne in Dorset, where the old national tradition had survived the Norman invasion, and that it came back with the Cistercians, who, by their sheer dynamic force, were able to impose it at last on Benedictine abbey and secular cathedral alike, so bringing an originally local device to its own again. He says further: “In this matter the Canterbury choir of William of Sens was a survival rather than a pattern for English use. By the end of the twelfth century the mall small Keltic sanctuary had imposed itself on the choirs of our great Norman churches still more decisively than it has in the basilican introduction of St. Agustine” (A History of Gothic Art in England, II, 79).—In height, as related to breadth, the earlier and more reserved French relations were never exceede, while they were often discounted; until Tudor times the elimination of the wall in favor of skeleton construction combinged with glass screens, found little dollowing, and a grave and conservative relationship was preserved between solids and voides. The central tower the culmination and concentration of the composition, was almost invariable, while the west front was usually subordinated to the design as a whole. The elaborate articulation of piers and archivolts, until both became compositions of fine lines of light and shade, was carried further in England than elsewhere, and the introduction of tiercerons, or accessory vault ribs, with the ridge ribs to receive them, was in keeping with an instinct that felt the subtle beauty of these multiplied lines. The logical sense, that demanded the grounding of every downward thrust of vault rib either at the pavement or on the abacus of the pier or column caps, was not operative, and in most cases the vaulting shafts were stopped on corbels above the level of the arcade capitals. From the Cistercian aversion to ornament, and perhaps also in part from the use of turned shafts of dark marble applied to the piers and bonded in by stone rings or bronze dowels, came the turned and molded cap with the circular abacus. In its polygonal chapter houses England developed a brilliant conception all its own, and almost the same might be said of the parish church, while in the designing of tombs, chantries, reredoses, choir-screens, and chancel-fittings of wood, the delicate fancy of the English had full play in the creation of a mass of exquisite sculpture and joinery that has no counterpart elsewhere. If logic and consistency are the note of French Gothic, personality and daring are those of the Gothic of England. The west fronts of Peterborough, Bury St. Edmunds, Wells, Ely, and Lincoln; the chapter houses of York, Salisbury, Lincoln, and Westminster; the octagon of Ely, the fan vaulting of Gloucester, Sherborne, Oxford, and Westminster—all are examples of a vitality of impulse, a fertility in conception, a soaring imagination, and a cheerful disregard of scholastic precedent that give English Gothic a quality of its own as important in the make-up of the art-expression of Catholic Europe during the Middle Ages as is the masterly and final structural achievement of the Ile-de-France.
Outside France and England the racial adaptations of the Gothic impulse are much less vital and distinctive. Wales early evolved a school which had great influence in the development of style in the West of England, but it soon became merged therein and did not long preserve its identity: Ireland shows in its minor monastic work peculiar and very individual qualities hitherto unnoticed, but to which attention is being called at last by Mr. Champneys (cf. “The Architectural Review”, London, 1906; also “The Magazine of Christian Art“, 1908). In Scotland French influence was more pronounced than in the South, and the Norman of Jedburgh and Kelso, the Gothic of Dryburgh, Melrose, and Edinburgh deserve more careful study than has yet been given them. In all essential particulars, however, they are of the English school, and show no radical departures from the type established in the South by the Benedictines, Cluniacs, Cistercians, Augustinians, and Friars. In Germany the Gothic expression was slow in establishing itself, few evidences appearing before the Gothic style had reached perfection in France and England. “A reason for this, may perhaps be found in the fact that Germany in the twelfth century possessed a Romanesque architecture which, especially in the important churches along the Rhine, was of a very admirable character and was well suited to the needs and tastes of the German people” (Moore, op. cit., VII, 237). Another reason may also be discovered in the further fact that the pressure of Cistercian influence during its great formative period was towards France and England rather than Teutonic blood. When, about the middle of the thirteenth century, French architects began the construction of the cathedral of Cologne after the exaggerated manner that theirs was the first Gothic structure in Germany. Pointed arches and ribbed vaults had appeared sporadically in some of the larger churches at the end of the twelfth century, such as Worms, Mainz, and Bamberg, but the lateral arches are not stilted, and so far as proportion, design, exterior treatment and detail are concerned, these churches are strictly of the Rhenish Romanesque type, as are indeed, outwardly, the internally more Gothic Magdeburg and Limburg. St. Gereon, Cologne, and the Liebfrauenkirche, Trier, the first completed in 1227, the second begun in the same year, are churches of novel plan, each apparently having resulted from an effort to turn a French chevet into a church by repeating its design, so producing a plan approximating a circle, and harking back in an indeterminate sort of way to the polygonal, domed churches of Charlemagne; in both cases French schemes and forms have been used rather superficially and with little appreciation. Cologne remains, in spite of these examples, the first church in Germany that is strictly Gothic in its idea and its setting out, but even here its detail and ornament are German rather than French. It had a considerable influence on the superficial development of style, and towards the end of the century such works as St. Elizabeth, Marburg, and the cathedrals of Strasburg and Freiburg show the spreading of a style that had come too late to reach any very complete fruition. Until the end of the Middle Ages, when curious fantasies in design and decoration gave to German Gothic a certain unquestioned individuality, the contributions to the development of this phase of art were not notable; the most conspicuous is the Hallenbau scheme which consists in raising one or more aisles on either side of the nave to an equal height therewith, or rather in building a great hall roofed with level vaulting supported on rows of slender shafts dividing it into aisles. Lubeck has five of these aisles, others no less than seven. The Hallenbau church, whatever its width, was usually covered by one enormous roof, and the result, both internally and externally, is as far as possible from the Gothic idea of a logical assemblage of parts, each bearing a just and beautiful proportion to the others, all interrelated and forming a highly articulated organism, the exterior of which announced explicitly every structural form of plan and ordonance. The “open-work” spire, such as that of Freiburg, is a German development of a Flamboyant idea, which had much aesthetically to commend it, its lacelike surfaces being treated with great effectiveness.
Flemish Gothic is distinctly a subschool of that of France rather than of Germany. The nave of Tournai, built in 1060 is still Rhenish Romanesque, though pointed arches and certain Burgundian qualities are creeping in; its proportions, however, partake of the finer feeling of the Franks, even though its general conception is Rhenish. During the first half of the thirteenth century such thoroughly strong and refined examples of true Gothic as St. Martin, Ypres, St. Bavon and St. Michael, Ghent, appear, widely divided in their quality from the halting efforts of Germany proper. The civic work of Flanders is perhaps its most distinctively national creation, and the Cloth Hall, Ypres, with the great group of fourteenth- and fifteenth-century town halls—Bruges, Brussels, Louvian, Oudenarde, Alost, and Ghent—while excessive in their flamboyant detail, yet retain the essential elements of fine composition and vigorous design.
In Italy the introduction of Gothic forms was as long delayed as in Germany, while, so far as native work is concerned, the fundamental principles of Gothic construction were never accepted at all. It was essentially a northern art, and in Italy neither the mental disposition of the people nor the spiritual and temporal conditions put a premium on ideas in themselves racially foreign.. Nevertheless, once introduced, they produced in many cases very beautiful results, particularly in decoration and design, and Italian Gothic certainly contributes valuable elements to the total of medieval art. During the eleventh century one school after another had come into existence in almost every part of Italy, all based more or less on some local modification of the primitive basilican idea, yet varying in different directions as the peculiar influences of each section might direct. In Torcello, Murano, and Venice these were naturally Byzantine, more or less modified by the variations at Ravenna. In Sicily, Byzantine influence was mingled with strains from Mohammedan sources and with a strong influence brought in by King Roger and his Norman followers. Pisa and Florence worked on their own lines with some slight Lombardic admixture, while those portions of the peninsula under Lombard control developed their vital and inspiring style from the persisting Carlovingian tradition. The abstract beauty of much of this Italian product of the eleventh century is very pronounced, St. Marks at Venice, San Miniato a Florence, Cefalu, Monreale, and the Capella Papatina in Sicily; Troja, Toscanella, San Michele at Pavia, San Zeno at Verona—all possess elements of great art, but non one of the styles indicated by any of these buildings was destined to the final working-out under cultural conditions that made such a result inevitable. Development during the twelfth century was almost wholly local in its extent and decorative in its scope, and it was not until the coming of the Cistercians, with their Gothic if Burgundy, at the opening of the thirteenth century, that the incipient or reminiscent local modes were extinguished, and an attempt made at a general unification of style.
Apparently the Gothic influence had come too late. The era when architecture was to be the favorite mode for the artistic voicing of a civilization was, at least in the South, nearly at an end; painting and sculprute were to take its place, and therefore the Gothic architecture of Italy was to remain both racially alien and in its nature episodical. In the former class are those churches the designs of which were apparently imported almost bodily from Burgundy by the Cistercian monks, such as Fossanova, Casmari, and San Glagano, all works of great beauty of form and proportion, all vaulted in stone, the two former having full developed rib vaults with stilted lateral arches in good Gothic form, though in none is the buttress system well developed. A little later come Sant’ Andrea, Vercelli (1219-24), said to be the work of an English architect, but manifestly French, with a full system of flying buttresses, San Francesco at Assisi (1228-53), attributed by Vasari to a German architect, but also unmistakably French in its first inspiration, though considerably modified by what may well be local Franciscan influence, and San Francesco at Bologna, of which much the same may be said.
The first really local development of Gothic seems to have been at the hands of the friars, Sta. Croce and Sta. Maria Novella at Florence, dating from the end of the century, varying so widely from any contemporary form of Gothic that their peculiarities must be assigned either to the friars themselves or to the influx of Italian personality. One of the fundamental characteristics of Gothic is a sense of just proportion and a fine relationship of parts, combined with a passion for beauty of line, form, light and shade, color, and their relationships, not invariably achieved, but always sought for with a consuming eagerness. These qualities are almost wholly lacking in the churches above named, as well as in the cathedral itself, which partakes of nearly all of their peculiarities. We know that in England, when the Franciscans and Dominicans built their own great, popular churches, while they worked for the same large open spaces and economy of material, they nevertheless regarded these considerations of proportion and pure beauty, therefore the conclusion seems inevitable that it is not to the nature of the Mendicant Orders, but to some incapacity in the race, as it then was, that we owe the radical shortcomings of the work of Arnolfo and his fellows in Italy. The fact remains, however, that the great churches of the friars are the chief offenders. San Giovanni e Paolo and the Frari at Venice, the cathedral of Arezzo, San Petronio, Bologna, and the cathedral of Florence are, with the friars’ churches in the city last named, brilliant examples of the lamentable results that may be obtained when the structural and aesthetic laws of a great law are ignored or misunderstood. Siena and Orvieto cathedrals avoid the bald ugliness of this class of work, but in their structure they have no kinship with Gothic, while in respect to their facades the only quality they possess which is Gothic in any degree is a certain sense of beauty in ornament, itself derived from a recurrence to the forms of nature for inspiration, combined with an intense refinement of line and modeling and a blending of the arts of sculpture and color in a poetic and lovely composition. Perhaps the nearest approach to true Gothic feeling and accomplishment is to be found in the unfinished front of Genoa cathedral; being of the twelfth century, it is sufficiently early to have received something of the first great Gothic impulse, and is a masterpiece of delicate relations and exquisite detail. The best Gothic work in Italy is not ecclesiastical, but secular, and is to be found in the palaces of Venice, Siena, Florence, and Bologna. The Doge’s Palace and the innumerable private structures of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries in the first-named city have all the qualities of pure beauty of design and detail, as well as the unerring sense of proportion and relationship, that are characteristic of Gothic art, while the forms through which these are expressed are wholly medieval, yet with a complete racial note that raises them almost to the dignity of a national school of Gothic design.
Spain, as a Christian State, was non-existent except as a small area of still unconquered territory near the Pyrenees, until the middle of the thirteenth century, when Ferdinand III, afterwards canonized, united the crowns of Castile and Leon, won back Seville and Cordova, and established the final victory of the Cross over the Crescent in the Iberian Peninsula. Until this time the Gothic spirit had hardly more than crossed the mountains and always as a direct importation from Burgundy and Aquitaine; Salamanca cathedral, St. Vincent of Avila, the cathedrals of Lerida, Tudela, and Tarragona, the Abbey of Verula, and the church of Las Huelgas at Burgos, all built between 1120 and 1180, show a very undeveloped type of early Gothic construction, combined with a rich and imaginative treatment of Southern Romanesque design in the exterior. Salamanca and St. Isidoro at Leon both possess domes or lanterns over the crossing, remarkable in point of structural ingenuity and beauty of design both internally and externally. If the scheme was borrowed from the other side of the Pyrenees, it has been wholly transformed and glorified, and this brilliant innovation, containing such possibilities of development that were never carried further, may justly be attributed to native Spanish genius. No progressive growth occurred, however, during the next fifty years, and it was not until the definitive victories of St. Ferdinand made Spanish nationality possible, and the coming of the Cistercians gave the necessary spiritual impulse, that Gothic architecture in any true sense appeared in Spain, and then as another direct importation from France rather than as a development of the latent racial qualities inherent in Salamanca. Burgos, Barcelona, Toledo, and Leon are closely French in their setting-out and ordinance, but in detail they vary widely from all French precedents. There is a southern richness and romance both in the exterior and interior design and detail of Burgos, for example, as well as in the other Spanish work from the middle of the thirteenth century onward, that gives it a certain personality quite distinct from that of any other school of Gothic. This sumptuousness of detail and color, and composition of light and shade, enters into every detail; altars and reredoses, the latter often vast in size and of the richest materials; grilles of intricately wrought and chiseled metal; sculptured tombs; stalls of the most elaborate carving; great pictures, tapestries, and statues innumerable, together with a Flemish type of stained glass in the most brilliant coloring, were lavished on every church; and since Spain has escaped the pillage and destruction of religious revolutions, much of medieval completeness remains, though considerably overlaid with a thick coating of Renaissance, and therefore it is only in Spanish churches that one may obtain some idea of the general effect of a medieval church as it once was before it became subjected to the mishandling of revolutionists, iconoclasts, and restorers.
The end of Gothic architecture and of all Catholic art came with varying degrees of rapidity and at different times as between the several schools of Europe. Generally speaking, its death-knell was sounded when the work of St. Gregory the Great, St. Gregory VII, and St. Innocent III was temporarily undone. and the French Crown established a temporal control over the papacy. The exile at Avignon, begun in 1305, followed as it was by the Great Schism, broke the links that bound kings and peoples to the hitherto dominant Church, opened the doors of Italy to the influx of the neo-paganism that came from the East with the fall of Constantinople in 1453, permitted the uprising of heresy in all parts of Europe, and made possible the supremacy in Italy of the tyrants of the fourteenth century—Visconti, Sforza, Medici. The Black Death, which scourged all Europe, and the Hundred Years War in France brought down from its high estate the civilization that had flowered at Chartres, and Reims, and Amiens, and when architecture began to recover itself in France after the return of peace, its advance was on lines suggested by the fourteenth century Gothic of England, which had continued to grow rich and fertile, the most vital school of Gothic art of the time in Europe. The seeds were sown during the war itself, the chapel of St. John Baptist of the cathedral of Amiens, built in 1375, being of a fully developed Flamboyant style. From now on the substitution was complete; whatever building there was, was explicitly Flamboyant; the old logical system, the old breadth and nobility of design, detail always duly subordinated to just composition, were gone almost in a night. Says Enlart: “Ce style, qui est l’exageration et la decadence de l’art gothique, n’apporte presque aucun perfectionnement a l’art de bestir ou de dessiner, mais seulement un systeme decoratif tires particulier et plus ou moms arbitraire, qui, applique sans exception clans les moindres details, produit beaucoup d’effet et beaucoup d’harmonie d’ensemble” (This style, which is the exaggeration and decadence of Gothic art, adds hardly any perfecting to the art of building or of designing, but only a very peculiar and more or less arbitrary system of decoration, which, when applied with thorough consistency to the minutest details, is very effective and produces a very harmonious general effect. “Manuel darcheologie francais”, I. 586).
The delicate and fantastic beauty of Flamboyant detail is unquestionable, and, as decoration, the lacelike webs of thin lines, graceful curving forms, and craftily spotted lights and shades, as they appear in Rouen, Troyes, and Abbeville west fronts and the transepts of Beauvais, in Louviers, Caudebec, Notre-Dame de l’Epine, St. Maclou, Rouen, St-Michel, and St-Germain, Amiens, are amongst the most charming creations of artistic fancy. It must be remembered, however, that it is all strictly a form of decoration, not an architectonic style, nor even a subschool thereof, unless in such peculiarly admirable examples as the Troyes facade, the chevet of Mt. St-Michel, and the very wonderful St-Germain at Amiens, the still persisting quality of structural integrity combined with just proportions and a certain unusual restraint in the placing of decoration justify a dignity hardly argued by the unparalleled license of the general output of the Flamboyant period. To a certain extent it is an architectural mystery, for it is an excessive refinement of art appearing after the close of a period of sound and vigorous civilization, in the midst of war and anarchy, contemporaneously with religious degradation, growing side by side with tendencies that in a few years were to bring the civilization it connotes forever to an end. In this it was not alone, however. Similar conditions in Italy surrounded the culmination of the great arts of painting and sculpture, while in England the delicate and exquisite Perpendicular Gothic reached its highest development in the reign of Henry VIII. Says Mr. Porter, in considering this phenomenon: “Thus in the hour of political and economic misfortune, in the midst of the financial ruin and degradation of the Church, was born flamboyant architecture—the last frail blossom of medieval genius. Did this art come into being as a prophetic manifestation of the great national awakening that was to produce Jeanne d’Arc and shake off the English yoke? I should hardly dare affirm it, for the history of architecture ever reflects, rather than presages, economic developments” (op. cit., II, X, 368). One may go further even than this, and say that the flowering of art is always a generation or more later than the causes of its being. Dante and Giotto are the last of the medieval epoch, rather than the forerunners of the Renaissance. Shakespeare is Elizabethan by accident of birth, but essentially he is the fruit of pre-Reformation England. The early Renaissance in Italy is the flowering of medievalism, rather than the germinating seed of the Renaissance, and similarly the poetic, if inorganic, Flamboyant art of France takes its color not from the downfall of Catholic civilization in fifteenth-century France, but from the better days that preceded the great debacle. The magic of fifteenth-century art is neither the unwholesome iridescence of decay nor the first brightening towards the dawn of a Renaissance, but the afterglow of a great day, in the brightness of which stood the creative personalities of Sts. Odo of Cluny and Robert of Molesme, Bernard and Norbert, Gregory VII and Innocent III, King Philip Augustus and King Louis IX.
Generally speaking, fifteenth-century architecture throughout Europe is secular as opposed to the Cluniac Romanesque and Norman, and the Cistercian Gothic of the three preceding centuries. Perpendicular Gothic in England and its derivative, Tudor, is largely the product of guilds of architects, sculptors, and masons, working primarily for great merchants and the friars, the latter being the dominant religious influence of the time. In France and Flanders the Flamboyant style is peculiarly the product of the individualistic architect and the purveyor of artistic luxuries, and during the entire period the best and most significant work is to be sought amongst guild halls, palaces, castles, manors, and colleges, and in the towers, chapels, tombs and other memorials paid for by the new orders of rich merchants and affluent courtiers.
The end now came rapidly. In Italy Gothic feeling as well as Gothic forms had disappeared altogether by the end of the fifteenth century, the last flicker of the instinctive art of medievalism, as distinguished from the premeditated artifice of the Renaissance, appearing in the work of the Lombardi in Venice, and in such structures as the church of Sta Maria dei Miracoli and the Scuola di San Marco (1480-95). In France something of Gothic romance and intrinsic beauty continued down to 1550 in the manoirs and chateaux, while in Germany it dragged along a few decades longer in isolated instances. In Spain the superb central towel of Burgos was built as late as 1567, though already full-fledged Renaissance work was in process in other parts of the Peninsula. In England the sumptuous Perpendicular of the Chapel of Henry VII at Westminster hardened rapidly into the formalities of later Tudor, and ceased wholly as a definite style when the suppression of the monasteries, the separation of the English Church from the Roman obedience, and the imposition of the principles of the dogmatic Reformation of Germany on the English people brought church-building to an end. With the final submission of the English during the reign of Elizabeth to a dogmatic revolution they had not invited, but were powerless to resist, came an influx of German influence that rapidly wiped out the very tradition of Gothic, except in the case of the universities and in that of the minor domestic building, substituting in its place the most unintelligent use of supposedly classical forms anywhere to be found in the history of the Renaissance. At Oxford and Cambridge the cultural tradition was strong enough to withstand for a century the complete acceptance of the new fashion, and down to the middle of the seventeenth century the elder tradition persisted in such work as St. John’s, Cambridge, and Wadham, Oxford, while its compulsion was so strong as to coerce even Inigo Jones into building the fine garden front of St. John’s, Oxford, in a style at least reminiscent of what had been universal two centuries before. The same instinctive impulse continued in the case of manors and farmsteads even to a later date, and to this day in certain portions of England the stone-mason, carpenter, and tile layer preserve the old rules and traditions of the craft that have been handed down from father to son for centuries.
From the year 1000 to the year 1500, Catholic Europe had slowly worked out its own form of artistic expression, largely through “the most consummate art of building which the world has achieved” (Prior, “History of Gothic Art in England“, I, 7). As paganism had done in Greece, so, and equally, Christianity wrought in the North. Primarily it was an art of church-building and adornment, for the Church was the one concrete and unmistakable fact in life. “While all else was unstable and changeful, she, with her unbroken tradition and her uninterrupted services vindicated the principle of order and the moral continuity of the race… The services of monastic and secular clergy alike, their offices of faith, charity and labor in the field and the hovel, in the school and the hospital as well as in the church were for centuries the chief witness of the spirit of human brotherhood (Norton, “Historical Studies of Church Building in the Middle Ages“, I, 16). Therefore, on the heels of the tenth-century triumph of the Church came the eleventh-century passion for church-building; as says Rudolphus, the monk of Cluny, writing in the midst of it all, “Erat enim instar ac si mundus ipse excutiendo semet, rejector vetustate, passim candidam ecclesiarum vestem indueret” (It was as if the world, shaking itself and putting off the old things, were putting on the white robe of churches). The old vesture was indeed cast away and the new “white robe of churches” was of other make. The underlying laws of the new style were identical with those of all other great styles, the vision of beauty was no different in any respect, the forms alone were absolutely new. For five centuries the artistic mode of Western Europe went on its way without a pause, one in spirit wherever it was found. “The motives which inspired these great buildings of this period, the principles which underlay their forms, the general character of the forms themselves were in their essential nature the same throughout Western Europe from Italy to England. The differences in the works of different lands are but local and external varieties” (Norton, op. cit., I, 10). This universal mode was universally destroyed, and in the space of a few years. With the opening of the fifteenth century the victory of the Renaissance was definitely assured, while it was brought to its completion just a century later. Of the product of these five centuries of activity comparatively little remains intact. As Mr. Prior says, “Western Europe up to the middle of the sixteenth century might be called a treasure house filled with gems of Gothic genius. The desecrations and revolutions of two centuries wrecked one half, swept Gothic churches clear of their ornaments and then leveled to the ground many of the fabrics which they furnished. Of much that was not actually destroyed, carelessness and neglect and the necessities of rebuilding have since made equal havoc…At its worst this rebuilding, repainting, recarving has been wanton and causeless substitution… For the next generation to us any direct acquaintance with the great comprehensive Gothic genius, except by means of parodies, will be difficult” (A History of Gothic Art in England, I, 3,
4). Enough remains, however, to enable us to reconstruct, at least in imagination, an unique artistic product of Christian civilization, of which it is possible for Professor Norton to say that “it advanced with constant increase of power of expression, of pliability and variety of adaptation, of beauty in design and skill in construction until at last, in the consummate splendor of such a cathedral as that of Our Lady of Chartres or of Amiens, it reached a height of achievement that has never been surpassed” (op. cit., I, 13).
RALPH ADAMS CRAM