Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Soaring High into Heaven

It’s the pursuit of geometric equality, when followed without fail, which gives gothic cathedrals their characteristic unrefined harmony. “Every part of the building is linked logically, harmoniously and proportionally to the whole world” (Scott).

Chartres Cathedral is an example of the above. It can be seen from many miles away; only the grain silos that dot the lands in which the city lies can contend with the cathedrals outline (Coldstream). The Cathedral itself “occupies a central position in the history of Western architecture for many reasons” (Pestell). Chartres along with the Rheims and Amiens Cathedrals, have long been taken as the “most perfect Gothic solutions to the structural and aesthetic problems posed by the design of a great church” (Pestell).

The French Gothic Chartres Cathedral was originally a Romanesque church built in 1145 (Craven) and is a example of soaring arches and flying buttresses (Eusden). Everything but the western front of the church was destroyed by fire in 1194 (Craven). Chartres was re-erected by many designers who worked from 1194 to 1220 to rebuild it after the fire (Eusden). The reconstruction of Chartres was done in the Gothic style, setting the standard for thirteenth architecture (Craven). Chartres is built of limestone and measures 112 feet in height and 427 feet in length (Craven).

When entering the nave at Chartres you are urged to use the “gift of seeing” (Eusden). As you look around, you are immediately struck by the soaring open space (Eusden). It has its own form and style of images of the spirit. One does not need to be taught about it before they can appreciate its great beauty (Eusden). “The viewer is struck by the inside light of Chartres--the "girdle of light," as it is sometimes described. In the thirteenth-century glassmaker's art, blues and reds were the dominant tones. Depending on the light, the colors are always shifting, offering ever-changing patterns. "The sensuous power of the illuminous tones of Chartres glass, which waxes and wanes in strength as the day proceeds, grows at dusk, when the windows seem to glide loose from the framework of the cathedral architecture and appear like color floating in space.”Chartres is said to be a Bible of glass as well as a Bible of stone” (Eusden). Eusden also tells us that “in its space, light, and height, Chartres is a summa of Christian doctrine. Its architecture, perhaps even more than its collection of specific religious objects, brings to light the attributes of God and the condition of humankind.”” The church is, mystically and liturgically an image of heaven” (Simson).

All of the “new style” ideas listed in my previous posts allowed the Gothic mason to build much larger and taller buildings than anyone could have ever imagined. These new forms of architecture have continued to be utilized even in the present time. Today this Gothic style of architecture is not just for churches. As I drive through my community I have observed this style on many store fronts and mini-malls. It is also used to create intricate gothic home furnishings and d├ęcor. The Gothic period architecture obviously has made a great and lasting impact of history.

Coldstream Nicola. Medieval Architecture. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002. Print.
Craven, Jackie. "Chartres Cathedral." Sacred Buildings: Gothic Chartres Cathedral in Chartres,
France. Guide. Web. 18 August 2010.
Eusden, John D. "Chartres and Ryoan-ji: Aesthetic connections and affecting presence." Cross Currents
43.1 (1993): 38. Academic Search Complete. EBSCO. Web. 14 Aug. 2010.
Pestell, Richard. "The Design Sources For The Cathedrals of Chartres Soissons." Art History 4.1 (1981):
1-13. Academic Search Complete. EBSCO. Web. 14 Aug. 2010.
Simson, Otto Von. "The Gothic Cathedral:Origins of Gothic Architecture & the Medieval Concept of Order.
New York: Bollingen Foundation Inc, 1956. Print.

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Monday, August 16, 2010

Birds, Demons and Gargoyles - OH MY!

As you have read in my past posts, gothic architecture was not just about adornment. This new Gothic fashion brought forth new pioneering techniques that allowed for cathedrals, churches, synagogues, and numerous other types of buildings to reach great heights (Craven). In my last post I shared the flying buttress and ribbed vaulting with you. Today I will share another technique with you, probably the most important of the three, the pointed arch. Much has been said about the contribution of the pointed arch to the Gothic formation (Fitchen). This technique was not a new concept. Builders during the earlier Romanesque era utilized pointed arches but did not profit from them. Architects during the Gothic era realized that the pointed arch had many architectural advantages and would give buildings added strength and solidity allowing the weight of the roof to be supported by the arches rather than the walls which further meant the walls could be thinner (Craven). They were sturdier than the rounded arch by twenty to twenty-five percent and less material was needed to construct the pointed arch. The pointed arch helped builders by allowing them to build higher walls. Higher walls meant more space for windows, which in turn allowed more light to filter in opening up the interior space of the building (Scott).

Cathedrals and churches were the most prevalent and primary buildings found in cities.  Over several centuries, cathedrals erected in the High Gothic style became increasingly elaborate. Builders began to add hundreds of sculptures, towers, and pinnacles (Craven). defines a pinnacle as a relatively small, upright structure, commonly terminating in a gable, a pyramid, or a cone, rising above the roof or coping of a building, or capping a tower, buttress, or other projecting architectural member.  Many Gothic cathedrals were heavily adorned with grotesque and leering creatures called gargoyles (Craven). Gargoyles have been used for more than 2,000 years and were popular in Europe from about 1000 AD to 1500 AD (Encyclopedia Britannica on line). The original use for gargoyles was as a water spout (Craven) because if water were to continually run down the sides of a building, they would eventually start to deteriorate. Instead, water would drain from a gutter that was positioned on the ledge of a building, down into the gargoyles and then shoot out of their mouths onto the street below; flowing away from the walls and foundation of the buildings (Encyclopedia Britannica on line). If gargoyles were not being used as water spouts, they were called Grotesques and then were not classified as true gargoyles (Encyclopedia Britannica on line). These repulsive and strange gargoyles, which were sometimes carved into the shape of dragons, demons and misshapen birds, were also thought to scare away evil spirits (medieval life and These hideous gargoyles represented evil and were used to contrast the beauty of a cathedral which represented good. They were also believed to be a non-Christian symbol that would allow non-believers to feel more at ease about attending church. They would sit on their back legs balanced high on the edge of the cathedral inviting all to attend.

Craven, Jackie. "Architecture." Guide. Web. 16 August  2010.
Fitchen, John. The Construction of Gothic Cathedrals: A Study of Medieval Vault Erection. Chicago:
     TheUniversity Chicago Press, 1961. Print
"Gargoyle." Britannica Elementary Encyclopedia. Encyclopedia Britannica Online chool Edition.
     Encyclopedia Britannica, 2010. Web. 15 August 2010.
"Gargoyle." Compton's by Britannica. Encyclopedia Britannica Online School Edition.
     Encyclopedia Britannica, 2010. Web. 15 August 2010.
"Gargoyle." Medieval Life and Times. 16 August 2010.
Glancey, Jonathan. Artchitecture. Eyewitness Companions. New York: Dorling Kindersley Limited. 2006,
Scott, Robert A. The gothic Enterprise: A Guide to Understanding The Medieval Cathedral. California:
     University of California Press, 2003. Print.
Swaan, Wim. Art and Architecture of the Late Middle Ages. 1350 to the Advent of the Renaissance.
     London: Omega Books Limited, 1982. Print.
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Thursday, August 12, 2010

New techniques; Lasting Looks

Notre Dame de Paris

I would like to welcome you back to the fascinating and innovative architecture of the Gothic Era. Today I will be sharing with you just two of the many techniques that builders in this time period incorporated into their masterpieces. The flying buttress, also known as an Arc Boutant, was the elemental character of the Gothic style and was used to build many gothic cathedrals like the Chartres and the Notre Dame de Paris (The American Heritage New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy). They are outer surface arch supports that stretch out from a roof, vault, or Nave (the main part of a church,) and downward to a freestanding column or buttress. The function of the flying buttress was to alleviate the load by shifting the weight off of the cathedral walls and onto the buttress. By making the part of the buttress that extended from the building in the shape of a semi arch, it had almost the same weight bearing capabilities as the cathedral walls themselves (Carr). The material’s now being used were much lighter and cheaper. This gave the extended part of the buttress the appearance of flying through the air. Since the weight was now being supported by something other than the cathedral walls, the walls could now be filled with cut outs for large windows that would have otherwise destabilized the walls. These windows would not be used to create more lighting to be able to see, but instead used to generate a more divine and mystifying kind of light, making them more inspiring (Carr). Stained glass was heavily used to augment this atmosphere. The flying buttress allowed for the formation of higher ceiling’s in the gothic era. They were used to stretch arches to heights never imagined. Now, taller more alluring buildings were able to be built.

Elements of Gothic Architecture
The next aspect to this architecture is the ribbed vault. In relation to architecture, vaults by definition are arched structures that are usually made of stones, concrete, or bricks, that form a ceiling or roof over a hall or room ( Groin vaults are comprised of two intersecting barrel vaults, (a simple ongoing vault that is semicircular in shape,) that come together in a V shape. They can be rounded or pointed as in Gothic churches (Carr). Ribbed vaults resemble groin vaults but their surfaces are divided into a web like architecture of diagonally arched ribs that arch and intersect to support a vaulted ceiling surface. They could sometimes have six sections in each bay; this would be called a sexpartite. The ribbed vault helped to lessen the weight of the ceiling and allowed for the vaults weight to be equally distributed throughout the ceiling at hidden points or “ribs” rather than at the thick wall edge (Carr). Since these ribbed vaults, like the flying buttresses, relieved the wall spaces from support and opened them up, windows could be built into the walls as I stated above. Examples of these vaults can be found in buildings such as the Abbaye aux Dames at Caen, Notre Dame in Paris, Chartres, and the Rouen.
Abbaye aux Dames at Caen

Carr, Karen. "Flying Buttresses." Kidipede-History For Kids. 2009. 12 August 2010.
Carr, Karen. (Groin Vaults" Kidipede - History for Kids. 2009. August 12, 2010.
"Flying Buttress." The American Heritage New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy," Third Edition. Houghton Mifflin Company, 2005. 12 August 2010.

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Tuesday, August 10, 2010

An Era Everlasting

Welcome to my blog about Gothic Era Architecture. Architecture in itself has always interested me, but the massive cathedrals from this time period just hold me in awe. They absolutely amaze me with their elaborate designs and grandeur.

The term Gothic is used to describe some of the art and architecture of the later Middle Ages. The term however has nothing to do with Goth people themselves. Goth people were barbaric people and came from a Germanic descent. They took over and settled in the Roman Empire between the third and fifth centuries (Webster’s New World Dictionary).

Gothic architecture first started to appear after the Romanesque Era and had a time span that ran from about the mid 12th through the 16th centuries and it became the governing structural approach throughout Europe for a period of about 400 years. Architecture was the most significant and innovative art form during the Gothic era (Martindale). It showed spiritual passion and evolved for the most part around cathedrals and churches. Unlike the Romanesque Era, Gothic architecture, especially in the latter part, was characterized by its perfectionism, vastness and open space.

New style building techniques such as ribbed-vaults, flying buttresses, and pointed instead of rounded arches gave cathedrals and churches a sense of stretching out into the universe and reaching to the heavens. Throughout my next few posts, I will explain these new style building techniques, the origin of the Gargoyle and about the oldest example in existence that portrays this New Gothic Style.

"Goth." Webster's New World Dictionary. Third College Ed. 1991. Print

Martindale, Andrew Henry Robert. "Gothic Art and Architecture." Professor of Visual Arts, University of East Anglia, Norwich, England, 1974-95. 10 August 2010.

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