Gothic Influence


     The church in the Middle Ages was a place that all people, regardless of
class, could belong to. As a source of unity, its influence on art and
architecture was great during this time. As society drew away from the feudal
system of the Romanesque period, a new spirit of human individualism began to
take hold; alas, the birth of Gothic. Here, the Church became a place where
humanity became more acceptable, alas becoming the ideal place to visual such
new ideals. The beauty and elegance of Gothic architecture is depicted most in
the great cathedrals of the 12th, 13th and 14th centuries—St. Denis, Notre

Dame, Chartres, Salisbury, Durham, Amiens, and more. The experience of looking
at one of the great gothic cathedrals is to look up towards God. Indeed, most

Gothic structures emphasize the vertical, drawing one’s eyes upwards toward
the heavens with the awesomeness of God. These cathedrals were built with
towering spires, pointed arches and flying buttresses giving impressions of
harmony and luminosity. One of the major accomplishments of the 12th and 13th
centuries was to develop the engineering mastery of the ribbed vault, pointed
arch and flying buttress to create a great cathedral that is at once taller,
lighter, wider, and more elegant than the ones before. Even though the pointed
arch could support more weight than its predecessors, there was still the
problem of finding a way to support the heavy masonry ceiling vaults over wide
spans. In order to support the outward thrust of barrel vaults, vertical support
walls have to be very thick and heavy. What makes possible the extensive use of
ribbed vaulting and pointed arches to "open" and "lighten" the walls and
space of the cathedral is the flying buttress—"an arched bridge above the
aisle roof that extends from the upper nave wall, where the lateral thrust of
the main vault is greatest, down to a solid pier." [Jansen, History of Art, p.

407]. The effect is to add structural strength and solidity to the building. The
visual appearance of changes from the Early and Later or High Gothic are clear,
as each cathedral became increasingly narrower and taller. For instance, compare
the nave elevations of Notre-Dame to Amiens [Text, fig. 442, p. 333], the
pointed arches of Amiens are significantly taller and narrower than the much
earlier Notre Dame. The mastery of the flying buttress allowed medieval builders
to construct taller and more elegant looking buildings with more complex ground
plans. Encyclopedia Britannica ’97 describes the "flying" effect of this
buttress of hiding the masonry supports of the structure: "a semi-detached
curved pier connects with an arch to a wall and extends (or "flies") to the
ground or a pier some distance away. The delicate elegance of Gothic cathedrals
is different from the "Heavy buttresses jutting out between the chapels" of

Romanesque churches,. From the outside, aesthetic consideration of the flying
buttresses was significant and "its shape could express support...according to
the designer’s sense of style." The flying buttress was first used on a
monumental scale at Notre Dame From the outsider the flying buttresses create a
seemingly bewildering mass of soaring props, struts, and buttresses, yet blend
in with the rich sculpture and elaborate portals of the West fa?ade,
giving the appearance of a three-story layout. [Text. P. 325-326, fig. 429 (

This contrasts visually with the plans that show the buttresses "as massive
blocks of masonry that stick out from the building like a row of teeth."
[Text. P. 325, Fig. 426].) At Chartres the flying buttress is more unique, the
half arch is made of smaller arches that give more height to the already
narrower and more vertical walls of the nave., as well as blending in with the
colonnaded triforium wall of the nave [Text, p. 329, fig. 434, fib. 437]. In

England, the flying buttress appears almost as an "afterthought" where
verticality is not as important. {English Gothic style emphasizes a "long,
low, sprawling" character compared to the compact, vertical of French Gothic.
[Text. P. 336]) Flying Buttresses also made the personification of Gothic art
possible, as it allowed for almost no structure support in the walls. The flying
buttress lends the interior illusion of being "amazingly airy and
weightless" because the masonry supports are hidden and visible only from the
outside. Since flying buttresses are perpendicular to the walls, intervening
wall spaces could be "opened" up between the buttresses. As the walls were
thinner, stained glass windows gradually came to replace masonry. Later Gothic
cathedrals appear to be only thin skeletal frames of masonry. Wall surfaces of

High Gothic churches thus have the appearance of transparent and weightless
curtains. The spiritual and mysterious quality of light is an important element
of the religious symbolism of Gothic cathedrals.].While the stained, colored
glass windows of this period gave the churches novel lighting affects, they did
not make the churches "lighter" (the glass was heavily colored). While the
use of stained glass was limited during the Romanesque period, the first
extensive use as in the rebuilding of St. Denis. As cathedrals became taller and
wider, windows became larger to allow more space for stained glass.

Bibliography

Encyclopedia

Britannica ’97. CD-ROM · "Gothic Architecture and Art". The Columbia

Encyclopedia, Fifth Edition Copyright ©1993 · Janson and Janson. "History of

Art".