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Gothic Architecture History, Characteristics and Examples

Gothic architecture, a pan-European style, came about between the mid 12th century and the 16th century and is characterized mainly by masonry building style that uses cavernous spaces and walls broken by overlaid tracery. The Gothic style and architecture are rooted in French architecture, but you can also find it in Europe and other continents. Initially, the style of architecture from Europe was referred to as Opus Francigenum (“French Work”) and was primarily used by religious bodies like the Roman Catholic Church.

During the 12th century and the 13th century, engineering was advanced, enabling architects to design and complete huge buildings. The gothic style of architecture started in the Middle Ages and was from a Romanesque evolution symbolized by vaulted ceilings, many arches, and smaller stained windows. The gothic architecture features such as the rib vaulted pointed arch and the flying buttress were used for tall buildings' support and allowing light inside. In contrast, stained windows, standard in Gothic cathedrals, allowed colored or tinted light in the interiors.

The Basilica Church, founded as Abbey of Saint-Denis, was regarded as the first gothic building, and it marks the evolution styles out of Romanesque. The Basilica of Saint-Denis had two towers of similar height on the west front, and this is a plan that was imitated in the plan for Notre-Dame de Paris. For the longest time, these enormous Gothic cathedrals were the city's landmarks before modern tall buildings. This article will try to explain more the characteristic of gothic architecture and style with some examples.

Key Characteristics of Gothic Architecture

1. Large Stained Glass Windows

Large Stained Windows

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Today stained glass windows are found in some worship places, but they were initially in Gothic cathedrals, and they featured cut-colored glass. They were either arched and tall lancet windows or round rose windows larger than those found in churches today, which guaranteed they brought in more light. The large clerestory windows often used tracery, a decorative type of stone support, and detailed Biblical stories
Large Stained Windows

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Large Stained Window

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2. Pointed Arches

Pointed Arches

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Pointed Arches were another critical feature of gothic architecture to be both decorative and practical. The pointed arch was of a sturdy little design that had a form that distributed the force of bulky walls and heavy ceilings, which could offer more support than the formerly used pillars. The gothic arch was of aesthetic value and beauty like a workhorse, and it influenced other gothic designs like the vaulted ceilings.

Instead of the round arches, which were characteristic of the Romanesque buildings, architects using the gothic style adapted the tall thin pointed arches found in Islamic architecture. This profile highlighted each cathedral's height by pointing towards the sky and accommodating a vaulting in a similar shape.

Pointed Arch

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3. Vaulted Ceilings

Vaulted Ceiling

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Ribbed vaulting is another art form during the Gothic period because the pointed arch results involved barrel vaults-arches placed parallel to one another and supported the rounded roof. These vaulted ceilings used the pointed arch technology to spread and distribute the weight and force from the upper floors, and they allowed ceilings to be taller than they were before, providing an impression of height and elegance. As a result of the force distribution within the vaulting ceilings, the vaults could be constructed in different sizes and shapes.

4. Flying Buttresses

Flying Buttresses

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The flying buttress is a gothic architecture feature that defines the external characteristics and acts to spread the tall walls' weight. The architects' used the flying buttresses to support the building's structure by transferring the force to the ground. It was both a decorative and practical element of history and was elaborately designed.

The flying buttresses gave a sense of movement and flight because they seemed to sweep and dart around each building. Often, the flying buttress was decorated with intricate carvings, giving it a sense of grandness and importance.

Flying Buttress

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5. The Gargoyles of Gothic Architecture/ Ornate Decorations

Gargoyles

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As one of the most notable characteristics of gothic architecture and ornate decorations, Gargoyles were decorative monstrous little creatures that sat along the roof and battlements of gothic castles and buildings. Gargoyles have two purposes, and one was to drain off rainwater off the roof, gushing through their mouth then plummeting to the ground. Another purpose was to strike fear in the ill-educated peasants and scare them into the gothic cathedral or church.

Gargoyles

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Gargoyles were one of the critical characteristics of gothic architecture and had evil features and threatening poses that were exaggerated and encouraged many to seek safety and solace in a church or cathedral in the world marked with superstition and fear. Other examples of ornate decorations included statues of saints and historical figures, embellished colonnades and colonettes, pinnacles and spires, and sculptural moldings.

Classic Gothic Style and Gothic Architecture, Examples

a). Gothic Cathedrals

1. Notre-Dame De Paris

Notre Dame

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Notre-Dame De Paris is one of the perfect examples of French Gothic architecture, where construction began in 1163 and ended in 1345, and it is one of the famous and most prominent churches in France. During the reign of Louis XIV and his son Louis XV, Notre Dame went through massive alterations and also suffered some damage during the Second World war with stray bullets damaging several glass windows, which were later remade after the war.

Notre Dame

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2. Chartres Cathedral

Chartres Cathedral

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This is one excellent example of French Gothic Architecture, and it is also the best preserved in Europe, dating from the 12th century and the mid 13th centuries. Today, it is a tourist attraction and pilgrimage listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979 and is assumed to house the Virgin Mary's tunic.

3. The Basilica of Saint-Denis

Abbey of Saint-Denis

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Considered one of the first Gothic-style buildings, and it officially became a cathedral in 1966. Basilica Church of Saint-Denis is located in a Paris suburb, and the site it's built on was previously a Roman cemetery, and the remains are still below the building. The Basilica of Saint-Denis is both a pilgrimage and houses the tombs of most French Kings between the 10th and 18th centuries. Abbot Suger, a friend, noted scholar, and advisor to King Louis VI and Louis VII, led to the church's rebuilding.

4. The Cathedral Church of Milan

Milan Cathedral

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Cathedral Church of Milan, another example of gothic architecture, took around 600 years to complete, with the construction beginning in 1386 and lasted until the 19th century in 1865. The building work had to stall during the Second World War because of the allied bombing of Milan and lack of funds, and it was finally completed in 1965.

The Cathedral Church of Milan is the third largest cathedral globally and is famous for its forest of pinnacles and spires and the highly ornate facade. The forest of spires and pinnacles design has purposes both for aesthetics and structure.

5. St. Stephen's Cathedral

Stephen's Cathedral

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Stephen's Cathedral, an example of gothic architecture, is considered the most prominent Gothic building in Vienna's entire city, where it is located, and it houses some of Vienna's art treasures. Its current form is a combination of Gothic forms and Romanesque and was built in 1160.

Stephen's Cathedral

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6. Westminster Abbey

Westminster Abbey

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Westminster Abbey, an example of gothic architecture, is London's most well-known landmark, an abbey church located in Westminster city in London. The abbey church was the regular place of coronation for English monarchs for many centuries until the monastery was dissolved in 1539. Today it has remained among the most visited sites in London.

Westminster, Abbey

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7. Amiens Cathedral

Amiens

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This is the tallest cathedral in France and another example of Gothic architecture built between the years 1220 and 1270, but minor works continue till the year 1288.

Amiens gothic architecture

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8. Salisbury Cathedral

Salisbury Cathedral

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Salisbury's cathedral is among the few fine Gothic architecture examples, both a majestic building and a record-breaker. Built between 1220 and 1258, it features the tallest church spire, the most significant cathedral close, and Britain's largest abbey. Additionally, it houses one of the oldest working clocks and one of the Magna Carta's original copies, essential for the UK and democratic nations.

Salisbury Architecture

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9. Reims Cathedral

Notre Dame at Reims

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Also known as the Cathedral of Notre Dame at Reims, this cathedral in France is among the most visited countries, with about 1,000,000 visits every year. It was built using the High Gothic style in the 13th century and was built on another church's location that a fire had destroyed. It is recognized as a UNESCO Heritage Site since 1991, and it inspired the high gothic style which appeared in the Holy Roman Empire rebuild.

Notre Dame at Reims

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10. Cologne Cathedral

Cologne cadhedrals

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This Cathedral took 600 years to complete, with construction beginning in 1248 was abandoned in 1473, and remained unfinished for 350 years, to be resumed in the 1840s and was completed in 1880. The Cologne Cathedral was the largest in Northern Europe and had the second-tallest spires built in a Germanic Gothic style. The cathedral has witnessed several tank battles and bomb hits, and it has been ongoing repair since after the war to date.

Cologne architecture

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11. York Minster

York Minister

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The York Minster west front is an example of English Gothic architecture with tracery features on the main window. The York Minster also has stained glass, which dates back to the 12th century, with the construction starting in 1220 and completed in 1472.

12. Canterbury Cathedral

Cathedral Canterbury

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Canterbury Cathedral is among the oldest churches with a long history dating back to the 6th century, and it is located in England. The original church was rebuilt between the years 1070 and 1077, but the east end was rebuilt again 100 years later because of the fire in the English Gothic Architecture style. The most historical event of the Gothic Cathedral is the murder of Archbishop Tomas Becket that took place there, and in 1988, it became a UNESCO site.

Canterbury Cathedral Gothic architecture

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b). Gothic Styles

13. Rayonnant Style

Rayonnant Style

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The term Rayonnant was used to describe the French High Gothic architecture between 1240 and 1350. Architects emphasized the use of a plethora of stained glass, human-scaled buildings, and repetitive decorative motifs. The movement was given its name by the radiating rays of light that flowed through the glass, and the style was first developed with the Gothic architect Hugues Libergier in the Abbey church of Saint Nicaise in Reims, France around 1231. A popular example of this style is the Sainte-Chappelle (1242-1248), located in Paris, which King Louis IX commissioned to hold his numerous holy relics.

14. Flamboyant Style

Flamboyant Gothic Style

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The Flamboyant Style developed from the Rayonnant style and insisted on more extensive decorative effects by applying more curved shapes with an overall effect of an exuberant and dynamic movement. A notable example of this style during the gothic period applied in religious gothic architecture is the Church of St. Maclou (1436-1521), located in Rouen, France. In England, the gothic style was known as the Perpendicular Style, and in German, it was known as Sondergotik or special Gothic.

15. Illuminated Manuscripts

Illuminated Manuscripts

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An illuminated Manuscript is a gothic style approach that became an essential feature of the International Gothic style that combines religious texts with painted illustrations. Giotto and Duccio’s work and Simone Martini of the Sienese School influenced the gothic style and architecture.

The most notable example of this International Gothic style was the Les Tres Riches Heures du Duc de Berry (1412-1416) by the Limbourg brothers. Tres Riches Heures has a vivid color palette and some realistic scenes that marked ordinary life and therefore celebrated both the secular life and, at the same time, fulfilled a religious purpose.


Conclusion

The late gothic architecture styles featured vaulted halls, and some of the building in Europe was fabricated with stone. Still, Italian Gothic used marble and brick instead; however, as gothic architecture started declining, just as the Renaissance architecture gained popularity in France, Italy, and Europe.