Monday, October 20, 2008

How And Why The Romanesque Style Became The Gothic Style

"The design of a church was too important a matter to have been decided by mere artistic experimentation."

Philp Ball explains how the predominant building style throughout Europe changed during the twelfth century, and he rejects the idea of the human urge to innovate. Exploring Chartres Cathedral, he asks four questions:

  • 1. How is the change in style actually manifested in bricks and mortar?
  • 2. What distinguishes a Romanesque church from a Gothic one?
  • 3. What are the characteristic features of the Gothic style?
  • 4. What, in a building like Chartres Cathedral, should we look for as signifiers of this new architectural thinking?

In answering these questions, Philip Ball does not expect to find a definitive interpretation of the Gothic style. He simply sets up a framework to be used to assist in seeing what is there. He cites Christopher Wilson, and Jean Bony to create this list:

  1. A cruciform plan, with the nave longer than the arms.
  2. A nave and possibly other arms built to the basilica scheme, with side aisles.
  3. Arch vaulting.
  4. Longitudinal divisions of the arms into bays defined by linked arches.
  5. An apse with radiating chaples.
  6. One or more towers in the main body of the church.
  7. Rib Vault
  8. Pointed arch
  9. Insistence on height
  10. Thinning out or 'skeletonization' of the structural masonry

"Furthermore, one can argue that there is a distinct urge towards unity: that the Gothic cathedral is a place to be experienced all at once." Philip Ball continues to cite Paul Frankl, who argued that Gothic innovation began with the rib vault and every innovation followed "inevitably". However, Philip Ball does not end with the same conclusion as Paul Frankl, nor does Philip Ball see the Gothic style dictated by a Gothic zeitgeist.

Ultimately, the Romanesque became the Gothic because of a confluence of cultural threads embedded within Twelfth century philosophy, theology, politics, trade, and technology. Philosophy and theology imbued the world with a comprehensible order. Politicians and Kings existed simultaneously with the Catholic church and the Pope. Trade opened the doors for cultural exchange. Technology allowed for the construction of pointed arches and rib vaults.

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