Gothic Cathedral - Research Paper Example

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The Gothic form of architecture spanned the period from the mid twelfth century to the sixteenth century. It originated in France, with the ambulatory of the abbey of St. Denis in Paris, built by Abbot Suger in…
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Gothic Cathedral: Architectural Elements. The term ‘Gothic’ refers to the latter part of the Middle Ages. The Gothicform of architecture spanned the period from the mid twelfth century to the sixteenth century. It originated in France, with the ambulatory of the abbey of St. Denis in Paris, built by Abbot Suger in about 1135 - 1144 (Martindale, World History Center). Gothic architecture then rapidly spread all over Europe and finds its greatest expression in the Gothic Cathedral. Notre Dame de Paris, Salisbury Cathedral, Chartres Cathedral, Reims Cathedral and Rouen Cathedral are some of the finest examples of Gothic cathedrals. The characteristic architectural elements of the Gothic Cathedral are the rib vault, pointed arch, flying buttress, and large windows and decorative features.
The rib vault represents the greatest innovation of Gothic architecture. As the medieval masons became increasingly skilled in their mastery of stone, they found a solution to the problem of providing support to the massive ceiling vaults which covered wide spaces. Earlier, this necessity led to the building of heavy, semi-circular, barrel and groin vaults, which required extremely thick walls as support. This was now replaced by the rib vault, consisting of a series of intersecting, raised stone ribs, which supported a vaulted ceiling. The ceiling now comprised of thin panels, which could be supported by widely spaced columns and piers, instead of thick walls. The innovation of the rib vault gave the Gothic Cathedral a “new architectural grammar” (Chapuis, Heilbrunn Timeline). The rib vault led to thinner walls and large windows, transforming the architecture of the traditional cathedral.
A natural progression of the ribbed vault was the pointed arch and the flying buttress. As the pressure exerted by the vault was now concentrated at the ribs, it could be deflected downward by pointed arches. These pointed arches replaced the earlier round arches. The flexibility of the pointed arch allowed its dimensions to be adjusted in order to accommodate a large variety of openings. Next, the thrust of the roof was transferred to the outer walls by an attached outer buttress, and then to a detached pier, through a half-arch called the flying buttress. This facilitated the Gothic Cathedrals’ impression of “soaring verticality” through extremely thin, tall walls (Martindale).
The Gothic Cathedrals’ structural refinements permitted various decorative features, chiefly large windows, fitted with stained glass. The stained glass represented scenes from the Bible and the lives of the saints. Variously shaped pinnacles, moldings and window tracery, (decorative rib work dividing windows) became common features of the Gothic Cathedral. The rose window became an almost obligatory feature, depicting Christ, or the Madonna, in the center, surrounded by the universe. Monumental sculptures adorned the facades and interiors of the cathedral (Chapuis).
The Gothic style spread into all forms of art, including illuminated manuscripts, liturgical vestments, diptychs and metal work (Chapuis). Gothic Architecture reached its pinnacle by the sixteenth century and then gradually gave way to the Renaissance style. The Gothic Cathedral, with its awe-inspiring architectural elements, continues to evoke a deep sense of human reverence for God, and the mastery of the medieval mason over stone.
Works Cited.
Martindale, Andrew Henry Robert. “A History of the Gothic Period of Art and Architecture.”
World History Center. 1995. 31 March 2012. Accessed from
Chapuis, Julien. "Gothic Art". In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art. 31 March 2012. Accessed from Read More
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