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Gothic Architecture

Gothic Architecture

Author: Ian McConnell
Description:

This lesson will introduce the Gothic period.

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Tutorial

An introduction to Gothic architecture.

Video Transcription

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Hello, I'd like to welcome you to this episode of exploring our history with Ian. My name is Ian McConnell and today's lesson is about Gothic architecture. As you're watching the video, feel free to pause, move forward, or rewind as many times as you feel is necessary. And so as soon as you're ready, we can begin.

Today's objectives, or the things you are going to learn today, are listed below. By the end of the lesson today you'll be able to identify and define today's key terms, explain the influences of the development of the Gothic style, describe some of the design innovations of Gothic architecture. Key terms as always are listed in yellow throughout the lesson.

Gothic is an architectural style originating in France during the 12th century. Traits of Gothic include the use of the pointed arch, flying buttress, rib vault, and a general emphasis on space and verticality.

Scholasticism was a form of theology and philosophy taught at universities during the Middle Ages based on Aristotelian logic.

Choir architecture, a part of the cruciform church east of the crossing.

Pseudo-Dionysus, a Christian philosopher mystic and theologian during the late 5th century.

Pointed arch, also referred to as the ogival arch, a primary characteristic of Gothic architecture. Also seen in Islamic architecture.

And rib vault architecture, a vault supported by or, decorated with diagonal ribs.

The big idea for today is that the overall effect of Gothic architecture is light and spacious compared to Romanesque architecture.

Time frame that we're looking at today is very small. We're looking at just one church, 1140 to 1144 AD. And we're just looking in one place, Paris, France. There's France and there's Paris.

If you were to search for images on the internet, using the term Gothic, there's a very good chance you wouldn't see any example of architecture in the first 100 or so images. I actually tried. Gothic today conjures images of teenagers in black wearing skinny jeans, or maybe the historic Goths. Now the term was actually coined by our old friend Giorgio Vasari, the Italian author who used the term disparagingly during the Renaissance to refer to this type of architecture. And while today it's strongly associated in the mainstream with the dark and fantastical, it's ironically a design intended to bring a sense of religious light and airiness to Christian architecture. A departure from the comparatively darker, heavier style of Romanesque architecture that was a consequence of the construction limits of that time.

The stylistic changes of the Gothic are also related to the sociopolitical happenings of the time. Cities were getting bigger and bigger, urban cathedrals were becoming more and more important as religious institutions, compared to monasteries, and the establishment of urban universities, like the University of Bologna in Italy. These were becoming more and more the focus of academia, compared again to monasteries, which had been the primary educational repositories for centuries prior to this.

Now the Crusades brought Europeans into contact again with the work of Greek philosophers, which forced the contemporary religious thinkers to incorporate scientific thought into their philosophies. Resulting in a sort of hybrid of theology and philosophy called Scholasticism, that became a common area of study at universities. And finally, the influence of Pseudo-Dionysian light mysticism, a form of mysticism concerning the important association with light and God. Specifically, that light was a physical manifestation of God. And attributed to the 5th century author Pseudo-Dionysus, who combined elements of Greek philosophy with Christianity. His work would have been known to the Abbot Suger, the person responsible, or most responsible, for the Gothic style at Saint-Denis.

Saint-Denis was an important church in Paris and had been originally founded during the 5th century. Now the use of architectural elements largely associated with the Gothic style, like the pointed arch, ribbed vaults, and flying buttresses, had already been in use in other Romanesque style buildings in one way or another. An example would be Durham Cathedral with its ribbed vaults. But it was here, specifically in the reconstruction of the church's choir, that they were combined in a way that allowed for greater expanses of open space. Which could be filled in with stained glass and yet still exist within a structurally sound building.

Even more specifically, the rib vaulting channeled most of the downward force into the supportive columns, rather than the walls. Walls had a minimum load bearance in Gothic architecture as opposed to Romanesque style buildings where the walls, the exterior walls, were primary load bearers. The pointed arch allowed for the expanses to stretch upwards, creating more space. In the use of the flying buttress, as we see here, as an exterior supportive element allowed the walls to become walls of glass and light, as opposed to walls of stone. The overall effect was that of something light and spacious compared to the Romanesque style of architecture.

So there you go. Let's take a look at our objectives and see how we did. Now that you've seen the lesson, are you able to identify and define today's key terms? Can you explain the influences of the development of the Gothic style? Can you describe some of the design innovations of Gothic architecture? And once again, the big idea for today is that the overall effect of Gothic architecture is light and spacious compared to Romanesque architecture.

And that is it. Thank you very much for joining me today. I will see you next time.

TERMS TO KNOW
  • Gothic

    An architectural style originating in France during the 12th century. Traits of Gothic include the use of the pointed arch, flying buttress, rib vault, and a general emphasis on space and verticality.

  • Scholasticism

    A form of theology and philosophy taught at universities during the Middle Ages based on Aristotelian logic.

  • Choir 

    Architecture, a part of the cruciform church east of the crossing.

  • Pseudo-Dionysus

    A Christian philosopher mystic and theologian during the late 5th century.

  • Pointed arch

    Also referred to as the ‘ogival arch’ a primary characteristic of Gothic architecture; also seen in Islamic architecture.

  • Rib vault

    Architecture, a vault supported by or decorated with diagonal ribs.