France Figurative Arts - Gothic Architecture

France Figurative Arts – Gothic Architecture

The vaults, due to their weight, gave rise to various inconveniences; to limit them, medieval architects resorted to transverse supporting arches, transverse arches, thus dividing the entire roof into isolated sectors. It wasn’t enough. Diagonal arches were thrown into each sector, the ribs or ribs, which cross at the top of the vault, and were called “ogives” from the Latin augere, or rescue arches because, by gathering the weight of the vault, they collect its weight in the four corbels and favor its stability. A third series of arches (embedded in the walls) served to connect the transverse ones above the high windows. A solid permanent armor was thus obtained, on which the vault rests like a shell. The whole construction became an inseparable organism, a complex of forces and resistances: the masonry became superfluous; it was possible to free oneself from the inert weight of the walls, which became more and more perforated, to form a succession of windows. Gothic architecture was born (see gothic, art).

There has been a lot of discussion about the origin of the ogive, the key to the whole system. Certainly crossed arches under the vaults already existed in Roman architecture and then in Muslim and Lombard architecture: but the static and aesthetic consequences that were Gothic architecture belong to France. Therefore the abbot of Wimpfeld, in Alsace, having his church rebuilt in the new style in 1269, calls it by its real name: Opere francigeno basilicam ex sectis lapidibus construi iubet.

The pointed arch seems to have appeared in France around 1120 on the borders of the Isle of France (church of Morienval, near Compiègne), but perhaps there are older examples in some Norman churches, especially in Airaines (Somma) and also in some Norman buildings built in England, such as the cathedrals of Durham and Peterborough, from 1093. Sporadic for some time, its use became regular around 1130 (aisles of Saint-Étienne in Beauvais). But it was officially consecrated, so to speak, in 1140, when the monk Suger wanted to adopt it for the reconstruction of the basilica of Saint-Denis near Paris. Since then the French formula began the triumphal journey which was to last four centuries.

It is worthwhile to distinguish periods in this long history. The oldest Gothic cathedrals were built around Paris, almost all of them in the North, that is, in the area of ​​the royal domain: the first, Notre-Dame of Noyon, opens the series in 1150 perhaps preceded by the Saint-Étienne of Sens, which began at the same time as Saint-Denis ; Senlis follows in 1153; Notre-Dame of Chalons in 1157, then Laon in 1160, then Saint-Remi of Reims, whose choir was rebuilt in 1162, then Notre-Dame of Paris, the first stone of which was laid in 1163, the same year of the consecration of the choir of the Saint-Germain des Prés, imitated shortly after in that of the Magdalene of Vézelay. Among these monuments, each of which boasts its own beauties and whose architectural forms are closely related, Notre-Dame de Paris stands out for the harmony of its proportions, for the majesty of appearance, for quiet dignity; its façade, a perfect square, dominated by two towers, is a composition of unsurpassed clarity, which perfectly expresses the internal divisions of the building. In no other cathedral is there a more skilful harmony of the horizontal line with the vertical one, of balance and momentum.

With the thirteenth century another group of Gothic monuments begins to appear. In 1194, except for the portal and the admirable bell tower, the cathedral of Chartres burned (v.). The architect in charge of reconstructing it made it a model that was imposed throughout the century. He left the façade intact, but changed the entire internal layout, reduced the number of naves to three, suppressed the women’s galleries by replacing the triforium and, by shifting the point of support they provided to the outer walls of the building, he invented the buttress, or rather, the flying buttress. This artifice, by canceling the thrust of the vaults by means of an appropriate organ, made it possible to directly illuminate the central nave and to increase its height almost with impunity; the ogive cruise thus had its logical completion; the inert weight of the walls could be abolished, the rose windows and windows could be enlarged as desired. There was a second flowering of Gothic art; every construction was made with the new system: Soissons adopted it first, almost at the same time as Rouen who hastened to destroy the women’s galleries. But above all the cathedral of Reims, begun in 1210, and that of Amiens, in 1220.

According to, the tiforium still remained, residual loggia of the women’s gallery, which for a long time had been indispensable for the balance of the vaults, marking a shaded area, a useless floor. In 1230 Pierre de Monterau, charged with reconstructing the nave of Saint-Denis, when King San Luigi wanted to make it the Pantheon of his family, decided to abolish that rudiment of a now useless form: he kept the gallery, but suppressed the wall and he replaced it with a window whose design continues that of the upper floor. And the whole building was nothing more than a tunnel, a drawing of a totally mathematical beauty, made with the utmost economy of materials. Since then the Gothic formula, having reached the supreme mastery of its own means, seems like a splendid game, a bet of virtuosos for whom there are no longer any technical difficulties. It is the era of those masterpieces that are the Sainte-Chapelle (1243-48), the side facades of Notre-Dame of Paris, designed by Jean de Chelles in 1258, the Collegiate Church of San Quentin, built by Villard de Honnecourt in 1257, the cathedral of Bourges, the choir of the Mans cathedral, consecrated in 1254, the Troyes cathedral and the marvel of Saint-Urbain (1262-66), works by Jean Langlois, finally the prodigy of the century, the choir of Notre-Dame de Beauvais (v.; 1247-1272) which, if the rest of the the building had been completed, it would eclipse the very glory of Amiens and Reims. Seldom in the world was there the spectacle of such a fever, of such a monumental impetus: France never expressed itself better; and it was then a school for Europe.

In the great unified harmony of Gothic France there is nevertheless some regional variety here and there. For certain peculiarities, Burgundian Gothic (Notre-Dame of Dijon, Saint Père-sous-Vézelay, Semur-en-Auxois) is distinguished from that of Champagne. The bold shapes of Bayeux (v.), Of Coutances (v.) Make us recognize the Norman group from afar. The Poitou, with the cathedral of St. Peter of Poitiers, maintains the three ships of equal height of Romanesque art. The Anjou combines the Aquitaine dome with the ogival vault with exquisite elegance, creating the dome-shaped vault (Angers, Candes, Cunault). Languedoc and Provence barely accepted the formula that came from Paris. They transformed it, simplified it, removing the buttresses, eliminating the pillars, bulky for their spacious aisles: thus the grandiose basilicas of Toulouse (1211), of Béziers (1215), of Santa Cecilia d’Albi (1282) were born. Purely Gothic in those regions are but very few churches, such as S. Massiminio (Var), Saint-Bernard de Romans (Drôme), works by artists from the North, or the cathedrals of Clermont (1248), Limoges (1273) and Narbonne (1272), all three due to the same master, Pierre Deschamps. But it is above all outside of France that the expansion of this incomparable French style can be followed.

France Figurative Arts - Gothic Architecture