The Gothic Movement And Its Impact

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Structure, the single most important factor in architecture has been approached differently throughout history from using structure purely as support, both internally and externally, to developing a decorated facade with hidden structures.

A Gothic "church is a house of god, dwelling place of a mystical person" (Grodecki, 1977), such a sacred place requires awe inspiring spaces to be created of stone. Gothic Cathedrals consisted of vertical columns, a continuous, complex yet repeated facade, pierced by large stained glass openings to the sky. S. Maria degli Angeli Cathedral pioneered the articulation of the inner order to express it onto the external facade. A skeletal frame was used, progressing gradually to the exterior forming a deep skin, fusing the ground to the horizon. This frame consisted of diagonal ribbed vaults, octagonal domes rather than the more aesthetic round domes of the renaissance. This is the first fully centrally planned octagon dome, which is only visible from the exterior, on the interior the dome is split into 24 segments giving the appearance of a continuous smooth dome. In comparison to the gothic ribbed dome of Modena Cathedral which doesn't try to imitate a smooth dome. Renaissance used the skeletal frame inside of the wall so that the facades can be ornately decorated.

Interior facades have plasticity and depth, in comparison to the renaissance, unifying vertical and horizontal planes, using slender shafts springing from the vaults, merging with the fanned ribs of the roof. Carefully articulated details of the double layered bays in the Speyer Cathedral, the double walls and repeated square double modules in the Santiago de Compostela, with the multilayered apse radiating out are common in Gothic styling. Deep cornices and common datums, feature in measurement. The pointed arches of Notre Dame used common ridges and starts, forming consistent structural lines, this regulated form whilst providing an efficient structure. All elements in the Cathedral were decorated structural elements, however they were decorated to produce an efficient stone structure, from the tall pilasters to fan shaped vaulted ceilings. Unlike the renaissance where the structure was hidden away. Gothic architects understood the importance of the surrounding landscape, and the visual impact of the Cathedral, this belief continued into the renaissance, such as the S. Maria della Consolaziona, where the centralised building commands the surrounding landscape (Murray, 1969). And the Gothic Speyer Cathedral is prominent in the towns axis, where the streets form the natural path towards the building. Renaissance twinned this with the roman idea of the room being a container, with two separate spaces where the boundary is clear, and the interior and exterior should have a different atmosphere through the use of decoration.

Renaissance returned to the use of anthropomorphic classical members, perhaps using the over scaled bases in the Gothic Notre Dame Cathedral where they're larger than a person as inspiration, giving a greater sense of scale and verticality when compared to the expected normal height of the bases in other gothic cathedrals. In section, renaissance focused on spatial concentration and perfect geometry such as in Bramante's Tempietto at S.Peitro as well as the great precision and effect, seen in the plans for new St Peters Cathedral. Using a holistic approach of symmetrical luminosity, structure and atmosphere.

The importance of geometry changed to an understanding of the arts, with the architect now classed as a professional, such as Alberti, the first true architecture scholar of all trades (Watkin, 1986). Where focus shifted down from the heavens to a place of salvation, light and immaterial, a perfect form. The increasing roll of perspective, particularly in Brunelleschi's designs transformed the geometric narrative to a closed one, with an expressive interior and reserved exterior, linked through the interplay of reality.

The Gothic took dematerialisation to the extreme, creating a solid enclosure, with "hollowed out upper levels of the towers, with colonnetted diaphanousness, structural lightness and repetitive rhythm" (Grodecki, 1977). The extended shafts in the clearstorey of Laon Cathedral, transfer their heaviness into solidified pillars of light, forming the miraculous cascading light flowing around the columns (Murray, 1969). A clear path of load on the structure is clearly traceable, similar to the late renaissance palaces. The "replacement of masonry by stained glass admitted more light in the interior and transformed the wall into a screen" (Dionysus). Developing the apse into a worldly centre perforated by windows, into a translucent carved space by the 13th century.

Light served as both illumination and measurement in Renaissance architecture, combined with the anthropomorphic columns of classical measure. Light formed a canopy, illuminating from all directions. The classical cornice of the Medici Palace may seem a structural element of the roof, however its sole purpose was to form intricate shadows down the walls during midday sun (Murray, 1969).

In the Renaissance, the diaphanous structural shell became less important and gradually hidden, The Palazzo Ducale uses L-shaped piers at the corners of the courtyard, where inscriptions were carved praising an noble in the period (Duke of Federigo). This blended the structure into a form, displaying powerful messages which continued onto the pilasters and entablatures around the courtyard. This design is similar to the cloister at Sto Domingo de Silos where carvings are placed on much larger L-shaped piers, but still of a similar form to the later Renaissance developments. The grand gothic columns of the past that were used to symbolise power were reduced to nothing more than very slender pilasters that the architects tried to reduce further the effect of the angular geometry of sharp angles in the courtyard of the Medici palace. Weakening the angle, forming a continuous shape, "filarete states that the eye cannot follow its line without interruption" (Lowry, 1962). Continuing on the design of the arches from the pointed gothic to the smooth renaissance even though the structure is less efficient the form is more aesthetic.

The dematerialisation of the walls often gave the impression of a snapshot of living form, an energetic, pulsating space where the elevation buckles under the such ornate decoration of the interior space (Arnason, 1968). The walls of the Urbino Palace refer back to the lower structural integrity of past classical members, not linked to the structure but demonstrating an implied line of force down to the ground. Much unlike the Gothic Cathedrals where all structure carried a load, and the force of the load could be visibly identified, (Lowry, 1962). The Vierzehnheiligen church combined the formal and spatial relationship of the renaissance with the gothic space of the westwork, and the fortified edge clipped to the basilica. Merging medieval verticality with baroque plasticity, again using the continuous repeated members of the gothic to create the uniform pilasters of the lower order. Resulting in Renaissance architecture no longer being limited by the structure, and the space became much less defined by structure, and more with the form and decoration.

Alberti learned from the Gothic movement, the art of compromise to merge existing buildings with the classical system of proportions set out in the book of Vitruvius. This compromise resulted in no dominant facade, whereas in the Gothic the rose window facade was the largest and most awe inspiring. Brunelleschi created the basilicas of S. Lorenzo and S. Spirito, designing to create ordered harmony with the new use of perspective drawings, where facades were of equal importance, defined not by the structure but by the form of perspective drawings, golden sections and the Fibonacci sequence (Conway, Roenisch, 2005). The dome of Florence Cathedral, an example of compromise, was constructed of gothic ribs encased in an outer shell, to a point rather than the preferred smooth hemispherical dome such as the classic Pantheon, as the span was too great for the material. Merging gothic structural principles, with the smooth outer shells of classical period. Yet because the ribs aren't visible, the octagonal pointed dome looks much more smoother and continuous to the eye than it should do. Because of capital issues, some Renaissance architecture was compromised against the original design proposals, particularly the S. Maria delle Carceri where on facade was constructed of brick not following the structural design, but still resembling the exterior form of the rest.

To create the slender interior columns of the Gothic, flying buttresses were used, forming the beginning of the renaissance movement of hidden structure and decorated facades. These flying buttresses were developed in two ways, some became functional carry channels for water drainage, whilst others were added purely for appearance, such as the Ulm Minster which were added 400 years later. Defying the understood principle of Gothic design where elements were added for structural integrity rather than the Renaissance attitude of adding them for form.

The Palazzon de Conservatori used non-load carrying facade columns on the interior, supported by hidden pilasters inside the wall. Giving the false impression that the Gothic strived to achieve: a roof floating in the heavens, supported by gravity defying slender columns without the use of external buttressing. At S. Peters, the giant pilasters form together into singular vertical ribs of the dome, gradually fading to insignificance in the roof, achieving the Gothic desired effects of verticality (Murray, 1969).

Size and scale were imperative in Gothic culture, "Monument that seems to dwarf the man who enters it... the plastic effects of the masonry are organised to produce visionary scale" (Branner, 1961), displaying the power of the rulers through verticality and reaching for the heavens. At Chartres Cathedral, the contrast and irregularity of elements, that are easily identifiable and isolated to create such elevation to grand proportions to signify reaching for heaven, allowing beams of light to shine down upon the divine.

Palladio's renaissance Loggia del Capitanio also used over scaled bases, similar to Notre Dame as mentioned earlier, to give the appearance that man is small, and the structure is of greatness. Demonstrating that size and scale was still being interpreted as a device to impress even in Renaissance, linking back to the large columns of the ancient times where these devices were also used to give a sense of power. Whereas I believe these elements were orientated to provoke thought, and interplay between professions in the time of enlightenment, and time of new discovery and reinterpretation of the past. The flowing enlarged steps in the Laurentian library, combined with the draping scrolls below the columns, serve no structural significance apart from diverting the attention of the eye away from the purely horizontal plane of the openings in the reading room again provoking thought for scholars.

In Gothic architecture "everything is a function of structure" (Voillet-le-Duc, 1814-1879), continuing with the Christian themes of a closed basilica, procession and dematerialisation, however using a new philosophy that light is most important, and to do this structure must be manipulated. Gothic architects have learned that the structure can be limiting but also useful, playing with light to create divine religious atmospheres. The use of stone columns defines the space, with attention being diverted vertically to the heavens. These columns are purely designed for the structure, but contain some Renaissance decorative elements to induce emotions within the space, such as the over-whelming scale of the column bases at Notre Dame, demonstrating the power, scale and wealth of its purpose.

"Renaissance architecture is dishonest" (Voillet-le-Duc, 1814-1879), hiding the structure within the walls and using fake elements that are visible to emulate it. Developing new orders based upon the classical, but compromising the form for the structure. Renaissance architecture is no longer governed by the need for verticality, or the need to impress through engineering feats of stone. Rather they impress through ornate details and the composition of static units in the perfect centralised form, creating clear boundaries between interior and exterior, as well as form and structure. This is however a general interpretation of the Renaissance, there are works that are similar to the Gothic principles, such as the Loggia del Capitanio using over sized bases to evoke power, not for ornate decoration. Taking exceptions to Gothic and Renaissance architecture into account, I conclude 'generally' the movement does indeed depart from the principle of integrating structure into the form and space.