InfluenceThe church in the Middle Ages was a place that all people, regardless ofclass, could belong to.
As a source of unity, its influence on art andarchitecture was great during this time. As society drew away from the feudalsystem of the Romanesque period, a new spirit of human individualism began totake hold; alas, the birth of Gothic. Here, the Church became a place wherehumanity became more acceptable, alas becoming the ideal place to visual suchnew ideals. The beauty and elegance of Gothic architecture is depicted most inthe great cathedrals of the 12th, 13th and 14th centuriesSt. Denis, NotreDame, Chartres, Salisbury, Durham, Amiens, and more.
The experience of lookingat one of the great gothic cathedrals is to look up towards God. Indeed, mostGothic structures emphasize the vertical, drawing ones eyes upwards towardthe heavens with the awesomeness of God. These cathedrals were built withtowering spires, pointed arches and flying buttresses giving impressions ofharmony and luminosity. One of the major accomplishments of the 12th and 13thcenturies was to develop the engineering mastery of the ribbed vault, pointedarch and flying buttress to create a great cathedral that is at once taller,lighter, wider, and more elegant than the ones before.
Even though the pointedarch could support more weight than its predecessors, there was still theproblem of finding a way to support the heavy masonry ceiling vaults over widespans. In order to support the outward thrust of barrel vaults, vertical supportwalls have to be very thick and heavy. What makes possible the extensive use ofribbed vaulting and pointed arches to “open” and “lighten” the walls andspace of the cathedral is the flying buttress”an arched bridge above theaisle roof that extends from the upper nave wall, where the lateral thrust ofthe main vault is greatest, down to a solid pier. ” Jansen, History of Art, p.
407. The effect is to add structural strength and solidity to the building. Thevisual appearance of changes from the Early and Later or High Gothic are clear,as each cathedral became increasingly narrower and taller. For instance, comparethe nave elevations of Notre-Dame to Amiens Text, fig.
442, p. 333, thepointed arches of Amiens are significantly taller and narrower than the muchearlier Notre Dame. The mastery of the flying buttress allowed medieval buildersto construct taller and more elegant looking buildings with more complex groundplans. Encyclopedia Britannica 97 describes the “flying” effect of thisbuttress of hiding the masonry supports of the structure: “a semi-detachedcurved pier connects with an arch to a wall and extends (or “flies”) to theground or a pier some distance away. The delicate elegance of Gothic cathedralsis different from the “Heavy buttresses jutting out between the chapels” ofRomanesque churches,.
From the outside, aesthetic consideration of the flyingbuttresses was significant and “its shape could express support. . . according tothe designers sense of style. ” The flying buttress was first used on amonumental scale at Notre Dame From the outsider the flying buttresses create aseemingly bewildering mass of soaring props, struts, and buttresses, yet blendin with the rich sculpture and elaborate portals of the West façade,giving the appearance of a three-story layout.
Text. P. 325-326, fig. 429 (This contrasts visually with the plans that show the buttresses “as massiveblocks of masonry that stick out from the building like a row of teeth.
“Text. P. 325, Fig. 426.
) At Chartres the flying buttress is more unique, thehalf arch is made of smaller arches that give more height to the alreadynarrower and more vertical walls of the nave. , as well as blending in with thecolonnaded triforium wall of the nave Text, p. 329, fig. 434, fib. 437.
InEngland, the flying buttress appears almost as an “afterthought” whereverticality is not as important. English Gothic style emphasizes a “long,low, sprawling” character compared to the compact, vertical of French Gothic. Text. P. 336) Flying Buttresses also made the personification of Gothic artpossible, as it allowed for almost no structure support in the walls. The flyingbuttress lends the interior illusion of being “amazingly airy andweightless” because the masonry supports are hidden and visible only from theoutside.
Since flying buttresses are perpendicular to the walls, interveningwall spaces could be “opened” up between the buttresses. As the walls werethinner, stained glass windows gradually came to replace masonry. Later Gothiccathedrals appear to be only thin skeletal frames of masonry. Wall surfaces ofHigh Gothic churches thus have the appearance of transparent and weightlesscurtains. The spiritual and mysterious quality of light is an important elementof the religious symbolism of Gothic cathedrals. .
While the stained, coloredglass windows of this period gave the churches novel lighting affects, they didnot make the churches “lighter” (the glass was heavily colored). While theuse of stained glass was limited during the Romanesque period, the firstextensive use as in the rebuilding of St. Denis. As cathedrals became taller andwider, windows became larger to allow more space for stained glass.
BibliographyEncyclopediaBritannica 97. CD-ROM “Gothic Architecture and Art”. The ColumbiaEncyclopedia, Fifth Edition Copyright 1993 Janson and Janson. “History ofArt”.