1100-1450: Gothic Architecture

History Photo Guide: Gothic 

Early in the 12th century, new ways of building meant that cathedrals and other large buildings could reach soaring heights.
Chartres Cathedral in Chartres, France is a masterpiece of Gothic ArchitectureBuilt in the thirteenth century, Chartres Cathedral in Chartres, France is a masterpiece of Gothic Architecture

Photo © Paolo Negri / Getty Images

How Gothic Architecture Began
Gothic architecture began mainly in France where builders began to adapt the earlier Romanesque style. Builders were also influenced by the pointed arches and elaborate stonework of Moorish architecture in Spain. One of the earliest Gothic buildings was the ambulatory of the abbey of St. Denisin France, built between 1140 and 1144.

Originally, Gothic architecture was known as the French Style. During the Renaissance, after the French Style had fallen out of fashion, artisans mocked it. They coined the word Gothic to suggest that French Style buildings were the crude work of German (Goth) barbarians. Although the label wasn’t accurate, the name Gothic remained.

Gothic architecture has many of these features:

  • Pointed Arches. Gothic builders found that pointed arches could support more weight than perpendicular walls. With pointed arches supporting the roof, walls could be thinner.
  • Ribbed Vaulting. Instead of solid walls, builders used a series of columns that branched up into arches. With fewer solid walls, buildings appeared lighter and more delicate.
  • Flying Buttresses. Free-standing brick and stone arches helped support exterior walls, allowing them to reach greater heights.
  • Stained Glass Windows. Since the walls were no longer the only supports, Gothic buildings could include large areas of glass.
  • Elaborate Sculptures. Gargoyles and other sculptures had both practical and decorative functions.

Gothic Buildings:

Photo Tours:

Art During the Gothic Period:
While builders were creating the great Gothic cathedrals of Europe, painters and sculptors in northern Italy were breaking away from rigid medieval styles and laying the foundation for the Renaissance. Art historians call the period between 1200 to 1400 AD the Early Renaissance or the Proto-Renaissance. Learn more about the Proto-Renaissance. Gothic Revival and Neo-Gothic Architecture:
Fascination for medieval Gothic architecture was reawakened in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Architects in Europe and the United States designed great buildings and private homes that imitated the cathedrals of medieval Europe.

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