From the 9th to the 11th century the great problem worked out was that of perfecting the standard plans of large churches. In the MS. plan of the monastic church of St Gall, drawn about 820, we find a great nave with aisles, apsidal terminations both to the east and the west, transepts and probably a central tower (cf. the abbey church of Saint-Riquier near Abbeville, built c. 800, of which a slight representation has been preserved). In St Martin at Tours was probably evolved the most perfect type of plan, that with an ambulatory and radiating chapels surrounding the eastern apse. A magnificent church of this form was built here at the beginning of the 11th century, but not for the first time. Excavations have shown that the plan was probably suggested by a still earlier church in which five tomb-niches surrounded the central apse and tomb of St Martin. At Jumièges (begun 1040) it has recently been found that the plan terminated to the east with parallel apses, as at St Albans in England; this is a second important type. A third type is that in which the transepts as well as the east end are finished with apses, like St Mary-in-the-Capitol at Cologne.
When we come to the developed Romanesque of the end of the 11th century, we find not only several French varieties, but strong schools in Lombardy and on the Rhine. Without distinguishing too minutely, four broad types representing schools of the east and west, north and south (or rather north-east, north-west, south-east and south-west) of France, may be spoken of, and all of these were engaged in the task of completely covering with vaults large churches of basilican plan—the typical problem of this period. In the east of France we have a school represented by the monastic church of Tournus, where the nave was vaulted by a series of compartments placed transversely to the axis of the church. This church, which has a plan of the type of St Martin’s at Tours, was begun in 1019, but the nave vaults were not reached until after 1066. This style of vaulting persisted in Burgundy, and from thence it spread to Fountains Abbey in England, where it is found over the aisles. The most beautiful class of buildings in eastern France is that of which the church at Issoire is the most perfect example. The external walls are here ornamented with patterns countercharged in light and dark stone. The wonderful church at Le Puy also belongs to this group, but here strong Moorish influence is to be traced. The inlays were probably derived from a late Gallo-Roman source. Countercharging of stones of two colours was a favourite method of building in Romanesque churches erected between 1100 and 1150. We find it at Vézelay, a magnificent abbey church of Burgundy, at Le Mans cathedral, and as far north-west as Exeter and Worcester. In the west (south-west) the most prominent school was that of Perigord, of which the church of St Front, Périgueux, may be taken as the example. St Front was rebuilt after a fire in 1120, but there are many earlier specimens, two of the most important being at Angoulême (1105-1128) and Fontevrault. This school applied a series of domes of eastern fashion not only at the centre but over the whole extent of the church. St Front so closely resembles St Mark’s, Venice, that it must be derived from it or from some similar eastern church. The method largely influenced the Angevin school of vaulting, but it does not seem to have been effective as a protection from the weather. Some examples were covered by external roofs, as was St Front itself at a late time. St Ours at Loches, originally a small church covered by domes, had spire-like pyramids substituted for them when the church was enlarged about 1168.
The third class of vaulting we may for symmetry’s sake associate with the south, though it is found widely distributed. The chapel in the Tower of London is an example, and its true centre seems to be the Auvergne. The vaults of this type run along with the axis of the space to be covered. In the case of large churches the central span is frequently supported by quadrant vaults leaning against it on either side. One of the most noble churches in which the central span is covered by such a barrel vault is that of St Savin near Poitiers, where very much has been preserved of the complete series of paintings which once adorned it and the walls beneath.
The most characteristic buildings of the south are the churches of Moissac, St Trophime at Arles, St Gilles near Nîmes and St James of Compostella, where there is much sculpture of a Lombardic type. There was a great revival of sculpture, going together with a study of the antique, in Lombardy at the end of the 11th century. Wiligelmus, who later worked at San Zeno, Verona, signed some sculptures at Modena in 1099.
Of the schools of the north, Normandy took the lead. It was adventurous, if somewhat barbaric. It derived much from Germany and gave much to the Gothic style. About the middle of the 11th century the Normans began to experiment with cross-groined vaults and their application to the church problem. This from the first contained an important possibility of future development, in that it allowed of windows of considerable height being placed in the lunettes of these vaults. Soon a very great step in advance was made by the invention or application of diagonal ribs under the intersection of the plain groined vault. This association of strengthening ribs in a cross form to each bay of the structure forms the ogive, the characteristic form from which the alternative name to Gothic, “ogival,” has been derived. The first instance we know of the use of this system is at Durham cathedral, where the aisles of the east end were so covered about 1093, and where the high vault erected about 1104 was almost certainly of the same kind. Another outcome of the genius of Norman builders seems to have been the donjon or keep type of castle.
The word “Gothic” was applied by Italian writers of the Renaissance to buildings later than Roman, which in some cases (e.g. Theodoric’s works at Ravenna) might be properly so named. What we now call Gothic the same writers called Modern. Later the word came to mean the art which filled the whole interval between the Roman period and the Renaissance, and then last of all, when the Byzantine and Romanesque forms of art were defined, Gothic became the art which intervened between the Romanesque era and the Renaissance.
As remarked above, Gothic architecture is to a large extent the crown of Romanesque. It is agreed that its chief element of construction was the ogival vaulting which was being widely used by Romanesque builders in the first half of the 12th century; and pointed arches appeared as early.
The eminent architect, G. E. Street, writing of what we have called the standard plan of great 12th-century churches, says, “In whatever way the early chevets (as the French term them) grew up there is no doubt that they contain the germ of the magnificent chevets in the complete Gothic churches of the north of France.” Architecture of the middle ages having been continuously developed, it is necessarily somewhat arbitrary to mark off any given period; all are agreed, however, that about the year 1150 there was a time of rapid change towards a slenderer and more energetic type of building, and the forms which followed for about four centuries we now call Gothic. The special character which the architecture of this period took was partially conditioned by the fact that the expanding power of the French kingdom, with its centre at Paris, was situated in a particular artistic environment. The body of ideas on which it for the most part worked was furnished by the Romanesque art of north France, the German borderland and Burgundy. A great contributory cause was the immense monastic activity of the time, and the need of accomplishing large results with limited means resulted in a casting aside of old ornamental commonplaces and in innovations of planning and structure. This was especially the case with the Cistercian order, which carried certain transitional Gothic forms of building into England, Germany, Italy and Spain. If, however, we make the transition to Gothic date from the first use of “ogival” vaults in north-west Europe, then Durham cathedral is, so far as we now know, the earliest example of the transitional style. The next step, the appearance of Gothic itself, may best be held to date from the systematic but not exclusive use of pointed arches in association with ogival vaults about the middle of the 12th century.
At this time was waged a war of domination amongst the styles, a war which resulted not necessarily in the victory of the most beautiful nor even of the strongest, but one in which political and geographical considerations had much to do with the decision. When the French kingdom took the lead in western civilization, it was settled that a northern form of art, one which had perforce to make a chief element of the window, should be followed out. The consequent development of the window is, after all, as the first observers thought, the great mark of the mature style. As to the position of France in the movement, Mr Street may again be quoted:—“When once the Gothic style was well established, the zeal with which the work of building was pursued in France was almost incredibly great. A series of churches exists there within short distances of each other, so superb in all their features that it is impossible to contest their superiority to any corresponding group of buildings. The old Domaine Royale is that in which French art is seen in its perfection. Notre Dame, Paris, is a monument second to nothing in the world; but for completeness in all its parts it would be better to cite the cathedral of Chartres, a short description of which must suffice as an explanation of what French art at its zenith was. The plan has a nave with aisles, transepts with aisles on each side, a choir with two aisles all round it, and chapels beyond them. There are two immense steeples
- ↑ Article “Architecture,” Ency. Brit., 9th ed.