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398
[FRENCH GOTHIC
ARCHITECTURE

at the west end, two towers to each transept and two towers at the junction of the choir with its apse. The doorways are triple at the west end, whilst to each transept is a vast triple porch in front of the three doorways. The whole of these doorways are covered with sculpture, much of it refined, spirited and interesting in the highest degree. You enter and find the interior surpassing even the exterior. The order of the columns and arches, and of all the details, is so noble and simple that no fault can be found with it. The whole is admirably executed; and, finally, every window throughout its vast interior is full of the richest glass coeval with the fabric. As compared with English churches of the same class, there are striking differences. The French architects aimed at greater height, greater size, but much less effect of length. Their roofs were so lofty that it was almost impossible for them to build steeples which should have the sort of effect that ours have. The turret on Amiens cathedral is nearly as lofty as Salisbury spire, but is only a turret; and so throughout. Few French churches afford the exquisite complete views of the exterior which English churches do; but, on the other hand, their interiors are more majestic, and man feels himself smaller and more insignificant in them than in ours. The palm must certainly be given to them above all others. There is no country richer in examples of architecture than France. The student who wishes to understand what it was possible for a country to do in the way of creating monuments of its grandeur, would find in almost every part of the country, at every turn and in great profusion, works of the rarest interest and beauty. The 19th century may be the consummation of all, but the evidences of its existence to posterity will not be one-tenth in number of those which such a reign as that of Philip Augustus has left us, whilst none of them will come up to the high standard which in his time was invariably reached.”

The remarks which have been made as to the variation in style visible in various parts of the same country, apply with more force, perhaps, in what we now call France than to any other part of Europe. For the purposes of complete study it would be necessary to keep distinct from each other in the mind the following important divisions:—(1) Provence and Auvergne; (2) Aquitaine; (3) Burgundy; (4) Anjou and Poitou, (5) Brittany; (6) Normandy; (7) the Île-de-France and Picardy; (8) Champagne; and, finally, (9) the eastern border-land (neither quite German nor quite French in its character), the meeting-point of the two very different developments of French and German art. Speaking generally, it is safe to say that Gothic architecture was never brought to its highest perfection in any portion of the south of France. Aquitaine, Auvergne and Provence were too wedded to classic traditions to excel in an art which seems to have required for its perfection no sort of looking back to such a past. Hence there is no Gothic work in the south for which it is possible to feel the same admiration and enthusiasm as must be felt by every artist in presence of the great works of the north. In Anjou this is less the case; but even there the art is extremely inferior to that which is seen in Normandy and the Île-de-France. Brittany may be dismissed from consideration, as being, like Cornwall, so provincial and so cut off from neighbours, that its art could not fail to be very local, and without much influence outside its own borders.

There are examples of true Gothic outside its proper habitat, almost pure French works being found as far south as Laon and Burgos, as far east as Strassburg and Lausanne and as far north as Canterbury and Cologne. Westminister Abbey was profoundly influenced by direct study of French work. Normandy, Burgundy, and the land as far north as Tournay seem to have shared in the work of transition; but the Gothic area proper is the Île-de-France with Picardy and Champagne, then Burgundy, Normandy and England.

Four remarkable buildings best represent the early phase of the Gothic style, the abbey church of St Denis, and the cathedrals of Noyon, Senlis and Sens. The first was begun in 1137, and the choir was consecrated in 1143. The few parts of this work which remain are sufficient to show how stately and yet fresh the whole work must have been. Noyon cathedral, begun after a fire which occurred in 1131, had its choir consecrated in 1157. The cathedral of Senlis was begun in 1155. Sens cathedral, begun about the same time, or even earlier, is the first of the great cathedrals. Many other buildings belong to the first years of the style; such are the abbey churches of St Remi at Reims, Notre Dame at Châlons and St Germain-des-Prés, Paris. The choir of this last was consecrated in 1163, and in the same year Notre Dame, Paris, was begun. This mighty building, although very complete, was altered as to its effect by the substitution, early in the 13th century, of large two-light windows for the earlier lancets of the clerestory. The sculptures of the west front are exquisite. Laon cathedral, another of the great churches, is of about the same age as Notre Dame. It also has beautiful sculpture in its western porches, but its most marked characteristic is the group of six great and romantic towers which flank the fronts to the west, the north and the south. In the 13th century, the church was extended to the east and the original chevet was destroyed. From the evidence furnished by fine double-staged chapels to the transepts, it is most probable that three similar chapels were set about the ambulatory of the apse, the upper chapels opening from the fine vaulted triforium. Such an arrangement existed at the noble church of Valenciennes, now destroyed, but well recorded. At the end of the 12th century Chartres cathedral was begun, perhaps its most notable constructive feature being the high development that the flying buttresses have here attained. It was followed in the early years of the 13th century by Rouen cathedral, which derived much from its prototype. St Omer, a fine early church, in turn, followed Rouen.
1911 Britannica-Architecture-Amiens.png

Fig. 40.—Plan of Cathedral at Amiens.

The second stage of Gothic, introducing the traceried window, was opened by the building of the cathedral of Reims, begun in 1211. This is in every way one of the most perfect of cathedrals, as well for its sculpture and glass as for its structure. Reims was followed by the still greater cathedral at Amiens (fig. 40), which was begun in 1220 at the west front, so that the superb sculpture (Plate II., fig. 64) of the porches is earlier than that of Reims. Beauvais cathedral was begun in 1247 on a still vaster scale, and with an ambition that o’erleaped itself. Auxerre cathedral, and the very beautiful collegiate churches of St Quentin and Semur, also followed Reims. Two other cathedrals of the first rank which must be mentioned are those of Bourges and Le Mans, each of these having double aisles about the apse, with a large clerestory to the inner one of the two, above which rises the great clerestory. This scheme is one of the great feats of Gothic construction. Le Mans again furnished the most highly developed form of chevet planning (fig. 41). On this point Mr Street may again be cited. “It was in the planning of the apse, with its surrounding aisles and chapels, that all their ingenuity and science were displayed. A simple apse is easy enough of construction, but directly it is surrounded by an aisle or aisles, with chapels again beyond them, the difficulties are great. The bays of the circular aisle, instead of being square, are very much wider on one side than the other, and it is most difficult to fit the vaulting to the unequal space. In order to get over this, various plans were tried. At Notre Dame, Paris, the vaulting bays were all triangular on plan, so that the points of support might be twice as many on the outside line of the circle as on the inside. But this was rather an unsightly contrivance, and was not often repeated, though at Bourges there is something of the same sort. At Le Mans the aisle vaulting bays are alternately triangular and square; and this is, perhaps, the best arrangement of all, as the latter are true and square, and none of the lines of the vault are twisted or distorted in the slightest degree. The arrangement of the chapels round the apse was equally varied. Usually they are too crowded in effect; and, perhaps, the most beautiful plan is that of Rouen cathedral, where there are only three chapels with unoccupied bays between, affording much greater relief and variety of lighting than the commoner plan which provided a chapel to every bay. The planning and design of the chevet is the great glory of the French medieval school. When the same thing was attempted, as at Westminster, or by the Germans at Cologne, it was evidently a copy, and usually an inferior copy, of French work. No English works led up to Westminster Abbey, and no German works to the cathedral at Cologne.”