1902 Encyclopedia > Architecture > Pointed Architecture (cont.): Origins of the Pointed Arch

(Part 83)

Pointed Architecture (cont.)

Origins of the Pointed Arch

Where, when, and with whom the pointed form originated has been more discussed and disputed than the discovery of the properties of the arch itself. Some have contended that it was suggested by the intersections of semicircular arches, as they were employed in ornamenting the fronts of edifices in the preceding style; some that groined arches of the same form gave the idea; others have referred it to the interlacing of the branches of trees when planted in parallel rows, -- to an imitation of wicker-work, -- to a figure used on conventual seals, -- to the principle of the pyramid, -- to Noah’s ark, -- to chance. Such a mass of conflicting opinions, almost all supported by some show of reason, and more or less by evidence, may be called a proof of the impossibility of determining the question.

There is one striking fact, however, which has been overlooked by many of the theorists in the discussion of the question; it is, that the pointed arch made its appearance almost at the same moment of time in all the civilized countries of Europe. This is proved by the controversies of those who claim its invention for their respective nations; for none of them can produce genuine specimens of it before a certain period, to which they can all reach.

Now, if it had been invented in any of the European nations that one would certainly have been able to show specimens of it of a date considerably anterior to some of the others; for though it might by chance have been soon communicated to any one of the them, the improbability is great that it would immediately have reached them all, and have been at once adopted by all, to the subversion of their previously practiced forms of construction.

The infrequent and imperfect modes of communication between the different countries of Europe at the period referred to, furnish another reason why it is not probable that a discovery of the kind should travel rapidly from one to another.

Considering these things, and particularly the fact of the almost simultaneous introduction of the pointed arch to the various nations of Europe, as it appears by their monuments immediately after the first Crusade, in which they all bore a part, connected with existing evidence that it was commonly used in the East at and anterior to that period, the most rational and satisfactory theory seems to be that a knowledge of it was acquired by the Crusaders in the Holy Land, and brought home to their respective countries by them.

In Europe there are found rude approaches to the pointed form in some of the earlier Gothic structures; but we believe it may be safely asserted that nothing can be indicated of a date beyond that of the first Crusade, approaching the simple but perfect lancet arch, which, it is not denied, came into use immediately after that period; whereas tolerably well-authenticated examples of it are found in the East, of sufficient antiquity to induce the opinion that it was at that time imported thence.

It is, moreover, indisputable that the Saracenic or Mahometan nations, who were never known in those times to adopt any European custom or invention of any kind, do use, and have used, the pointed arch. It was very extensively employed in various parts of Asia, and nowhere in more sumptuous edifices or with greater effect than in the structures erected by the Mahometan conquerors of India.

With what nation of the East, and in what manner, the pointed arch originated, are problems equally difficult to solve. We have not been able to discover that the properties of the arch were known to the Egyptians or to the Greeks, and there is no evidence to show that they were known to the Persians or to the Indians of ancient times; but structures are found in the countries of those nations in which chambers are domed, and apertures covered with a pointed arch, produced, however, by gathering or corbelling over, and not by arched structure. It is not improbable, therefore, that, such things existing, when the properties of the arch became known, that form would be repeated upon it, and the result would be the lancet arch, -- the prototype, the germ of the style.

The pointed arch, on its introduction into Europe, was not accompanied by any of its ordinary accessories in after time -- its light clustered pillars, its mullions, foliations or feathering, and graceful tracery. These developments resulted from its adoption: so that whether the arch itself was invented in Europe or imported from the East, to the European nations must be assigned the credit of developing the beautiful style of architecture whose distinguishing feature it is.

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