First Pointed Style in Pointed Architecture in England
The First Pointed, Lancet, or Early English style to which the transitional work thus led up, may fairly be considered to be a purely English variety of Gothic. It is more consistently graceful and delicate in its details, as well as in its general character, than any foreign work of the same period.
There was no longer any observable foreign influence brought to bear as there had been at Canterbury. Intelligent artists all over the country were rapid in seizing the best features of executed works, and carrying them farther with as little delay as possible.
There were various centres from which distinct local varieties of style were sent out. If we compare York (transepts), Lincoln, and Salisbury Cathedrals, we shall find that, though there are certain general similarities of treatment, the distinct mark of the one presiding individual architect or artist is found in each. Compared to the architect of York Minster, the one who built Salisbury was altogether inferior. This feature of local varieties in style, the result of the influence of individuals, is from this period one of the most noteworthy features in English art; and generally one man influenced the work in his own diocese or district, and no further.
Throughout the period before us -- 1189 to 1272 -- the developments were all in the same direction as during the previous time of transition. The skillful combinations were much thought of; and, towards the end of the period, there was even too great a display sometimes of the cleverness of the artist.
But with work so really beautiful as it all was, and so uniformly good in the smallest nearly as much as in the largest building, it is ungracious, if not conceited, to affect to criticize the spirit in which the artist worked.
The use of delicate shafts of polished marble (obtained in great part from the Isle of Purbeck) for doorways, windows, and arcades, is one of the distinguishing features of the style at this time. Generally they are treated with great beauty, but there were structural inconveniences about them which soon began to be felt. The columns were of necessity set out of their natural bed, and so began very soon to decay. It was necessary also to combine them together in groups, and to trust to the capitals, bands, and bases holding them together; and such construction not only looks dangerously slight, but is so. A radical defect also in engaged marble shafts is that, though they seem to be intended to do all the work and carry all the weight, they do in point of fact, wherever it can be contrived, carry no weight at all; and it was, no doubt, when and as this was discovered, that the mediaeval builders gradually lost their liking for them, and returned to safer, if less brilliant, constructions in stone, with piers formed with mouldings instead of shafts detached from the wall.
The characteristics elegance of the general architectural design was carried out in all the details. The mouldings were delicately rounded and alternated with hollows so drawn as to give here delicate and there most forcible effects of light and shade. Thus the dark line produced by marble in a pier was continued by means of a dark shadow in the arch; and without considerable knowledge of the science of moulding, it is impossible to do justice to this part of the English Early Pointed work, which has never been surpassed, if, indeed, it has ever been equaled at any period elsewhere.
The groined roofs were still simple in design, but a ridge rib was often added to the necessary transverse and diagonal ribs of the previous period. This gave a certain hardness of line to the vault; it was the first step to the more elaborate and later systems of vaulting, and was soon followed by the introduction of other ribs on the surface of the vaulting cells.
Few works are more admirable than some of the towers and spires of this period, but space will not allow of mention even of many of its best features.
Probably the greatest excellence ever attained in English art was reached in this period by the architects of the great Yorkshire abbeys. No buildings in Europe surpass them in purity of general design, excellence of construction, beauty of detail, or suitability for their purposes. And it is a misfortune of the gravest kind for future generations, that their ruined condition forbids the possibility of our descendants appreciating as we can these consummate works of the most golden period of English art.
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