1902 Encyclopedia > Architecture > Nomenclature: "Pointed Architecture" vs "Gothic", "Christian", etc. Origins of the Pointed Arch (cont'd.)

(Part 84)

Pointed Architecture (cont.)

Nomenclature: "Pointed Architecture" vs "Gothic", "Christian", etc.

Before proceeding further with this subject, it is necessary to determine by what name this style is to be designated. There have been only too many arguments and discussions on the name which is most appropriate to the style.

By common consent the word Gothic is used all over Europe to designate it, and it now hardly matters whether or not there was originally good reason for the use of such a term. One of the first in England to use the term was Sir Henry Wotton. It was continued by Evelyn, who applied it more directly; and the authority of Sir Christopher Wren finally settled its application. But they used the term as one of reproach for what they though a savage and uncivilized sort of art, though it was in vain that, by the use of a bad name, they attempted to deny the merit of that which was after all the only nationally developed style of their own country as well as of the whole of Northern Europe. In the last century, through the influence and enthusiasm of Horace Walpole, and afterwards of John Carter, an eminent artist and architect, a better taste was formed, and this led to the appreciation of that which is, indeed, the English national style.

Many attempts were made to explode the totally irrelevant appellation of "Gothic" which had been applied to the style, but without effect. Some writers have called it Italian, others German, others Norman or French, others British, and many have contended for the exclusive term English. To this last the Society of Antiquaries lent its influence, but with equal inefficiency, for the term Gothic still prevails.

Mr. Britton, than whom perhaps no man possessed a greater right to affix an appellation to the pointed arch style, from the splendid services he has done it in the publication of his Cathedral and Architectural Antiquities, wished to introduced a term which is not at all unlikely to succeed, as it is equally appropriate and independent of national feeling and hypothetic origin. He called it Christian architecture, and in this he was followed by the younger Pugin and many others. This, as a genetic term, would admit each nation possessing specimens of it to distinguish its own species or style; and as the varieties of Hellenic architectures are known by the names of the tribes or nations who are presumed to have originated them, -- Dorian, Ionian, and Corinthian, -- so might Christian architecture be English or British, German, French, &c., for each has its peculiarities. These species would again individually admit of classification, according to the changes each underwent in the course of its career.

One objection, however, has been taken to Mr. Britton’s distinctive appellation. It is, that, "Christian" applies as well to what may also properly be called the Gothic style -- that which arose on the extinction of Roman architecture, and was subverted by the introduction of the pointed arch, and which, indeed, owed its diffusion and progress, if not its origin, to the Christian religion.

We are therefore still left to seek a suitable appellation; and in the absence of a better, are inclined to use the term Pointed, which is not only distinctive, but descriptive; it has, too, the merit of being general, so that it may mark the genus, while the national species and their varieties may be distinguished by their peculiarities as before.

Origins of the Pointed Arch (cont'd.)

The pointed arch was a graft on the Romanesque, Lombard, and Byzantine architecture of Europe, just as the circular arch of the Romans had been on the columnar ordinances of the Greeks; but with a widely different result. The amalgamation in the latter case destroyed the beauty of both the stock and the scion; while in the former the stock lent itself to the modifying influence of its parasitical nursling, gradually gave up its heavy, dull, and cheerless forms, and was eventually lost in its beautiful offspring, as the unlovely caterpillar is in the gay and graceful butterfly.

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