1902 Encyclopedia > Architecture > Pointed Architecture in Europe Generally

(Part 88)

Pointed Architecture in Europe Generally

There are so many local and national varieties of this style that it is quite impossible to dismiss it with an account of its features in one district or country only. To do this would be to give an entirely wrong and inadequate conception of the subject. It must be treated generally under the heads of the several countries in which it has flourished most -- as England, France, Germany, and Spain. It must certainly not be forgotten in talking of Italy.

And in most of these countries it might properly be subdivided according to the local varieties caused either by changes in the political geography, or by physical conditions which so largely affect the details and variations of style in architecture.

For the origin of all these developments of the style we must go back to Rome. It is not only that in the Roman states we see the origin of Romaneque architecture gradually developed out of the Roman buildings. The same process was going on at the same time all over Europe wherever the Roman empire extended. We have only to look at the Roman occupation of the south of France, as evidenced by the still magnificent remains of theatres and tombs at Arles, of the amphitheatre at Nismes [Nîmes], of the theatre at Orange, or the aqueduct of Pont de Gard; or at the similar works on the coast of Spain, at Tarragona, or in its very center at Segovis; or at the basilica, gateway, and theatre at Treves; or in our own country at the remains of Roman buildings in various directions, of which Silchester is surpassed in interest by none; -- we have only to look at all these in order to see that, erected as they were in countries which at the time were little better than barbarous, they must of necessity have prepared men all over Europe for the same sort of development.

The Romans had shown them the use of the arch, the column, and the vault; the conversion to Christianity gave them a great want to satisfy; and finally, the revulsion of feeling when the supposed mystical year of our Lord 1000, with all its apprehended accompanying dangers, had passed in safety, gave such an impetus to buildings for religious purposes as the world has never before seen.

It was a time for development, therefore, and nearly everywhere the development proceeded from the same premises. Roman art, pure and simple, was the general foundation of all Romanesque building, and it was only slightly modified in certain districts by the introduction of the Byzantine influence from Constantinople to Venice, and thence in some degree to some other cities and towns, or, as in Pisan buildings, and in those of the south of Italy and south of Spain, by the Greek and Arab influence which was so great down to the end of the 13th century. An examination of the earliest European churches -- such, for instances, as San Clemente and San Lorenzo at Rome -- will show how entirely they were constructed on Roman models.

From them we go in Italy to Ravenna or Toscanella, to San Miniato at Florence, to the cathedral of Torcello, to San Zenone, Verona, and San Michele, Pavia, and see how gradually but surely the plan and details were being developed into what soon became a new style; and from these examples we may follow he stream of art from the south to the center of France, and thence to this country and Germany.

Or looking at other developments in Italy, we may in the same way trace a succession of circular buildings, in which the connection and sequence is clear, leading us as it does from the Pantheon, and other circular Roman temples, through the old cathedral of Brescia and the grand church of San Vitale, Ravenna, to the cathedral at Aachen, and so to our own circular churches, and to many of those which, like the Marien Kirche [Marienkirch], Treves, though not really circular in appearance, are yet so planned as to fall properly within the same class.

The course of progress of European art was to a great extent first of all geographical and political. For, in addition to the influence exercised by conquest or the political connection of one district with another, it is remarkable how much particular styles are limited by geographical divisions and boundaries, by the courses of rivers, the occurrence of convenient building materials, and other such secondary causes. And with so many causes for variations of style in existence, it will be quite necessary, in order to give any intelligible account of the whole course of Gothic architecture, even in the shortest compass, to treat separately each of the great national divisions.

We will take England first, only premising that, following strict order, we ought to have begun with Italy, were it not that, in spite of the origin of all northern art having to be looked for there, as soon as it came to be a question of development, almost all the life and vigour of architecture in the Middle Ages is to be seen north and not south of the Alps; and whatever was borrowed, in the first instance, from Italy was paid back again with interest afterwards. And in taking England first, we have the advantage of speaking of a national art, of which every educated Englishman knows some of the examples, so as to be more able to follow the course of our argument than would be the case were all the examples of its application foreign and unknown to him.

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