1902 Encyclopedia > Architecture > Transition to Pointed Architecture in England

(Part 91)

Transition to Pointed Architecture in England

It was in the next period -- that of the transition to Pointed -- that the science of vaulting received a great impetus, whilst the whole architectural construction at the same time tended to assume more graceful and elegant lines.

In so general a view of the case as this, it is impossible to do more here than point to salient examples which illustrate generally the progress of the art. Just as the cathedrals of Peterborough, Durham, Norwich, and Ely illustrate, on the grandest scale, the features of the best Norman art in England, the eastern part of Canterbury illustrate the whole period of the transition from that to Pointed, and is consequently one of the most valuable buildings that we have for the purpose of study, as well as one of almost unrivalled beauty and magnificence.

Professor Willis has made this church classical ground to the archaeologist who, under his guidance, and with the advantage of the description of the work written by the monk Gervase, who saw it in process of building, examines its many curious evidences of gradual development.

Gervase himself describes the changed mode of workmanship and design, as he chronicles the difference between the new work and that older Romanesque choir which had before his time been called "the glorious choir of Conrad."

He says,--"The pillars of the old and new work are alike in form and thickness, but different in length; for the new pillars were elongated by almost twelve feet. In the old capitals the work was plain, in the new ones exquisite in sculpture. There the arches and everything else was plain or sculptured with an axe and not with a chisel, but here almost throughout is appropriate sculpture. No marble columns were there, but here are innumerable ones. There, in the circuit around the choir, the vaults were plain, but here they are arch-ribbed and have key-stones." "There was a ceiling of wood decorated with excellent painting, but here is a vault beautifully constructed of stone and light tufa. There was a single triforium, but here are two in the choir, and a third in the aisle of the church," &c.

This great work was begun under a French architect, William of Sens, in the year 1175; he was killed by injuries received in a fall from the scaffolding in 1179, and was succeeded by his assistant, William the Englishman; and to these two men is due the credit of the design as we now see it.

One of the most noteworthy points in its history is the obvious and simple mode of accounting for the French character and state of much of the work, which it presents; and looking at it, no one can be surprised at the enormous development which immediately took place throughout the country.

The change from heavy piers, with carving rather elaborate than beautiful, to delicate columns carrying on exquisite capitals lofty and graceful pointed arches and vaults, was so great that it was impossible not to prefer it to the stately but comparatively rude work which it supplanted; and so the tide of change having set in, further improvements were soon desired.

Mouldings became much more delicate and subtle in their contour. Groining was then more tastefully planned and disposed, windows and doorways were made far more graceful, whilst the system of construction was largely improved upon.

Instead of thick, massive walls without buttresses, the walls were reduced in thickness, and the material saved was transferred to the buttress, where it could most effectually fulfill its office of supporting the vaults and walls above. From buttresses conceived in this view the transition to flying buttresses was easy; then to stiffen these, pinnacles were added.

And in the same way one lancet window led the way to groups of lancets; and these in their turn, by combinations with pierced circular windows, to completely developed traceries.

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