Later Styles in Pointed Architecture in England
The transition from the simplest Early Pointed to a more advanced style can be seen as well in Westminster Abbey as anywhere. Here traceries began to take the place of simple lancet openings, and led to that system of window tracery which was, in fact, the distinguishing feature of the succeeding style. When the invention of tracery was complete, everything in Gothic architecture rapidly changed.
The art of masonry and stone-cutting was rapidly developed. Moulded stones, from being made continuous round the intricate combinations of windows traceries, came naturally to be used much more largely than before in place of simple bearing shafts. So columns came to formed of clusters of mouldings; and, in the case of groined buildings, each moulding of the shaft was developed into more mouldings above the capital, or even frequently carried on to the vault without any capital at all.
Traceries were first of all commenced by merely piercing geometrical patterns or circles through the thickness of the walls. Then these patterns were combined under one enclosing arch; and then, when this sort of tracery had reached perfection, it was found possible to vary it indefinitely by making use of double curves (or ogee lines); and then, when these had been used for a short time, flowing lines, wandering gracefully over the space to be filled, and sometimes drawn by hand, supplanted the more formal outlines of the earlier work.
The difference was great between an opening which was made (as the earlier examples were) with a sole view to the opening for glass, and one which was the accidental result only of the pretty lines and curves made by regarding the monial of the window, and not the light, as the thing to be considered.
The tendency of the modification was to make men think lines of more importance than masses; and, whether consciously or not, this was just what happened: not only window traceries but mouldings, carvings, and every other feature, were entirely changed in character. The soft gradations of the early mouldings were given up for combinations of more hardly defined and thinner lines of light and shade, and, in harmony with this change, a crisp and sharp imitation of natural foliage was devised, which supplanted the rich and round forms of the earlier sculpture.
The whole practice of art was becoming more scholarly, perhaps, but as the same time it was more conscious, and the cleverness of the architect was almost as often suggested as the noble character of his work.
Merton College chapel, Oxford, the nave of York Minster, the choir of Selby, the whole of Exeter Cathedral, are a few among the many examples of this period of which this country can boast, and it will be seen that the change in character which is evident between the earliest and latest Middle Pointed works is enough to justify those who would again subdivide the nomenclature. The difficulty is that, where progress was so constant, it will be necessary, in order to be exact, to subdivide each century five or more times in order to be really definite.
Towards the end of Edward the Thirds reign, the last great change was made. The first example of this is seen in the western end of the nave of Winchester, followed soon after by William of Wykehams magnificent (if somewhat cold) reconstruction of the rest of the nave.
It may fairly be held that the moving cause for the change was a sense of disgust at the vagaries into which the votaries of curvilinear window traceties had been led. There was something weak and effeminate about their work, and Edyngton and Wykeham, when they built the nave of Winchester, were evidently endeavouring to to return to a simpler and more dignified style of building.
The first thing they found to amend was the exuberant tracery which was ruining architecture. They did not return to earlier forms, but they corrected this exuberance by introducing vigorous, straight vertical, and horizontal lines. These, combined with subarcuation, gave their work at first a vigour which had latterly been wanting; and no one can look at Wykehams great work without feeling that he succeeded in his effort to impress a sense of vigour and manliness on the whole of it.
Unfortunately, the love of display and of the exhibition of skill which was so strong before was in no degree lessened, and the change in style did nothing permanently to check it.
The fondness for straight in place of flowing lines was more and more developed. Doorways and arches were enclosed within well-defined square outlines, walls were divided by paneling into rectangular divisions; vertical lines were emphasized by the addition of pinnacles, and buttresses used more for ornament than strength, whilst horizontal lines were multiplied in string-courses, parapets, and transoms to windows.
Groined roofs, which in the 14th century had been enriched by the multiplication of surface ribs, were now most elaborately enriched by cross ribs subdividing the simple spaces naturally produced by the intersection of necessary ribs into small panels; these, again, were filled in with tracery, and finally, the key-stones were formed into pendants, and the branching ribs so radiated as to produce the really beautiful and very English variety of groining called fan-tracery.
The amount of skill shown in the construction of these vaults was very great, and most of them have proved their authors science by the perfect way in which they have endured to the present time.
In other respects the architects of the 15th century were very successful. Few things can be seen more beautiful than the steeples of Gloucester Cathedral, or of St Marys, Taunton. The open timber roofs, as for instance that of St. Peter, Mancroft, Norwich, are superb. And, finally, they left us a large number of enormous parish churches all over the country, full of interesting furniture and decoration, and also a store of interesting examples of domestic architecture which are still the ornaments, and are associated with all the most interesting historical localities, of the country.
After the middle of the 16th century the practice of Gothic architecture practically died out, though traces of its influence, especially in rural districts, were hardly lost until the end of the 17th century. Good, sound, solid, and simple forms, well constructed by men who respected themselves and their work, and did not build only for the passing hour, were still popular and general, so that the vernacular architecture to a late period was often good and never absolutely uninteresting. But it presents none of the characteristics of a school, and cannot be treated of here.
The history of the development of Gothic architecture in England has been gone into at rather greater length than will be desirable in the case of other national developments. And this for two reasons: the examples which illustrate it are more generally known; and as the developments in other countries north of the Alps went through very nearly the same course of change at the same time, much has been said which need not be repeated in treating of them.
Read the rest of this article:
Architecture - Table of Contents