1902 Encyclopedia > Architecture > Gothic Architecture in Germany

(Part 97)

Gothic Architecture in Germany

It is impossible to say so much in praise of the German examples of Pointed architecture as has been said of both French and English. The history of the development of the art is very different, but in many respects very curious.

We have first certain absolutely Roman works, such as those at Trèves; then others, of which the convent at Lorsch is a conspicuous example, which are in the truest sense Romanesque, i.e., works directly founded on the Roman buildings of the country.

Then comes a great group of churches, of which those in Cologne and the Rhineland are the best known examples , which are evidently founded on the Lombard churches of the north of Italy. The earlier of these churches date from the beginning of the 12th century, and the same style is continued on with but little serious alteration down to the end of the 13th century, when the strange spectacle is seen of a style which is completely Romanesque in its general character being suddenly supplanted by a style which in no way grew out of it, but which was rather an imitation of a foreign style, and which is distinguished by the perfect and complete form which it at once assumed.

This style, the complete Gothic of Germany, in its turn retained its sway much longer than the corresponding styles elsewhere, and was finally supplanted by a very national German style, answering in point of date to our own late Third Pointed and to French Flamboyant.

The question naturally arises, whether these styles, which are so wanting in evidence of natural growth, are to be looked at as sudden German inventions, or whether they are not illustrations of the conservative character of a people not fond of change, resisting it as long as possible, and at last, when obliged to take it at all, compelled to accept it in the most decided form.

In illustration of what has been said, the following dates will be useful: -- St Gereon, Cologne, was begun in 1200, and vaulted in 1227; St Cunibert, also in Cologne, was building from 1205 to 1248; Naumburg Cathedral has a nave of 1200; Limburg is but little later; Gelnhausen was begun in 1250, and Munster-Maifeld about the same time.

All these churches are of such a character, that if we were to see them in France, we should, no doubt, put them down as works of the end of the 12th century, and should look for another class to fill up the gap between that time and the commencement of the cathedral at Cologne in 1270. in short, transitional works are as rare in Germany as they are common in England and France. There is comparatively little evidence of natural growth, and a very practical refutation therefore, of the claim which has been advanced by some German writers on behalf of their country, for the honour of being the real mother and inventor of northern Gothic.

The ground-plans of German Gothic churches have a character of their own. The apsidal termination of the east end is usual, though not quite universal; but it is to be noted that German apses are very rarely surrounded by aisles and chapels. Cologne Cathedral, which is the grandest exception to the rule, was notoriously inspired by, and in a way copied from, Amiens, and St Godehard at Hildesheim, Magdeburg Cathedral, and the Marien-Kirche, Lübeck, are inferior to French examples of the same ages. The German churches were either simply apsidal, or parallel triapsidal, to transverse triapsidal; and the main difference between early and late examples is that the former were circular, the latter polygonal in outline.

Another feature peculiar to Germany is that of double choirs, i.e. churches with apses both at the east and west ends. Examples of this are seen in Laach; Bamberg, Naumburg; in St Sebaldus, Nuremberg; and in Augsburg Cathedral. Even when the ground-plan shows a disposition of aisles and chapels like the French chevet, the design is treated very differently, the whole being generally covered in by one vast roof, instead of a series of roofs, and the aisles being of the same height as the choir.

This class of building is very striking internally, owing to the vast height of the piers and arches; there is no triforium or clerestory, and the windows are extravagantly lengthened out. Still the examples of this kind of design -- St Stephen, Vienna; Münster; the Wiesen-Kirche, Soest; St Laurence, Nuremberg; and Munich Cathedral, among a host of others -- are very grand. The details of the earlier churches are evidently borrowed from the north of Italy.

The walls are arcaded, and almost always finished under the eaves with open galleries, which were the beautiful substitutes of the Lombard architects for the classic cornice. The steeples of the same period are very peculiar. They are either square or octangular in plan, arcaded or pierced with windows regularly all over their face, and roofed with gables, or with spires rising out of the gables. The early groining was very simple, but always more or less domical in section. The windows were plain and rude, and the mouldings very simple and unskillful. In the interior the most marked feature of these churches is the great height of the triforium, which is still generally in use as a gallery, and is groined in the same way as the aisle. On the exterior the peculiarity of the plan and the large number of generally rather small, though lofty, steeples of picturesque outline are the most striking peculiarities.

The German Complete Gothic is essentially national in its complete character. It has a similarity to English and French Middle Pointed, but no more than this.

It has many and obvious defects. From the first there is conspicuous in it that love of lines, and that desire to play with geometrical figures, which in time degenerated into work more full of conceit and triviality than that of any school of mediaeval artists. These conceits are worked out most elaborately in the traceries of windows and paneling. The finest early examples are in the cathedral at Minden; a little later, perhaps, the best series is in the cloister of Constance Cathedral; and of the latest description the examples are innumerable. But it is worth observing that they rarely at any time have any ogee lines. They are severely geometrical and regular in their form, and quite unlike our own late Middle Pointed, or the French Flamboyant. In sculpture the Germans did not shine. They, like the English, did not introduce it with profusion, though they were very prone to there presentations of effigies of the diseased as monuments.

In one or two respects, however, Germany is still possessed of a wealth of mediaeval examples, such as is hardly to be paralleled in Europe. The vast collection of brick buildings, for instance, is unequalled. If a lien be drawn due east and west, and passing through Berlin, the whole of the plain lying to the north, and extending from Russia to Holland, is destitute of stone, and the mediaeval architects, who always availed themselves of the material which was most natural in the district, built all over this vast extent of country almost entirely in brick. The examples of their works in this humble material are not all confined to ecclesiastical works; houses, castles, town-halls, town walls, and gateways, are so plentiful and so invariably picturesque and striking in their character, that it is impossible to pass a harsh verdict on the architects who left behind them such extraordinary examples of their skill and fertility of resource.

Then again, in regard to the furniture which before the period of the Renaissance of art and the Reformation of religion filled the ancient buildings, the German have more than any other people been happily conservative. There are still churches in Germany in which it may be said that nothing has been changed since Luther’s day except the use of the buildings. St Katherine’s at Lübeck is turned into a museum, but is full of its old furniture. The choir of Halberstadt is unused, but everything, even to the hangings on the walls, remains of old. In Nuremberg al the altars are preserved, and decked with altar-cloths and candles, though they are never used; and when so much toleration as to these externals has been shown, and so little desire for change exists, it may well be imagined that the opportunities for the study of the works of German Gothic architects in their completeness are unusually plentiful.

During the last few years a vast number of books have been published on the subject of their national antiquities by German writers, and the amount of detailed information on the subject, which may be obtained by those who care for the study, is unbounded.

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