Gothic Architecture 12th – 15th Centuries

Gothicism began in the Ile-de-France in 1144. The Abbey of St Denis was the first Gothic church. Gothic architecture is more ornate and complex than Romanesque. It is categorised by pointed arches, rib vaults (the intersection of two or three barrel vaults), and flying buttresses (exterior extensions that carry the weight of the roof). The flying buttresses allowed for the inclusion of more glass in the stone walls. Thus, stained glass and rose windows (large round window, often elaborately decorated) became a prominent feature.

The Gothic style is divided into 3 phases:

Early Gothic (1150-1200)
Example: Chartres Cathedral

High Gothic (1200-1300)
Example: Reims Cathedral

Late Gothic (1300-1550)
Example: Rouen Cathedral



The tympanum (semi-circular or triangular decorative wall surface over an entrance) and capital sculptures became more elaborate and three dimensional (almost free standing). Sculptors also started to carve pulpits, tabernacles and tombs.

Western portal, Chartres Cathedral
Pulpit by Nicola Pisano, Baptistry at Pisa



Gothic churches also contained paintings depicting the stories of the bible. The figures are often painted on a gold leaf background. The figures appear flat and idealised. Their size in the painting depended on their importance. Lapis lazuli was usually reserved for the Virgin Mary as this was the most expensive pigment.

Example: Simone Martini, The Annunciation, altarpiece, 1333


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