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Gothic Architecture In Europe - Influences

( Originally Published 1921 )

I. Geographical.—The various peoples of Western Europe, who had once been under the dominion and civilisation of Rome, had by the end of the twelfth century formed into separate nations, with a consequent new territorial distribution of the map of Europe. The Latin races of France, Italy, and Spain developed into independent kingdoms ; Germany was the centre of the Holy Roman Empire ; England, under her Norman kings, possessed large domains in France and was thus linked up with Western Europe ; but Russia, Sweden, and Norway were little affected by this movement.

II. Geological.—Geological conditions vary so much in Europe that they contribute a definite influence in differentiating the style according to countries ; thus the white and coloured marbles of Italy, the coarse-grained stone of France and England, the brick of northern Germany and of Lombardy are all factors, as will be seen, in determining the character of the architecture of these countries.

III. Climatic. Climatic conditions, which, even in Europe, vary from north to south and east to west, have in all ages and countries had considerable influence in deciding the style of the architecture in any given district. Thus in the slanting rays of the northern sun the most effective shadows are cast by vertical features, such as the buttresses and pinnacles which surround northern Gothic churches. The southern sun moves higher in the firmament and thus the deepest shadows are cast from horizontal cornices, and these are therefore frequently retained in Italian Gothic. Although this did not wholly determine the difference in treatment, it is interesting to observe that the highest development of Gothic architecture was achieved in northern latitudes. Climate, as will be seen, more especially affected the use of arcades and the size of door and window openings ; while heavy snow-falls necessitated steep Gothic roofs in the north.

IV. Religious.—The conditions of the Christian Church and the rise of monastic communities precedent to the Gothic period have been dealt with under Romanesque architecture (p. 244). The immense power of the popes in the thirteenth century can be judged from the way. they made and unmade emperors and kings and disposed of their dominions. The clergy, by reason of their learning, were prominent not only in spiritual but also in temporal affairs, and thus attracted wealth and power to the church. In Germany many of the abbots and bishops were princes of the Empire, and the Archbishops of Cologne, Treves, and Mayence were among the Electors of the Holy Roman Empire. The periodical pilgrimages to shrines of local saints and of holy relics, and the various forms of an increasingly ornate ritual, influenced the plans of cathedrals. In England the adoration of the Virgin Mary was responsible for the introduction of Lady chapels, either as a prolongation of the eastern end, as at Salisbury (p. 332 E), or as a lateral addition, as at Ely (p. 332 A). The extension of the sanctuary to provide for the increase in the numbers of the clergy, chapels dedicated to special saints, processional ambulatories, chantry chapels for masses for the dead, all in turn modified and extended the original plan in the different countries.

V. Social.—The rapid growth of towns and the development of commercial activity, with the consequent increase of wealth, inspired a rivalry between neighbouring cities which was expressed in the erection of magnificent buildings both municipal and ecclesiastical. The countries of Europe developed along different lines according to the genius of the people, as set forth in the following chapters—English (p. 314), French (p. 436), Belgian and Dutch (p. 469), German (p. 483), Italian (p. 498), and Spanish (p. 525) Gothic architecture. In Germany towns united for mutual defence, as exemplified in the famous Hanseatic League. France and England were much under the heel of the feudal system, which retarded municipal activity but gave opportunity for domestic architecture. Italy was divided into republics and dukedoms, in which smaller cities were subject to the more powerful, and here they developed with greater freedom owing to disputes between the papacy and the Holy Roman Empire and to the comparative freedom of Italy from the feudal system.

VI. Historical.—The principal historical events which influenced the architecture of the different countries are referred to in subsequent chapters ; but, briefly, they were the loss of the English possessions in France, the gradual subjugation of the various provinces of France under one king, the disintegration of Germany into a number of independent states, the contests between the Moors and Christians in Spain, and the Latin conquest of Constantinople in A.D. 1203, which transferred the commerce of the East to the cities of Italy.

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