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Belgian And Dutch Gothic - Influences

( Originally Published 1921 )

I. Geographical.—The Netherlands lie wedged in between countries inhabited by Teutonic and Latin races, and the dual influence can be traced in the architectural development: for, broadly speaking, Belgian architecture has been under French, and Dutch under German influence. The great rivers Rhine, Meuse, and Scheldt, with their many tributaries, supplemented by canals, form navigable waterways which have contributed so much to the prosperity of these countries.

II. Geological.—Throughout the Netherlands there is abundance of clay which supplies beautiful red bricks, and this material of itself lent beauty to the style, more especially of domestic architecture, as seen in the facades of houses in the prosperous Mediaeval towns, both of Holland and Belgium. Belgium lies on the northern flank of the Ardennes Mountains, and here marble and stone are plentiful and were employed in Brussels, Antwerp, Ghent, and Bruges for churches and town halls, while granite from the hill quarries was also used, as in the many-towered cathedral of Tournai. The extensive forests of the Ardennes and Fagnes districts supplied timber, not only for building, but also for the wood-carving for which Belgians are famous.

Holland, with its fen-like character and clay soil, produced only red bricks as building material, and this necessitated that flat and simple treatment peculiarly pleasing in a level country of rivers and canals, where sunlight and colour are reflected from the water.

III. Climatic.—The climate of Belgium and Holland is similar to that of the south and east of England, but there are greater extremes of heat and cold. A comparatively grey climate gave rise to a liberal supply of windows in houses and to great traceried windows in churches and town halls. Wind from all quarters sweeps over the lever stretches of these countries, which offer few natural obstacles to break its force ; hence external solid shutters are used, more especially in the water-girt districts of Holland to the north, and belts of trees are planted to act as wind screens.

IV. Religious.—The Netherlands were at various times under the dominion of France, Germany, and Spain, and during the Middle Ages the influence of French Catholicism from the south was exercised on the ecclesiastical buildings of Belgium, and that of Germany from the east affected those of Holland, while the Spanish occupation also left its mark, chiefly in florid outbursts in architectural features and heraldic colour-schemes. Up to the year A.D. 1558, of the six bishoprics in the Netherlands, Utrecht and Liege were under the jurisdiction of Cologne ; while Arras, Cambrai, Tournai, and Therouanne owed allegiance to Rheims, and the architecture is evidence of their different affiliation.

V. Social.—Mediaeval architecture marched abreast of the social progress of these intrepid and industrious people, and the independent towns rivalled each other in the arts of war and peace, much as they did in Italy. Guild houses and town halls of great magnificence, large in conception and rich in detail, reflect the wealth and prosperity of the merchants and weavers of such towns as Bruges, Antwerp, Louvain, Brussels, Ghent, Ypres, Courtrai, and Oudenarde in Belgium, and Amsterdam, Utrecht, Delft, Haarlem, and Dordrecht in Holland. The long civic roll of these and many other flourishing cities is a record of all that unflagging devotion to industrial pursuits, of intrepid undertakings on land and water, of commercial acumen and manufacturing enterprise which early made the Netherlands. the rivals of England, not only in commerce, but also in sea power. The glory of Flemish looms has been for ever immortalised by the establishment at Bruges, by Philip the Good in A.D. 1430, of the famous " Order of the Golden Fleece."

VI. Historical.—Flanders, as a fief of France, became united to Burgundy (A.D. 1384) by the marriage of Philip the Bold, the first Duke of Valois, to Margaret, the heiress of Flanders, and then the Netherlands were brought together under the Dukes of Valois, descendants of the French kings, and the union was consolidated by Philip the Good (A.D. 1419-67). During the Middle Ages the cities of the Low Countries, the richest and most powerful in Europe, were constantly at war, but were also rivals in the pursuit of art. In A.D. 1477 the Netherlands fell to the House of Hapsburg by the marriage of Mary of Burgundy with Maximilian, after-wards Emperor of Germany. Early in the sixteenth century the Nether-lands passed to Charles V (A.D. 1500-55), who was born at Ghent, became King of Spain in A.D. 1516 and Roman Emperor in A.D. 1519, and this introduced Spanish decorative influence. Celts and Romans, followed by Teutons and Franks with Burgundians, Spaniards, and Austrians, all took their turn in the possession of these much-coveted fertile countries, and their history is like a jig-saw puzzle in which one tries to fit in the foreign influences that have contributed to its chequered life and the development of its art.

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