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Belgian And Dutch Gothic - Architectural Character

( Originally Published 1921 )

The architecture of Belgium during this period (A.D. 12001550) was governed by the same general principles as applied to all Gothic architecture in Europe (p. 300), but was of two types, that of the hilly part to the east partaking of German, and that of the low-lying part (Flanders) of French character, while Spanish features are also observable. Belgian architecture is impressive largely by reason of its towers, spires, belfries, and stepped gables (p. 475), which mostly rise from one dead level, and are unchallenged by diversities of rise and fall in the surrounding landscape, as in such dream-cities as Bruges ; while no country is richer in the architecture of town, trade and guild halls, which found its highest expression in the now devastated Cloth Hall, Ypres. Owing further to the variety of authorities in different districts, and the conflicting interests of powerful lords, including four dukes, seven counts, five lords, and a margrave, there was a lack of homogeneity, both in government and architecture, and thus social conditions were not conducive to the building up of a great national style in that art which is more than any other a national product.

Dutch architecture, although somewhat resembling German, has a national character of its own. The Dutch character of simplicity is translated into the barn-like churches, and for this reason the church architecture of Holland is less varied than that of Belgium. This national tendency to plainness was emphasised by the use of brick, which was here the local building material, and in itself with its beautiful texture made for simplicity of general treatment and outline. Effect was produced by the colour masses of red brick rising from a low, level country, and bathed in sunshine reflected from many waters. Many of the fittings in the large and lofty churches of the fifteenth century have, however, been destroyed owing in part to iconoclastic zeal, and also to the adaptation of old churches to Protestant forms of worship, by which the dominant idea of the altar in the sanctuary was superseded by the pulpit in the nave, with pews ranged round it, regardless of the position of the sanctuary.

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