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Belgian And Dutch Gothic - Comparative Analysis

( Originally Published 1921 )

A. Plans.—Church plans with a chevet as at Bruges, after the French model, were generally short in proportion to their width, and the most marked development in this respect may be seen in the seven aisles of Antwerp Cathedral (p. 472 A) . The large lateral chapels at the sanctuary end of S. Gudule, Brussels, are also indications of the tendency towards unusual width (p. 471 F). A single western tower, as at Bruges, is often found, perhaps due to German influence.

B. Walls.—The long, unbroken facades of secular buildings, probably originally regulated, as in Venice, by the even margins of the water-ways, present such symmetry and regularity as to appear hardly Gothic in character. The walls, whether of stone or brick, were often elaborated by tracery work forming frames and hoods, either to single or grouped windows ; while sometimes, as in Bruges Town Hall (p. 475 F) and the Cloth Hall, Ypres (p. 476 B), the wall space was covered with statuary in niches.

C. Openings.—Arcades of churches generally, had cylindrical piers with sculptured capitals supporting pointed arches (p. 471 B), but some-times there were piers without capitals (p. 472 B) external arcades were few, as was natural in the north, although sometimes met with in courts (p 479 F). Arcades are occasionally very richly filled in with cusping (pp. 479, C, 480 G). Doorways, when there was a western tower, were placed laterally in the aisle, as in Germany, but also occur in the west facade between towers after the French fashion, as at Brussels (p. 471 A). The traceried windows, more especially of town, guild, and trade halls, are ornamented with sculpture, and their repeating similarity and regularity in position are marked features of these important buildings (pp. 472 U, 476 A, 479 A).

D. Roofs.—Roofs are steep to throw off rain and snow, and are either hipped (pp. 475, 476) or have crow-stepped and traceried gables of picturesque outline. Vaulting followed on French lines, and was also carried out in secular buildings, as at Antwerp (p. 479 F). Numerous turrets and bold chimney-stacks, combined with tiers of dormer windows, are in keeping with the profusion of ornament on the walls below.

E. Columns.—Columnar piers in churches, as exemplified in S. Gudule, Brussels (p. 471 B) are preferred, as in France, to clustered piers. Statues of saints are often attached to the columns of the nave arcade (p. 471 B). A peculiar feature is noticeable in some arcades, as at Liege Town Hall, where a column is omitted between two arches which are supported instead by means of a long keystone from a concealed arch behind, while other columns have a distinctly Spanish character (p. 479 F).

F. Mouldings.—Coarse profusion is characteristic of Belgian Gothic mouldings, which possess neither the vigour of the French nor the grace of the English style.

G. Ornament.—Belgium is rich in sculptured ornament in wood and stone, for which indeed the craftsmen of the Low Countries have always been famous. This was applied not only to buildings, but also to tombs (p. 480 G), shrines, screens (p. 479 G), choir stalls, altars (p. 48o c), triptychs, and Calvaries. The human figure is prominent in decoration ; but whereas in France sculptured figures of saints were grouped around the recessed doorways of cathedrals, in the Netherlands statues of the Counts were spread between the windows, across the facades of town and trade halls. S. Vaudru, Mons, has blue stone ribs supporting red brick vault-panels as a scheme of constructive decoration, while S. Jacques, Liege, is decorated with fresco paintings, as are many other churches. The Screen, Lierre (A.D. 1535) (p. 480 E) is an elaborate composition of arcade, clustered columns, carved capitals, pointed arches, flamboyant blank tracery, statues under pinnacled canopies, and open parapet with ornate rood loft in the centre. The tabernacle, S. Pierre, Louvain (p. 48o A), was one of those elaborate sacrament-houses specially favoured in Germany. Hexagonal on plan, the lower part has a recess to contain the pyx or box in which was deposited the consecrated Host. The upper part is fashioned as an elaborate spire ornamented with delicate tabernacle work and soaring amid a mass of crocketed pinnacles to a height of 50 ft. The tabernacle at Leau is a Gothic-like structure clothed in Renaissance detail (p. 672). The Tomb of Princess Mary of Burgundy (A.D. 1495) in Notre Dame, Bruges, a beautiful late Gothic monument, has a delicate archaic recumbent figure, in chased and gilded copper on a marble sarcophagus, with sides faced with Gothic arches and niches elaborated with enamelled armorial bearings. This tomb is in strong contrast to the early Renaissance tomb of the Duke of Burgundy by its side. The font, Hal (p. 480 B), is an elaborate piece of ornamental craftsmanship, of which there is a copy in the Victoria and Albert Museum, while the well-head, Antwerp (p. 48o F), by Quinten Matsys, is a piece of metalwork which shows how the Flemish excelled in working this material. The world-famous Shrine of S. Ursula, Bruges (A.D. 1489) (p. 480 D), is one of the most remarkable and delicate examples of Mediaeval art carried out in the beautiful craftsmanship of the period. The Chasse of the Saint is formed as a Gothic chapel in miniature, with arcaded and traceried sides, buttresses, pinnacles, and steep roof, all of which are the framework for those marvellous miniature paintings, representing six episodes from the life of the Saint, which form the masterpiece of Memling. In such an exquisite gem as this reliquary of S. Ursula one may study, as perhaps nowhere else in the world, a perfect combination of architectural features, craftsmanship, and painted scene.

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