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German Gothic - Influences

( Originally Published 1921 )

I. Geographical.—The country in Central Europe, formerly a collection of states which became the German Empire, was, by its geographical position, in contact with the architecture of neighbouring countries. The chief influence on German Gothic architecture came from France and is conspicuous in the Rhine Provinces and Westphalia, notably in Cologne Cathedral and other churches, castles, town halls, and domestic buildings along the Rhine, which was always an important highway of commerce, Elsewhere in Germany geographical influence was of less consequence in the Gothic period.

II. Geological.—We have dealt with geological influence under Romanesque architecture (p. 288), and this influence obviously remains fairly constant in this period. The northern plains of Germany provide little building material but brick, which gives a special character to the architecture of the north, particularly in the districts of the Oder and Elbe. In the centre and south and along the Rhine, excellent stone was found ; while timber from the great forests in these regions gives an individuality to domestic buildings, as in wooded districts of England.

III. Climatic.—The climate, referred to in considering Romanesque architecture (p. 288), is without the fierce sun of the south, and therefore admitted of large traceried windows, as in England and France, but the snows of severe winters rendered steep roofs a necessary and special characteristic.

IV. Religious.—The most salient feature, apart from monastic establishments, in the religious life of Mediaeval Germany before the Reformation, was the exercise of civil power by prince-bishops, who included in their ranks Electors of the Holy Roman Empire, and whose principalities were only finally swept away by the European upheaval during the French Revolution. The activities of these powerful prelates are evidenced in numerous churches, and costly tombs erected by them or in their honour. Papal abuses and disputes led inevitably to the revolt against the authority of Rome, until in A.D. 1517 Luther nailed to the church door at Wittenberg his famous theses against indulgences. The Reformation divided Germany into the Protestant north and Catholic south, but churches were not damaged, as in Puritan times in England.

V. Social.—For a right understanding of the types of architecture peculiar to different districts it must be remembered that Germany was not one, but many states, among which were the provinces under the Houses of Luxemburg, Wittlesbach, and Hapsburg ; ecclesiastical states, such as Minster ; Imperial cities like Strassburg and Ulm, while the " Hanseatic League," an alliance of the great commercial towns of North Germany, such as Lubeck and Hamburg, exercised considerable influence on the peaceful arts, and in the fourteenth century the power of the League secured to the larger towns comparative independence, which necessitated the erection of municipal buildings. Then there was the Rhine-land on the French frontier, across which came the Gothic architecture which in castle, convent, and church played its part in the folklore of the Rhine. Thus the style of architecture varies with the locality, just as does the constitution of the various states and cities. Trade guilds during this period acquired great importance and built elaborate halls, while Freemasons have been credited with much influence in the design and working out of the Gothic style (p. 245). The feudal system in Germany was so complicated by the existence of the many principalities of differing degrees of importance and independence that by the beginning of the sixteenth century any real relation between nobles and vassals had become merely nominal.

VI. Historical.—The tangled skein of German history in the Mediaeval period is complicated by the successive rise and fall of imperial and royal dynasties, by the intrigues of princely and ducal houses of the various states to secure kingly power, and by the secular ambition of prince-bishops who combined the intolerance of ecclesiastical with the arrogance of secular tyrants. In -the twelfth and thirteenth centuries Germany was the centre of the Western Empire, and under the Hohenstaufen Emperors long wars were carried on with the Lombard league of the north Italian towns (p. 254). After the fall of the Hohenstaufen Dynasty on the death of Conrad IV, the following years (A.D. 1254-73), known as the " Great Interregnum," were times of confusion and lawlessness, not conducive to progress in architecture. The house of Hapsburg came into power in A.D. 1273, and the general adoption of Gothic architecture from France coincides with that event and lasted till the reign of Maximilian I (A.D. 1486-1519), which marks the end of the Middle Ages.

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