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Italian Gothic - Architectural Character

( Originally Published 1921 )



The general character of Gothic architecture in Europe has already been dealt with (p. 300). The style in Italy dates approximately from A.D. 1200-1450, but the influence of Roman tradition remained so strong that the conspicuous verticality of northern Gothic is generally neutralised in Italy by horizontal cornices and string courses. Churches are marked externally by the following features : flatness of roofs (pp. 502, 513), the screen wall of the west facade which masks the aisle roofs (pp. 496 A, 514 A), the circular window of the west front (p. 505 A, G), an absence of pinnacles and of flying buttresses (p. 513 A), stripes of coloured marbles instead of mouldings, occasional frescoes and mosaics in panels, and small windows without tracery (p. 513 A). The projecting entrance porches with columns, often resting on the backs of lions (p. 516 E), are in striking contrast to the cavernous porches of northern Europe. The sombre effect of this style is described by Tennyson in the lines :

"Stern and sad (so rare the smiles
Of sunlight) looked the Lombard piles ;
Porch pillars on the lion resting,
And sombre, old, colonnaded aisles."

The sculpture and carving (pp. 519, 520), executed in the fine-grained marble of Italy, continued to be as refined as in the Classical period, and the influence of Old Rome is seen in modified Corinthian capitals with their acanthus leaves. The sculpture, although superior in technique to that of northern Europe, is not such an essential part of a style which, as we shall see, never developed, as in France and England, into the highest form of Gothic. The brickwork and plastic terra-cotta of the Lombard plains resulted in a smallness of detail and intricacy of ornament natural to this material, as in the Frari Church, Venice (p. 505 G), the Certosa, Pavia (p. 514 F), and Chiaravalle (p. 516 D), and many civic buildings. Colour effect and delicate detail were relied on, rather than depth of shadow and boldness of design ; thus was the material allowed to give full expression to its own capabilities without forcing it beyond its nature. The variety of influences in South Italy, and more especially in Sicily, produced a type of architecture which owes its beauty to the combination of Greek inspiration, Roman construction, and Byzantine decoration (p. 241).



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