Study Aid 4: Gothic Architecture in France

"Gothic" was a derisive name invented in the late Renaissance and applied to a style of building that was most popular between 1150 and 1500. Compared to the balance and restraint favored by the Renaissance, Gothic embodied a passion or ecstacy that at times seems to verge on the irrational- although Gothic buildings were also profound and complex engineering achievements. The Gothic aesthetic was made possible by three technological advances: the pointed arch, ribbed groin vaults, and flying butresses. These features allowed the structure of buildings to be reduced to a nearly skeletal form and achieve great heights with large expanses of glass. The consequent verticality and lightness is the most obvious change from the earlier Romanesque buildings.

The breakthrough building for the Gothic revolution was the partial remodeling of the Abbey Church of St. Denis, near Paris, France, 1135-1144, Abbot Suger patron. As the early Gothic aesthetic reached its maturity, it displayed increasing unity and sophistication--on the interior as well as exterior, e.g. Cathedral of Notre-Dame, Laon, begun 1160, Bishop Gautier de Montagne patron; Cathedral of Notre-Dame, Paris, 1163-1250, Bishop Maurice de Sully patron. What most architectural historians call the "High" Gothic was initiated by Cathedral of Notre-Dame, Chartres, France, erected primarily between 1194-1230 following a fire that left only the west facade of the earlier Romanesque cathedral. Other High Gothic buildings, known for their unity of conception and soaring internal spaces include: Cathedral of Notre-Dame, Rheims (aka Reims), begun 1211-, Jean dí Orbais, et. al. architects, Bishop Alberic de Humbert patron; Cathedral Notre-Dame, Amiens, c. 1220-; Robert de Luzarches, et. al. architects. Later French experiments in Gothic design became even more extravagant and delicate in their ornamentation, as seen in the "Rayonnant" and "Flamboyant" styles or phases of Gothic, e.g. Ste. Chapelle, Paris, 1241-48, erected for King Louis IX (Saint Louis) by Pierre de Montreuil. The "architects" of the Gothic era are more properly called master masons. Showing exceptional skill, they would rise through the ranks of workmen until given the opportunity to design and supervise construction. Possessing only rudimentary knowledge of engineering principles or formulas, most Gothic structural advances were the result of observation (made possible by the long time spans necessary to erect cathedrals) and trial and error on the part of the masters, who were known to travel from site to site, gathering (and spreading) skills and ideas as they went. Master mason Villard de Honnecourtís unpublished Sketchbook, c. 1235, is one of the few substantial architectural documents that survives from the period between ancient Rome and the Renaissance

Abbey Church of St. Denis

Date: 1140-1144
Location: Paris, France
Architect: Unknown
Patron: Abbot Suger


Reconstruction of Suger Choir and Apse


Speculative Reconstruction of the rear of St. Denis before 13th Century alterations


Interior View of Ambulatory

Interior View of Ambulatory

Interior View of Ambulatory Vault

Original Stained Glass Depicting the 'Tree of Jesse'

Chartres Cathedral - Notre Dame

Date: 1194-1230
Location: Chartres, France
Architect: Unknown




Aerial View

Front of North Transept

Detail of Side Elevation

Date: 1145-1230
Location: Chartres, France
Architect: Unknown

Front (West) Facade

North Tower Added 1507-1514

Date: 1145-1191
Location: Chartres, France
Architect: Unknown


Royal (Main) Portal


Detail - Kings and Queens of Judah

Royal (Main) Portal

Date: circa 1200 - 1230 AD
Location: Chartres, France
Architect: Unknown

North Portal

Date: circa 1230
Location: Chartres, France
Architect: Unknown

Detail - Abraham and Isaac (Center)

North Portal

Date: 1194-1230
Location: Chartres, France
Architect: Unknown


Flying Buttresses


Interior View of the Nave


Interior Detail - Nave Ceiling Vaults

Interior View


Rose Window in North Transept




Noah Window

Ste. Chapelle

Date: 1243-1248
Location: Paris, France
Architect: Pierre de Montreuil
Patron: Louis IX


Aerial View


Painted View from Tres Riches Heures, circa 1416


Interior View - Lower Chapel


Interior View - Upper (Royal) Chapel




Stained Glass Windows

Unpublished Sketchbook of
Master Mason Villard de Honnecourt
Circa 1235


Sketches of Decorative Details


Sketches of Flying Buttresses


Sketches - Machines for Sawing Wood