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The Inception and Spread of Gothic Architecture

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Gothic Architecture: Decoration and Sculpture

Gothic architecture is widely known for its elaborate decoration, and almost fantasy like details constructed into the cathedrals. Architects were transitioning from a time in which big and blocky romanesque buildings evolved to become Gothic, with an extreme level of detail and decoration. For the first time, architects and builders were playing with many new ideas that pushed the constraints of this new building structure, they created a design in which there is much more to look at than massive walls, and small, unelaborated windows. Some was created strategically, like the gargoyle. However, grotesques were created only on the basis of taking some artistic freedom and served no actual purpose unlike, gargoyles that are actually waterspouts that drain water from the roof.

Beginning with the decorative gargoyles and grotesques, gargoyles were created to actually serve a very practical purpose. As these buildings grew to become more and more ornate, it wasn’t an option to have a regular roof draining system. They decided they wanted a waterspout that followed the decorative pattern of the rest of the structure. Besides their practicality, gargoyles and their buddies, grotesque were spiritually important. To the illiterate individuals walking past the cathedral, who live in a world of superstition and belief, they might have thought that he or she needs to attend this church because if not, they would catch themselves being chased by these flying creatures that fly free at night.

Another aspect of decoration in Gothic architecture are the stories and sculptures carved into the front facade and doors of a cathedral. The front facade is practically a library with all of the knowledge and advice depicted in pictures so that even people that couldn’t read could admire the facade. For example, Notre Dame de Paris has a very eccentric west facade. Going from left to right, Notre Dame has three main doors, which are referred to as portals, the left being “Portal of the Virgin, the middle being “Portal of the last judgment,” and the right is the “Portal of St. Anne.” Starting with the most important, the center portal, depicting “The Last Judgment,” its construction was the last to be finished. The bottom lintel of this portal shows the dead rising out of their graves, then on them upper lintel, shows Archangel Michael weighing out their souls. Depending on the life they lived, they would either be sent to heaven or damned to hell which is what is depicted in this scene above and around the middle door. The portal on the left, depicts the story of the Virgin. On the middle part of the lintel, shows Mary on her deathbed surrounded by Jesus and the twelve aposles, with angels about to bring her to heaven. The upper part of the lintel shows Mary in heaven being crowned as the queen as she shares a throne with Jesus. Lastly the third door, the Portal of St. Anne. This portal depicts many scenes of the birth of jesus, like the annunciation, nativity, and epiphany.

In regards to the construction of these sculptures, some were beginning to create more realistic figures, that started to become more proportionally accurate. In other cases, the figures still remain god like and unrealistic due to the elongated bodies and unrealistic form, leaving them looking like they are floating. The art movement of Gothic Architecture was truly an important thing and was practically portrayed in every part of their structure. Another part of the mystical decoration of Gothic cathedrals, is the lutetian limestone they were built out of.

This paris stone is immaculately beautiful with its color and gave gothic structures more life. This stone is said to illuminate “the city of light” as well as being economically efficient and versatile as a building substance. Using this unique Paris stone, many Gothic structures can be associated with a fairytale like quality as this limestone is almost iridescent and shimmers, as stone and concrete are plain, and do not show such majesty.

Overall, Gothic architecture drastically contrasts Romanesque architecture in the way that their styles and highlighted features are completely different. It is like the difference between a fort and a gingerbread man house. Romanesque architecture was built on the basis of survival and stability. However, when architecture started to introduce the Gothic style, architects had began to master their skill and now started to play with it. They had fun making Gothic structures with their over abundant decorations, color, spires, gargoyles, grotesques, and so on. Although most decorated features still are mandatory in order to keep up the structure of the house. All of this decoration is an important characteristic of the Gothic structure. Then, they carved stories that were not mandatory for the creation of the cathedral but, made the cathedral more significant, specifically Notre Dame de Paris. Without the creation of the Gothic style and architecture, it may be hard to imagine where a scary horror story or fairytale might be placed.

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