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Art and
architecture
COMPARING DIFFERENT ARCHITECTURAL STYLES

 

Below are a few example. Click onto a thumbnail image to see a larger picture and use your borrower's backspace button to return to this page.

 

After visiting a few churches and museums you will soon learn to recognize different architectural and artistic styles. To help speed up this process of recognition, here are some comparisons. They will give you an idea of the sort of thing to look out for. One difference between Romanesque and Gothic churches is their height or at least the impression of height created by the Gothic style. In the high middle ages, once European society began to recover from centuries of chaos, better materials became available due to more settled conditions these materials enabled architects to build higher and higher churches. In the process they discovered how to use keystones and distribute the great weight of the edifice through carefully constructed pillars, or buttresses. These developments are illustrated in the following diagrams which show the internal height of the naves.

 

Fig. I

 

 

On the left, Fig. I, is a diagram of a simple basilica of the type that was used by the Romans and can be seen today in places like Trier in Germany.

 

Fig. II

 

 

Fig II, on the left, shows the profile of Spyer Dom, or Cathedral. Its arches are typical of the rounded Romanesque style. Note the way all the weight of the building is carried by the external and internal walls. By contrast Gothic architects sought to redistribute the weight of buildings using weight baring structures known as buttresses. In Fig 2 we see the design of buttress used to support the weight of the walls and roof. This complex design transfers downward weight from the main structure to supporting structures thus allowing architects to build higher while giving the impression that the heavy stone walls are light and lofty. Note the use of pointed instead of rounded arches windows and doorways in the Gothic.

Fig III

 

After the Gothic style became popular throughout Europe many existing Romanesque building were converted to Gothic. On the left, Fig. III, you can see the changes made to the Gothic Cathedral in Winchester England. Although not very popular in Italy, where the Gothic was quickly replaced by the Renaissance style and what in Germany and other parts of Europe became known as the Baroque, Gothic art and architecture quickly spread throughout N Europe where the same craftsmen moved from site to site, country to country to create similar structures for Bishops and Kings who were constantly seeking to outdo each other in grandeur.

 

Fig IV

 

To take the weight of the roof off the walls, gothic architects invented the flying buttress, Fig IV, seen on the left. It added both external grandeur and an internal sense of space creating the illusion that the stone soars to the heavens giving a feeling of unbelievable lightness that is totally missing from the Romanesque.

Fig. V

 

To the left, Fig V, are the profiles of the Salisbury Cathedral in England besides the much higher and larger Amiens Cathedral in France. The height of the Salisbury nave is a mere 84 feet while Amiens is 139.5 feet. By comparison the nave of the Romanesque Spyer Dom in Germany, below, is 108 feet high. Yet anyone entering Spyer and then Salisbury is bound to think that Salisbury is the higher church simply because of the illusion of height created by the soaring gothic pillars.

 

Fig. VI

 

The full grandeur of the Gothic style comes out, however, with cathedrals like that of Milan, Fig VI, which has an internal height of 139.5 feet.

Apart from the height of naves, several other features indicate the period in which various artworks were created. Take a close look at the following sculptures. The differences between the Romanesque, Gothic, Baroque and neo-Classical are fairly easy to identify. The Romanesque has a simple, solid, look. The Gothic is refined and highly spiritual, larger than life, while the Baroque is lavish and colorful. On the other hand, the neo-Classical style very clearly depicts a living person in an ideal setting that deliberately imitates ancient Greek art.

 

Fig VII

 

Actually, some Romanesque churches are higher than Gothic ones. But, they are heavy and monumental in a way that Gothic is not. On the left are three examples showing the development of different architectual styles from the basilica to the Gothic.