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Gothic Style Guide

Widespread throughout western Europe during the Middle Ages, it lasted from the 12th to the early 17th century. Gothic is the architecture of the pointed arch, the rib vault, the flying buttress, window tracery, pinnacles, and spires. By the 15th century walls are reduced to a minimum by large arcades, huge windows, with an emphasis on verticality. During the long building campaigns of the Middle Ages, the style evolved from simple pointed forms, with plain windows, to the highly elaborate vaults and decorative tracery seen from the 14th century. Gothic is mostly dominated by church architecture during this period, but is also seen in collegiate architecture, notably at Oxford and Cambridge. At the same time, the role of the medieval architect or master mason develops from a mere stonemason in the early Middle Ages, to one of middling or higher rank during the more literate and sophisticated 15th century. It was also complex and multifunctional, but fundamentally, the art of design and knowledge of craft was rooted in the practical tradition of the mason’s craft, dependent on separate skilled specialisms. As building was a collaborative and lengthy process, the individual contributions are often difficult to determine.

What to look for in a Gothic building:

  • Pointed arches and windows
  • Vaulting
  • Tracery and decorative stonework
  • Vertical Emphasis

Explore these galleries from the RIBA Collections illustrating the main features of Gothic Architecture

 

For further reading on Gothic Architecture below is a selection of books from the British Architectural Library on the subject:

  • Medieval Architecture by Nicola Coldstream. Library Reference: 72.033.4/.5(4) // COL
  • The Decorated Style: arcihtecture and ornament 1240-1360 by Nicola Coldstream. Library Reference: 72.033.4/.5(41/42) // COL
  • Masons and Sculptors by Nicola Coldstream. Library Reference: 72.033.4/.5 // COL
  • The Cathedral Builders by Jean Gimpel translated [from the French] by Teresa Waugh. Library Reference: 726.6.033.4/.5 // GIM

Style Guide written by Suzanne Waters

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Saint Peter and Saint Paul, Lavenham, Suffolk: looking towards the side aisle from the nave

RIBA137595
Caroe, William Douglas (1857-1938)
NOTES: The church was built between 1486-1525; the tower dates from 1486-1495, with the upper parts constructed as part of the second building campaign 1517-1525. The interior of the church was restored by by F. C. Penrose in 1861-1867 with further repairs and reordering by W. D. Caroe; 1909-1910.

St Mary, Mildenhall, Suffolk: view across the nave from the side aisle

RIBA138408
Farrow, Thomas
NOTES: The oldest parts of the church date from c. 1240-1300. They are the north chapel, chancel, east end and east window (c. 1300). The rest of the church was built 1441-1478, including the tower, which was restored in 1864. A general restoration was carried out in 1849, including the interior and re-roofing of the chancel by Thomas Farrow. In 1875-1876 the south porch was rebuilt as part of the restoration of the south aisle, possibly by J. D. Wyatt.

Lincoln Cathedral: the west front seen from the castle

RIBA5292
NOTES: The building of the cathedral comprised three main periods; from 1072-1092; 1191 to c. 1250; and 1256 to c. 1300, with some alterations and additions to the towers in the 14th and 15th centuries. The west front incorporates the surviving part of the first Romanesque cathedral dating from 1072.

Lincoln Cathedral seen from the west

RIBA5630
NOTES: The building of the cathedral comprised three main periods; from 1072-1092; 1191 to c. 1250; and 1256 to c. 1300, with some alterations and additions to the towers in the 14th and 15th centuries. The west front incorporates the surviving part of the first Romanesque cathedral dating from 1072.

Peterborough Cathedral: the west front

RIBA7820
NOTES: Originally an abbey church, construction began in 1182. The western end of the nave and the central tower were completed by 1193. The western transept and great west front portico were completed by 1238, the year of consecration. The older Norman tower was rebuilt in 1350-1380. It became the Cathedral of the new Diocese of Peterborough in 1541.

Wells Cathedral, Somerset: detail of the scissor-arches

RIBA9121
NOTES: Construction on the original cathedral began in 1180 and was completed by the Lady Chapel in 1326. The nave was completed in 1220-1229. The scissor-arches (inverted strainer arches) were built c. 1338-1348 to support the tower when the foundations of the two western piers sank into the ground.

Salisbury Cathedral: the chapter house

RIBA13541
NOTES: The cathedral was built between 1220 and 1258. The chapter house was built between 1263 and 1284. The tower and the spire were completed by c.1330.

Lincoln Cathedral: the double arcading in the south aisle of St Hugh's Choir

RIBA14885
NOTES: The building of the cathedral comprised three main periods; from 1072-1092; 1191 to c. 1250; and 1256 to c. 1300, with some alterations and additions to the towers in the 14th and 15th centuries. St Hugh's Choir dates from c. 1200.

Lincoln Cathedral: triforium on the west wall of the east transept

RIBA14887
NOTES: The building of the cathedral comprised three main periods; from 1072-1092; 1191 to c. 1250; and 1256 to c. 1300, with some alterations and additions to the towers in the 14th and 15th centuries.

Lincoln Cathedral: vault of the Galilee Porch

RIBA14889
NOTES: The building of the cathedral comprised three main periods; from 1072-1092; 1191 to c. 1250; and 1256 to c. 1300, with some alterations and additions to the towers in the 14th and 15th centuries. The Galilee Porch is situated in the south transept.

Tynemouth Priory, Northumberland: the choir

RIBA16103
SOURCE: William Dugdale. Monasticon anglicanum (London, 1849), vol. III, facing p. 302

Lincoln Cathedral: the west front seen from the southwest

RIBA16758
SOURCE: John Chessell Buckler, Views of the cathedral churches of England and Wales (London, 1822), pl. [18] NOTES: NOTES: The building of the cathedral comprised three main periods; from 1072-1092; 1191 to c. 1250; and 1256 to c. 1300, with some alterations and additions to the towers in the 14th and 15th centuries. The west front incoporates the surviving part of the first Romanesque cathedral dating from 1072. The original Norman tower was heightened between c. 1370 and 1400.

Holyrood Abbey, Edinburgh: ruins of the abbey church

RIBA18863
SOURCE: Patrick Gibson. Select views in Edinburgh (Edinburgh, 1818), pl. VI NOTES: This Augustinian abbey was founded in 1128 by David I of Scotland and the church was completed by 1230. It was partly rebuilt in 1544 and heavily restored in 1916.

Southwell Minster, Nottinghamshire: arcading of the choir

RIBA19634
SOURCE: William Dickinson Rastall. A History of the antiquities of the town and church of Southwell, in the county of Nottingham (London, 1787), facing p. 48 NOTES: Considered an outstanding example of Norman and Early English architecture, this church was built between 1120 and 1286. It became the Cathedral Church of Nottinghamshire in 1884. Extensive restoration, which included the rebuilding of the nave roof, was undertaken by Ewan Christian in 1851-1888.

Gothic tracery panelling from Carlisle Cathedral, Cumbria: tracing of a published illustration showing the open-carved panelling beside a simplified geometric plan

RIBA20535
NOTES: This traced drawing was made by an unidentified 19th century English draughtsman from those executed by Robert W. Billings in his book entitled 'Illustrations of Geometric Tracery from the panelling belonging to Carlisle Cathedral by Robert W. Billings, 1849'.

Carlisle Cathedral, Cumbria: a carved chapel screen featuring gothic tracery panels

RIBA20536
NOTES: This traced drawing was made by an unidentified 19th century English draughtsman from those executed by Robert W. Billings in his book entitled 'Illustrations of Geometric Tracery from the panelling belonging to Carlisle Cathedral by Robert W. Billings, 1849'.

Church of St Quiriace, Provins: elevation, plan and section of triforium arches

RIBA21796
NOTES: In addition to being a landscape and architectural painter, lithographer and archaeologist, Bouet was also appointed Inspecteur de la Societe Francaise d'Archeologie. This drawing is one of a number of topographical studies and details of French, German, Italian and Swiss medieval architecture executed by him between around 1850 and 1865.

Chateau de Chateaudun, Eure et Loire: a Gothic mullioned window

RIBA25526
NOTES: The castle was built between the 12th and 16th centuries.

Tewkesbury Abbey, Gloucestershire: the chancel

RIBA26735
NOTES: Construction on the Abbey, officially known as Church of St Mary the Virgin in Tewkesbury, began in 1090. It was consecrated in 1121 and completed by 1150. The church interior was renovated in the Decorated Gothic style in the 14th century when the nave roof was given lierne vaulting. The tombs and chantry chapels were added around the chancel in 1350-1450.

Wells Cathedral, Somerset: the scissor-arches seen from the south transept

RIBA28925
NOTES: Construction on the original cathedral began in 1180 and was completed by the Lady Chapel in 1326. The nave was completed in 1220-1229. The scissor-arches (inverted strainer arches) were built c. 1338-1348 to support the tower when the foundations of the two western piers sank into the ground.

Lincoln Cathedral

RIBA58966
NOTES: The building of the cathedral comprised three main periods; from 1072-1092; 1191 to c. 1250; and 1256 to c. 1300, with some alterations and additions to the towers in the 14th and 15th centuries. The west front incorporates the surviving part of the first Romanesque cathedral dating from 1072. The original Norman tower was heightened between c. 1370 and 1400.

Gloucester Cathedral: the fan vaulted cloister

RIBA91942
NOTES: The cathedral was built between 1089 and 1499. It was extensively restored by Sir George Gilbert Scott between 1873 and 1890, and in 1897. The cloisters, begun after 1351 in Perpendicular style and completed before c.1360, have the earliest surviving large-scale fan vaulting.

Southwell Minster, Nottinghamshire: the lectern

RIBA100010
NOTES: Considered an outstanding example of Norman and Early English architecture, this church was built between 1120 and 1286. It became the Cathedral Church of Nottinghamshire in 1884. Extensive restoration, which included the rebuilding of the nave roof, was undertaken by Ewan Christian in 1851-1888.

Lincoln Cathedral: the altar

RIBA100063
NOTES: The building of the cathedral comprised three main periods; from 1072-1092; 1191 to c. 1250; and 1256 to c. 1300, with some alterations and additions to the towers in the 14th and 15th centuries.
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