The treatment of Gothic architecture should seek to achieve
three objectives. First, to provide a critical apparatus for
dealing with the phenomenon of "Gothic""the only style."
Second, we must learn to look at a building in a systematic
way, with the ability to ask questions and to challenge the
authority of the completed edifice and the judgments of the
secondary authorities who have interpreted itwho have
made it "theirs." Third, to grasp the complexity of the metonymic
relationship between the building and the society in which it
was conceived and built.
These objectives could certainly be achieved by looking at multiple
buildings strung together with some kind of synthetic connective
tissue. However, to permit a longer process of looking I shall
concentrate upon two buildings, one at the threshold of the
periodNotre-Dame of Parisand the other expressing,
I believe, its boldest achievementSaint-Pierre of Beauvais.
To begin with the problem of "Gothic." It is useful to start
with the simplest three-part sketch derived from Paul Frankl's
Contemporary twelfth and thirteenth century witnesses might
perceive something radically different in the new architectural
forms that appeared over a considerable geographical range in
the middle decades of the twelfth century. Very little has been
done to correlate the shock of the novel forms of Gothic architecture
with parallel contemporary phenomena. How did people gauge the
hereness and the nowness of their architectural environment?
The shock of the new might convey very different programs of
meaning in relation to local circumstances and agendas. At the
same time, we can agree with Martin Warnke who sees Gothic as
expressive of a new kind of supra-regionalism.
Second, we come to the fifteenth-century coining of the word
"Gothic" with its connotations of rudeness and the destruction
of classical culture. This ideological approach has been given
new currency with the publications of Marvin Trachtenberg.
And third comes the combination of the scientific movements
of the eighteenth century with Romantic literary interests and
the yearning to find cultural "roots" for the nation state.
Add to this the need to restore monuments, some of which had
reached a state of near-crisisall this produced not one,
but a set of interconnected revivals of interest in "Gothic,"
reaching a crescendo in the middle decades of the nineteenth
century. Nineteenth-century "moderns" might want to recognize
their own agenda in a phenomenon that combined technology, intelligence
and optimism within a framework which was considered the "liberal"
principles of urban administration of the age of the commune.
We can certainly
learn much about "Gothic" by probing at its edgesboth
geographical (Italy, for example: Bruzelius and Trachtenberg,
not to mention John Ruskin) and temporal (the "Late Middle Ages:"
Davis and Neagley; also Huizinga). With Notre-Dame of Paris,
I want to address what has been traditionally defined as the
"center" and the "beginning" of the phenomenon. Grodecki talked
about the "componential approach" to Gothican approach
that sought the "vocabulary" of elements that added up to the
new "style," namely a
skeletal system of support, pointed
vaults, and flying
somewhat predictable dialectic of Bony's thinking, however,
provided a framework that was far from "accidental," as thesis
(heavy vaults) encountered antithesis (skinny supports and thin
walls) demanding a synthesis (exposed supports or flying buttresses
of Gothic). 4Such
a dialectic can, of course, be applied to almost any aspect
of human creativitythe question is how to relate it to
the rhythm of production in actual buildings. Did critical response
and the modification of existing practices take the form of
a series of tentative problem-solving corrections? Or were there
occasional giant leaps into the unknownwhat Thomas Kuhn
would call a "paradigm shift"? 5
I will want to argue that the development of the "Gothic" architectural
system advanced not only in tentative "baby steps" but that
an occasional "paradigm shift" might produce a rapid and complete
change in the practice and theory of building.
||P. Frankl, The Gothic. Literary Sources and Interpretations Over Eight Centuries, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1959. Also see T. Frisch, Gothic Art. Sources and Documents, 1140c.1450, Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall, 1971.
||M. Trachtenberg, 'Gothic/Italian "Gothic:' Toward a Redefinition," Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, L, 1991, 22-37; idem, in next issue of Gesta.
||L. Grodecki, Gothic Architecture, New York: Electa/Rizzoli, 1976.
||J. Bony, "La genese de l'architecture gothique. Accident ou nec ssité," Revue de l'Art, 5859, 1983; idem, French Gothic Architecture of the 12th and 13th Centuries, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1983.
||T. Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, 2nd ed., Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1970.
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