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What You Don't Know About Bourgeois Gothic Style

Jun 19, 2008
Bourgeois Gothic - The Perpendicular style, with its fan vaults and thin screen-like walls, was the English reaction to the Black Death. While the French were still crushed by the Hundred Years War (1337-1453) they built almost nothing, but when they did they created in the flamboyant style of St Maclou and the Beauvais Cathedral transepts stunning feats of architectural virtuosity.

In the East the centres of architectural excellence moved into the Hanseatic trading towns along the Baltic coast, and to the mining areas of central Europe. Everywhere masons developed a very sophisticated architecture, exquisitely carved and often looking as if it had been designed without much effort. The mouldings and the way different elements penetrated one another as they crossed over was handled with great intelligence and ambiguity. The supreme clarity of earlier buildings was replaced with an uncertainty in both function and structure.

The work is both clever and humane, reflecting the new learning of the Reformation. Castles were no longer the pre-eminent lay construction; now there was a demand for colleges of learning, great and often ostentatious mansions and flamboyant town halls. Examples are the Oxford colleges, the house of the great Belgian hanker, Jacques Coeur at Bourges, and the huge Hegel-de-Ville at Rouen with its exuberantly decorated chimneys and an ornate court not much smaller than the king's at Fontainebleau.

The reduced population, now living off the best land, generated an economic boom, especially after 1450, from which the whole of Europe benefited. Both princes and merchants wanted clear, usable and interesting architecture that would extol their material virtues and comforts. They were not interested in the inspired mystic work of earlier times nor did they want sombre interiors in which the light only filtered lingeringly through dark stained glass. They wanted to be able to read their prayer hooks, and ordered grey glass that turned their churches into practical meeting places.

Medieval architecture went out in a blaze of excitement and virtuosity before being replaced by the regenerated Classical style coming from Italy. Vaults became woven nets, often with ribs detached from the surface to he left suspended, functionless, in space. Sometimes they did not meet their shafts, but were cut off in mid-span. In the ceilings and tracery of Kutna Hora in Czechoslovakia the diamantine geometry was twisted and curved like shimmering flames of pure energy. There was little in this bravura display to quiet the pilgrim's soul, and decadence, as always, heralded an imminent change.
About the Author
Walker is neither a famous architect nor artist. He is just one of those ordinary guys who loves beautiful architecture and art works.
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