Architectural Studies

Gothic Architecture in France

Though the key structural components of the Gothic style—pointed arches, flying buttresses, ribbed groin vaults, and stained-glass windows—were all used in earlier structures, their specific combination in order to enable a maximum of fenestration first appeared at the royal abbey church of St Denis. Supervised by the influential clergyman and statesman, Abbott Suger, the new east end of the abbey was constructed between approximately 1135 and 1144. During the violence of the French Revolution, the entire abbey complex, aside from the church itself, was destroyed.

From St Denis the new style—at the time called the “modern style”—quickly spread through the region around Paris known as the Île-de-France and beyond. Unlike the earlier Romanesque style, which arguably reached its characteristic form in the rural churches of monastic communities and the pilgrimage roads, the seminal Gothic structures were the increasingly large urban cathedrals in the cities of northern France, such as Paris, Sens, Chartres, Laon, Reims, Amiens and elsewhere.

Early Gothic Architecture in France (20 mins.):


At Chartres Cathedral the “Early Gothic” style of architecture evolved into the full-fledged “High Gothic.” Chartres has long been viewed as the stylistic turning point when masons and sculptors embraced the full potential of the Gothic structural system.

Chartres Cathedral (Smarthistory, 19 mins.):


The final phase, “Late Gothic,” within France is often broken into two styles, termed “Rayonnant” and “Flamboyant.” The most famous exemplar of this late style can be found at Sainte-Chapel, the royal chapel within the palace complex on Île de la Cité in Paris.

Sainte-Chapelle, Paris (Smarthistory, 6 mins.):


Link to essay on Gothic art and architecture at the Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.


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