Despite being indoctrinated in this history, my love for the Gothic never wavered. Why love an architecture at all? I recall from my childhood the 2nd commandment from Moses: "Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them." Yet here I am, myself a maker of graven images, also an adorer of the work of the hands of men. And I've determined the source of my adoration! A sympathetic act of communication across place and time from one human being to another. The Gothic in its essence is a highly humanistic architecture, I would contend the most human architecture ever conceived.
In the 19th century author, artist, naturalist John Ruskin wrote a book entitled "The Stones of Venice" in which he devoted an entire chapter to "The Nature of Gothic". He described Gothic first in terms of its internal nature, the moral characteristic, the mental expression, the source of its power that he simply describes as its Spirit. Ruskin further elaborated on the external identifying physical features, what he describes as the Forms of Gothic. Let's consider the former, 6 of these moral elements that constitute the Spirit of Gothic.
Order of course is vital. I would go so far as to say that love of order is a foundation for good architecture. But Ruskin was quite correct in stating, "Do not let us suppose that love of order is love of art. It is true that order, in its highest sense, is one of the necessities of art, just as time is a necessity of music; but love of order has no more to do with our right enjoyment of architecture or painting, than love of punctuality with the appreciation of an opera." There is a certain pleasure in the symmetry of a building, it can provide a rhythm just like melody; however, just as a pleasant rhythm can transform into a beautiful song with changes in verse, a building can tell a compelling story with a bit of variety. "Great art whether expressing itself in words, colors, or stones, does not say the same thing over and over again."
The Gothic period is the culmination of a progression most notably from the Byzantine then Romanesque traditions. As such it inherited the conventionalized system of ornamentation from these same traditions. However, there is a strong tendency in the Gothic to forego stylization in favor of veracity and vitality. This love of nature prevails over the idealized sense of beauty that the conventionalized forms attempted to capture, taking delight in the actual beauty nature has to offer even in imperfection. Ruskin noted how this naturalistic morality extended to human portraiture by "not exalting its kings into demi-gods, nor its saints into archangels, but giving what kingliness and sanctity was in them, to the full, mixed with due record of their faults."
|The Lincoln Imp|
By generosity I mean an accumulation of ornament. That may sound strange in a world stripped of ornamentation, a modernist world that has aesthetically cleansed every form of enrichment in the name of good taste. I suppose the thinking is that a bland meal offends no one. I quite agree with Ruskin's sentiment regarding "clean" architecture, "No architecture is so haughty as that which is simple; which refuses to address the eye, except in a few clear and forceful lines; which implies, in offering so little to our regards, that all it has offered is perfect; and disdains, either by the complexity or attractiveness of its features, to embarrass our investigation, or betray us into delight."
|Notre-Dame de Paris|
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Contributed by Patrick Webb