The Origins and Evolution of Gothic Architecture (2024)

  1. ArchDaily
  2. Articles
  3. The Origins and Evolution of Gothic Architecture


Save this picture!
  • Written by Kaley Overstreet

The word “Gothic” often envokes a description of mysterious homes, or a modern-day group of people who have an affinity for dark aesthetics, but what the gothic architectural style historically brought to the built environment could not have been more opposite. Gothic designs were actually created to bring more sunlight into spaces, mainly churches, and led to the design and construction of some of the world’s most iconic buildings.

Save this picture!
Basilica of Saint Denis. Image © Felix Benoist (Public Domain).

Gothic architecture was named for the Goths, a nomadic Germanic group that fought against Roman rule in the late 300s and early 400s. Their ascent is widely believed to have marked the beginning of the medieval period across Europe. Once the Goths held power, after the collapse of the Roman Empire and the creation of the new Holy Roman Empire from the 5th to 8th centuries. Although this group was not known for their architectural feats, the name “Gothic” was applied to the style of churches that emerged after the fact, nearly 1,000 years later. The style was first realized in France as a break away from the Romanesque style which boasted thick walls during a time when cultural development accelerated and architects and masonry workers had the opportunity to explore more complex structural elements. Politically, this era was marked by peaceful and prosperous times, where buildings were carefully designed and took up to a century to construct as a result.

The innovative structural elements that would support these mega-cathedrals would define Gothic architecture's aesthetics. First, the lightness of these structures came from the use of pointed arches, borrowed from Islamic architecture that was built in Spain around the same time. The arch reduced stress on other structural elements, therefore allowing the columns that support the arch to become more slender and taller- so much so that the columns extended all the way to the roof, forming part of the vault. The ribbed vaulting became more complicated and was crossed with lierne ribs into complex sculptural webs, or the addition of cross ribs known as tieceron.

Save this picture!
Basilica of Saint Denis. Image © Wikimedia User Diliff Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

Because of the lightness of the walls, elaborate stained glass mosaics were designed to allow light to flood the space, even projecting colorful patterns all across the interior. Gothic buildings, also feature ornamentation often in the form of gargoyles. Upon first glance, many gothic cathedrals can be hard to discern, but a close reading reveals intentional and very ordered designs.

Save this picture!
Notre Dame Cathedral. Image © Flickr user davehamster licensed under CC BY 2.0

When you think of Gothic architecture, the first building that often comes to mind is Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. Its enormous rose windows and smaller stained glass features, flying buttresses that supported the tall roof structure, and decorative gargoyles that peer down over visitors is a truly exemplary image of Gothic style. It began construction in 1163, and its construction almost immediately influenced other cathedrals that were built around that time. It was completed almost 100 years later, after additional flying buttresses, or the external portion of an arch that sustains lateral forces that push a wall outwards, were added to hold up the massive roof. In an unfortunate tragedy, part of Notre Dame caught fire in 2019 but is currently undergoing careful restoration efforts. The Parisian government has promised that it would reopen in time for the Olympics in 2024.

After the construction of numerous gothic buildings, design tastes again shifted back to the more neat and straight lines that referenced architecture of the Classical era. But, as all styles have their recursive waves throughout history, fascination for medieval Gothic architecture was rediscovered in the 19th and 20th centuries, when architects in the United States began to design buildings that imitated the cathedrals found across Europe, giving way to the term “Gothic Revival”.

Image gallery

See allShow less

About this author

The Origins and Evolution of Gothic Architecture (11)

Kaley Overstreet



NewsArticlesGothicHistoryGothic RevivalArchitecture HistoryNotre Dame CathedralArchitecture

Cite: Kaley Overstreet. "The Origins and Evolution of Gothic Architecture" 14 Jun 2022. ArchDaily. Accessed . < ISSN 0719-8884

  • Sustainability
  • Technology
  • Materials
  • Metaverse




翻译成中文现有为你所在地区特制的网站?想浏览ArchDaily中国吗?Take me there »

You've started following your first account!

Did you know?

You'll now receive updates based on what you follow! Personalize your stream and start following your favorite authors, offices and users.

Go to my stream

  • Sustainability
  • Technology
  • Materials
  • Metaverse
The Origins and Evolution of Gothic Architecture (2024)


What is the origin of Gothic architecture? ›

The Gothic style first appeared in the early 12th century in northern France and rapidly spread beyond its origins in architecture to sculpture, textiles and painting, including frescoes, stained glass and illuminated manuscripts.

What is the evolution of the Gothic style? ›

The Gothic style was an evolution from Romanesque, which was marked by its many arches, vaulted ceilings and smaller stained glass windows. The Gothic style took these features and exaggerated them, increasing the scale of arches and the magnitude of the windows.

How did Gothic develop? ›

The birth of Gothic literature was thought to have been influenced by political upheaval. Researchers linked its birth with the English Civil War, culminating in a Jacobite rebellion (1745) more recent to the first Gothic novel (1764).

How did Gothic architecture evolve from Romanesque? ›

It was principally the development of the pointed arch which brought about the change that separates Gothic from Romanesque. This technological change broke the tradition of massive masonry and solid walls penetrated by small openings, replacing it with a style where light appears to triumph over substance.

What influenced the Gothic architecture? ›

The architecture that informed the Gothic period drew upon a number of influences, including Romanesque, Byzantine, and Middle Eastern.

When was Gothic originated? ›

The term "Gothic" was used in the Renaissance to describe certain types of art and architecture in the Middle Ages. This art was considered inferior, just as the Romans had held themselves superior to the barbarians. In the 18th century, the term "Gothic" morphed into a genre of literature that had elements of horror.

How has Gothic changed over time? ›

Gothic literature has undergone significant changes in the 21st century, reflecting the evolution of cultural values and shifting societal attitudes. Despite its roots in 18th and 19th-century Romanticism, gothic literature continues to be a popular genre in contemporary times.

Why did the Gothic style emerge? ›

Gothic architecture evolved out of the need to allow greater amounts light to enter into churches than was possible with the Romanesque architecture of the preceding era. Romanesque structures always featured small windows and therefore dark interiors.

What defines Gothic architecture? ›

The gothic style of architecture originated in Europe's Middle Ages. It is characterized by vertical proportions, pointed arches, external buttressing, and asymmetry.

What is the history of Gothic? ›

Gothic fiction as a genre was first established with the publication of Horace Walpole's dark, foreboding The Castle of Otranto in 1764. In the centuries since, gothic fiction has not only flourished, but also branched off into many popular subgenres.

How did Gothic art evolve? ›

Gothic painting followed the same stylistic evolution as did sculpture; from stiff, simple, hieratic forms toward more relaxed and natural ones. Its scale grew large only in the early 14th century, when it began to be used in decorating the retable (ornamental panel behind an altar).

When did Gothic architecture begin and end? ›

Gothic architecture, architectural style in Europe that lasted from the mid-12th century to the 16th century, particularly a style of masonry building characterized by cavernous spaces with the expanse of walls broken up by overlaid tracery.

What is Gothic architecture known for? ›

Well-known for its pointed arches, flying buttresses, and large, stained glass windows, Gothic architecture is a European architectural type that originated in the mid-12th century and remained popular until the 16th century.

How did Gothic architecture influence the world? ›

Modern-day churches are still being constructed in the original Gothic architectural style, and residential homes have quite a lot of influence on them. If you've ever seen anything that is riddled with intricate ornaments, it's most likely inspired by the style.

What is the origin of the term Gothic art? ›

Origins of the term

The term 'Gothic' was first applied as a derogatory label by Renaissance scholars in the sixteenth century, who likened the post-Romanesque, non-classical styles of art from twelfth to fourteenth century to the Goth tribes who pulled apart the Roman Empire and classical society in the fifth century.

What is Gothic art place of origin? ›

Gothic art emerged in Île-de-France, France, in the early 12th century, at the Abbey Church of St Denis built by Abbot Suger.

What does Gothic architecture symbolize? ›

The gothic may be a gamut of disparate architectural styles, but what ties it together is its sacred purpose. The majority of gothic buildings that have survived were built to the glory of God.


Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Kieth Sipes

Last Updated:

Views: 5559

Rating: 4.7 / 5 (47 voted)

Reviews: 86% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Kieth Sipes

Birthday: 2001-04-14

Address: Suite 492 62479 Champlin Loop, South Catrice, MS 57271

Phone: +9663362133320

Job: District Sales Analyst

Hobby: Digital arts, Dance, Ghost hunting, Worldbuilding, Kayaking, Table tennis, 3D printing

Introduction: My name is Kieth Sipes, I am a zany, rich, courageous, powerful, faithful, jolly, excited person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.