How do we go from Medieval Gothic to the Gothic stories that eventually gave us works such as Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1897)?
With the spread of Renaissance values, which included a strong distaste for everything produced in the Middle Ages, Gothic architecture had become unfashionable by the 15th century. Many structures were therefore left incomplete, or were only slowly expanded.
In 18th-century England, however, the Gothic style came back to life, as a reaction to the Neoclassical movement. This Gothic rebirth led to the completion of unfinished buildings and to the construction of new ones, in a style called Gothic Revival. Here are two examples of Medieval Gothic structures only completed in the 18th-19th century period:
Westminster Abbey in London (first phase of construction: 1245-1550s; the towers: 1722-1745):
And the Cologne Cathedral in Germany (first phase: 1248-1473; the towers: 1842-1880):
The most famous Gothic Revival building is perhaps the Palace of Westminster, home of the Parliament of the United Kingdom in London, built between 1840 and 1870:
Also of note, New York’s Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, in Manhattan, built 1858-1878:
Gothic Revival even made it into the 20th century, here with the Washington National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., built 1907-1990:
In contrast, other buildings started out as Gothic, but were then completed in a different style, only to be modified again at the time of the Gothic Revival, resulting in a mix of styles that is particularly common in Italy, where the Gothic first fell out of favor. Case in point, Santa Maria del Fiore, aka the Florence Dome, built between 1296 and 1887 (dome completed in 1436):
How do you make the difference between Gothic and Gothic Revival?
– Time: 12th-15th century Gothic (with a few late Gothic exceptions in the 16th century) vs. 18th-20th century Gothic Revival
– Place: any Gothic building outside of Europe is Revival, but Europe has both
– Stone: Medieval Gothic stone looks much more uneven, and at least 300 years older, but that is not always easy to see
– Iron: Ironwork is absent in Medieval Gothic buildings but used in many Revival ones
– Buttresses: Gothic Revival buildings have smaller flying buttresses, sometimes even no buttresses, new building techniques and materials making them not necessary to support the weight of the building
Now what about those stories? Well, at the time of the Gothic Revival, a new type of story emerged in Britain. These stories were written to thrill the reader with mystery, with scary places and characters, even with horror. Because the action in these stories very often takes place in or around Gothic buildings like churches and castles —which, let’s face it, can be quite scary at night — the stories became known as Gothic stories. Examples include Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto (1764), the first Gothic novel, as well as Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818), and Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1897).
The Gothic was now part of fiction and popular culture, and that is the legacy I will look at in the last post of this series next week.