Gothic revival

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.
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Gothic revival

Gothic revival, term designating a return to the building styles of the Middle Ages. Although the Gothic revival was practiced throughout Europe, it attained its greatest importance in the United States and England. The early works were designed in a fanciful late rococo manner, exemplified by Horace Walpole's remodeled "gothick" house, Strawberry Hill (1770). By 1830, however, architects turned to more archaeological methods. Thus, just as the classical revivalists had done, they began to copy the original examples more literally. A. W. N. Pugin wrote two of the basic texts of the Gothic revival. In Contrasts (1836) he put forth the idea that the Middle Ages, in its way of life and art, was superior to his own time and ought to be imitated. He amplified his ideas in The True Principles of Pointed or Christian Architecture (1841), propounding that not only must Gothic detail be authentic but that the contemporary architect should achieve the structural clarity and high level of craftsmanship that were found in the Middle Ages by using the methods of medieval builders. John Ruskin elaborated on these ideas in The Stones of Venice. Followers of Ruskin and Pugin soon came into conflict with proponents of the classic revival, and the resulting conflict has often been called a battle of the two styles. The Church of England supported the Gothic movement, however, and provided for the restoration of a great number of medieval religious buildings. Sir George Gilbert Scott was the noted English restorer of the day, while in France, Viollet-le-Duc led the exponents of the Gothic revival there. Many architects found it advantageous to work in both styles, as did Sir Charles Barry, a leading classicist. Working with A. W. N. Pugin, he won a competition in 1840 with Gothic designs for the houses of parliament. In the United States the picturesque aspect of the style took precedence over the doctrinaire approach of Pugin. The first works of note in the Gothic style appeared in the 1830s in buildings designed by A. J. Davis and Richard Upjohn. The younger James Renwick became important in the 1840s and was especially renowned for his Grace Church and St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York City, both prime examples of the Gothic revival in the United States. The Gothic movement foundered because of the impossibility of reproducing medieval buildings when there was no longer a medieval economy or technology. Only superficial effects of the style lingered in some eclectic works of the 19th and 20th cent. However, the ideals of earlier theoreticians, the clear expression of structure and materials have influenced modern architecture.

See K. Clark, Gothic Revival (3d ed. 1963); P. B. Stanton, The Gothic Revival and American Church Architecture (1968); C. L. Eastlake, History of the Gothic Revival (rev. ed. 1972).

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