Gothic Architecture in England and France

By George Herbert West | Go to book overview

CHAPTER V
THE COLUMN, THE ARCH AND ITS MOCLDINGS

THE architecture of the Middle Ages took its origin in an attempt to reproduce that of ancient Rome. Now Roman architecture was chiefly an external show, a kind of scene painting in stone, with endless avenues and porticoes of monolithic columns, practically all of one style, the Corinthian. However imposing it may have been, it must almost have ceased to be beautiful from its monotony. Columns were little used internally except for decoration, standing in front of piers, as in the halls of the great baths like that of Diocletian, which now forms the church of Sta Maria degli Angeli in Rome (p. 64). Only in the peristyles of houses and in basilicas were they used constructively to separate by a colonnade the central court or aisle from the sides. When the basilican the form was adopted for the Christian church, it was natural for the builders to strip the columns from Pagan buildings and use them as best they could for their own purpose. By the eighth or ninth century, or even earlier, the supply of ancient columns was exhausted, but the tradition of their use still remained in districts which had been Roman or had Roman ruins still existing, such as Southern, Eastern, and Central France, In those districts, therefore, we find the nave arches of the churches, even of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, generally carried by columns, often monolithic, as at Langres, Mantes, St. Leu, Vezelay, Pontigny, St. Remi at Reims, Nevers, and throughout Auvergne, Berri, and Poitou, and the tradition of columnar supports persisted even where stones of sufficient size for monoliths were not obtainable, as throughout the He de France.

On the other hand, where there was nothing left to tell of Roman times or where the conditions of labour and materials

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