CHAPTER 4
THE LATE GOTHIC STYLE

1. New Varieties of Ribs. Liernes. Net-Vaults

THE octagonal chapter house of Wells has a crypt-like undercroft with massive architectural members and a tall upper chamber. The undercroft is on the level of the site.1 In the upper chamber the circular middle pier is surrounded by sixteen shafts behind which the pier is slightly hollowed out. From the octagonal abacus eight transverse arches run to the corners of the octagon. From the middle of the eight sides eight ribs rise to the ridge-rib, which forms an octagon whose corners face the sides of the outer octagon; thus the sides of the two octagons are not parallel. Between every two of the inner ribs there is a tierceron on the surface of the vault. This vault has the form of a concave funnel. On the outer side, between ridge-rib and wall, the middle arches are continued horizontally as radial ridge-ribs and the tiercerons are continued by other tiercerons. In addition there is a pair of tiercerons inside the severies above each window. All these ribs have the same profiles, very delicately composed of round rolls and pear- shaped rolls. The profiles merge as they rise from the middle pier, so that only the rolls with fillets remain. Visually all these arches are identical and one does not inquire into their function or their structural significance. Their effect is one of texture.

The window tracery contains ogee arches, and there are others in other parts of the upper chamber. The multiplication of tiercerons at Wells is the first definite step towards the Late Gothic style. Hence the dating of the chapter house is important. Britton2 says that it was built during the period of Bishop de Marchia, that is between 1293 and 1302, but does not himself consider this a reliable statement. The approximate dates of the preceding chapter houses are Lichfield 1240, Westminster Abbey 1250, Salisbury 1280, Lincoln 1290. Salisbury is still in a pure High Gothic style.3 Lincoln, a decagonal chapter house, is the stylistic predecessor of Wells. If one accepts the date 1319 for the completion of the Wells chapter house,4 then c. 1300 seems a satisfactory guess as its start.

The reason why one is entitled to place the beginning of the Late Gothic style at this point is that the structural function of the rib is ignored. The rib is becoming again what it was at the outset; an architectural member having a purely aesthetic function. The earliest tiercerons in Hugh's Choir in Lincoln Cathedral, built c. 1210 and rebuilt in the same form after the collapse of the central tower in 1239, and the first star-vaults in the nave of Lincoln Cathedral, of 1220, were predecessors of those in the Angel Choir at Lincoln ( 1256) and of all that followed.

The merging of tiercerons was repeated in the nave of Exeter. At the start of the new building, about the year 1280, simpler star-vaults were no doubt projected, similar to those of the Lincoln nave. The multiplication of tiercerons in the lateral severies has

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