PART TWO
THE GENERAL PROBLEMS OF THE GOTHIC STYLE

1. The Term 'Gothic' and the Concept of the Gothic Style

THE architect who built the choir of St Denis must have spoken to Suger about the arcus in the vaults; William of Sens in speaking to the Abbot of Canterbury no doubt used the term fornices arcuatae, and Villard de Honnecourt probably spoke to his apprentices of ogives. However, no name for the style itself is known to have existed at this time; indeed, it is unlikely that any name did exist, for, in the regions where the Gothic style was born and developed, 'building in the Gothic style' was simply called building. In Germany, the chronicler Burckhard von Hall wrote, about 1280, that the church at Wimpfen im Tal, which was begun in 1269, was built more francigeno. This name does not describe the style, but simply indicates its origin, which confirms the view that no special name yet existed for the style as a whole.

Petrarch ( 1304-74) was in Cologne in 1333 and wrote that he had seen an uncommonly beautiful templum there which was unfinished, but which was rightly called the most magnificent in the world (summum). In spite of that Petrarch was among the first men, if not the first, to value the age of classical antiquity higher than his own on every count. He did not base this conclusion only on the poor quality of the Latin of his time, compared with that of Cicero and Vergil, and on the low standard of scholarship, compared with that of Plato (of whom he knew little); he also compared the poor quality of the painting and sculpture of this age with the perfect reproductions of natural forms achieved by the Greeks and Romans. Since he regarded himself as a descendant of the Romans, it is in his works that the theory that everything bad came from the 'barbarians' was born.

This 'Barbarian theory' was adopted by humanistic circles.1 In his biography of Brunelleschi, Manetti wrote that architecture fell into decadence after the end of the Roman Empire, that the Vandals, the Goths, the Lombards, and the Huns brought their own, untalented architects with them, that architecture improved slightly for a few years under Charlemagne, and that it then fell into decadence once more until the appearance of Brunelleschi in 1419.

Filarete, who lived from about 1400 to about 1469, had similar ideas on the history of architecture. He wrote, 'cursed be the man who introduced "modern" architecture'. By 'modern' he meant Gothic, which still appears to have had no name. He continued, 'I believe that it can only have been the barbarians who brought it to Italy'.

-217-

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