The subject of this volume is the meaning and the development of the Gothic style in medieval church architecture. Secular architecture will be touched on only in so far as it is dependent upon religious architecture. An account of the ways in which secular architecture created its own independent style would require a separate volume.
By style is meant a unity of form that is governed by a few basic principles. In this book these principles will be clarified by examples. The term style is applicable also where in a civilization meaning follows the same principles as architectural form. When we speak of art, we mean the particular interrelationship of form and meaning in which form becomes the symbol of meaning. So, in our particular case, the form of Gothic church architecture symbolizes the meaning of the civilization of the time. In the second part of the book, something will be said about this, but the main subject of the first part is the history of the Gothic style, its birth, its development, and its ultimate perfection in the Late Gothic.
The consequence of this limitation in subject matter is that the choice of buildings to be discussed is largely restricted to those which represent the first appearance of each of the decisive forms and changes in form. No history of the Gothic style could analyse, or even enumerate, the many thousand buildings which exist or could be reconstructed. The selection that has been made here is designed as a guide. The literature that is quoted will lead the reader to buildings which are not mentioned, and to the controversies that surround them.
This book contains no discussion of the different interpretations of the Gothic style which have in the past supplanted each other, nor of those which, today, stand side by side, each with its own claim to indisputable truth. These are considered in another book, where the theories which are the basis of the present work are also more fully expounded.
In planning this book I have tried to break away from the principles which characterize earlier books on the Gothic style. I have avoided setting up a standard for the style as a whole, such as Amiens Cathedral, so as not to give the idea that the value of every Gothic building is to be measured against this standard and that it is regrettable that this cathedral was not created simultaneously with the Gothic style, to be followed only by copies.
I have also tried not to overdo classifications. Since Thomas Rickman (1776-1841) analysed the structure of churches according to their significant members, and discussed each separately, this has been regarded as the only really scholarly method, because it is analytical and systematic. Indeed it is irreproachable. If, in historical research, we want a swift overall view of the development of porches alone, or buttresses, or plinths, or pinnacles alone - in short of any single member - then books based on clarification are very useful. However they do not give the history of the whole. They remain preliminary studies of the parts. An analysis of totalities leads to a grouping based on principles other than that of the classification of porches, windows, towers, etc. These members will appear in the chapter headings, but in their chronological sequence.
Thirdly, this book has avoided a division into chapters or groups of chapters, each dealing with a single country. This is another way of destroying the conception of a whole. When the reader . . .