THE earliest origins of the various elements of Gothic art are hidden, and no absolute definition of the style is possible. Perhaps the best is that of the late Sir Thomas Graham Jackson: "the expression of a certain temper, sentiment, and spirit which inspired the whole method of doing things during the Middle Ages in sculpture and painting as well as in architecture". To this we might add: "and in music, poetry and the minor arts as well". Attempts to find a definition on purely logical grounds ended in absurdity when the American, C. H. Moore, proved that there had been no Gothic except in France, and very little of it even there. Similarly, attempts to trace the sources of pointed arch, ribbed vault, flying buttress, treatment of walls, spatial outlook and the rest, are inevitably unsatisfactory. The historical data simply do not exist.
What is quite certain is that there were pointed arches in use in Burgundy and sporadically across France within a very few years of 1100, if not absolutely at the opening of the twelfth century. This was during the rebuilding of the Abbey Church at Cluny, where also the western vestibule of the nave was built in the earliest style of Gothic transition between c. 1122 and 1135, though its vaulting may not have been quite so early. It was however finished by about the middle of the century. At Autun Cathedral (c. 1120-32) are pointed arcades and a pointed barrel-vault on cross-arches; on the tympanum of the portal the mason Gislebert left his name: Gislebertus fecit hoc opus. Other masons and carvers of the twelfth century recorded their names in this way, as did Brunus on the portal of St.-Gillesdu-Gard, Girbertuscementarius similarly at Carennac, Izembard who signed a capital of the Benedictine Abbey of Bernay, Umbert who did the same at the Abbey of Fleury-sur-Loire, Adam who put his name on a keystone at Poitiers. The number of really skilled stone-cutters was growing rapidly, but their accomplishment had not become mere matter-of-course.
Unfortunately we do not know, from signatures or records, the names of the great architects who before 1150 had produced a new synthesis, the basis of Gothic style. The leading works were St.-Martin-des-Champs in Paris, Sens Cathedral (45), the new Abbey Church at St.-Denis, the Abbey Church of St.-Germer, and St.-Maclou at Pontoise, all in or adjacent to the Royal Domain round Paris (44, 162). St.-Denis was the greatest abbey of the region, and under royal patronage; Sens was the metropolitan cathedral of the archdiocese. So closely do these churches resemble one another in plan and details that they seem clearly to reflect the mind of one master: "Gothicus I" we might call him. Accepting in principle the Romanesque plan of the greater church, as for liturgical reasons he was bound to do, he yet effected a considerable spiritual transformation, largely by means of thinning the supports, as better craftsmanship permitted. The arrangement of the supports as integral parts of an articulated system, of which the ribbed vaults were the crowning feature, imparted a new vitality and dynamic quality. The tall attached shafts supporting the cross-arches, already known in the great Romanesque churches such as St.-Sernin, Toulouse, were brought out and given much greater prominence and sharper outline, while between them, to take the diagonal vault-ribs, were inserted secondary shafts with bases and capitals set obliquely. This feature was borrowed from Norman practice, but considerably developed. The typical ambulatory, with apsidal chapels opening outwards, was