Theories of Beauty in Classic and Gothic Architecture

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Architecture is about impressing self and others. Perhaps the main goal of an architect is to influence individuals and societies by her artistic passion and ideas. Therefore the judgments of individuals have centric roles in architecture. However the criteria of these judgments have been changed through the time, locations, and societies. One of these criteria is indeed the sense of beauty and aesthetics of art and architecture.

Since the emergence of human civilisation and communities the human perception towards the beauty and what is beautiful has evolved. People from different regions, different cultures and beliefs have not seen beauty in a same way; the fact which has enormously affected on various architectural styles and thoughts through the course of art history. In ancient Egypt; what sense the Egyptians meant a thing was beautiful was the fineness and quality of used material and the thoroughness of execution (Pointon & Peltz, 1997), as it could be seen in the building of pyramids and pharaohs’ temples. Greeks architecture on the other hand had more focused on beauty as the view of symmetry and proportion. They were qualified mathematicians of the era, in this sense any object proportioned according to the golden ratio of math, proposed by Greek Philosopher and Mathematician Pythagoras (450BC), was perceived as more attractive and beautiful.

The philosophical stand toward the nature of beauty, the aesthetics of art, has evolved throughout the centuries of human experience. Up until the late 17th to the early 20th century, when the modernism philosophy has come into view in West. European thinkers of the time proposed that beauty is the cornerstone of art, and for them everything to become labelled as art should have aimed at absolute beauty (Scruton, 1979). For example Emanuel Kant, a German Philosopher, believed that the experience of beauty is a “universal truth”; in his idea for a flower to be called beautiful, all people should agree on the fact.

Apart from what is the definition of beauty, architectures have come up with its foundations proposed by the nature communities where they are dwelling in, to design and construct buildings, churches, monuments, and etc. Reviewing the effects of beauty theories on two distinguished historical architecture theme, Classic and Gothic architecture, this essay tries to compare and contrast the sense of Aesthetics in architecture during the periods of ancient Greek and mediaeval period in Europe between 12th and 16th centuries.


“And the true order of going, or being led by another, to the things of love, is to begin from the beauties of earth and mount upwards for the sake of that other beauty, using these steps only, and from one going on to two, and from two to all fair forms to fair practices, and from fair practices to fair notions, until from fair notions he arrives at the notion of absolute beauty, and at last knows what the essence of beauty is” (Plato, Symposium, Sec. 211)

The classical architecture originated and fostered in ancient Greece. It was mainly started from 5th century BC in Greece and continued to the Rome of 3rd century and was influenced enormously by ideas, dialogues, and thoughts of various philosophers of the time. Plato (427-347 BC) as one of the most influential philosophers of the time described the beauty as a property possessed and shared by artistic objects and others (Beardsley, 1966). In this sense the quality of beauty may be exhibited by “individual things” like buildings, statues, people, and animals. He continued by saying:

“Some are more beautiful than others, some lose their beauty after a time, some appear beautiful to one person but not to another” (Republic 479a)

Somewhere else he went on and stated,

“Besides the changing beauty of the many concrete things in the world, there must be one beauty that appears in them all” (Symposium 210b)

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