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Gothic V. Romanesque Architecture

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Kathryn Ryan
CFII/Brosh
Cloisters Paper

Medieval Art is characterized largely by the use of both Gothic and Romanesque architecture. As Christianity was highly significant to the middle ages, much of said architectural design is exemplified in the cathedrals of the time. Romanesque and Gothic architecture differ greatly from one another, as is displayed in a comparison of a Gothic chapel and a Romanesque chapel. The Cloisters Museum and Gardens: the branch of The Metropolitan Museum of Art devoted to medieval art, offers the opportunity for such a close comparison. A comparison of the Fuetidueña Chapel and the Gothic Chapel conveys the distinctions between the two architectural styles.
Thick, fortress-like walls, small, high windows, round arches, and barrel or dome vaulted ceiling, characterize Medieval Romanesque architecture. Because of the great outward pressure produced by the Romanesque rounded arch characteristic of the style, churches could not be made tall without adding buttresses to the weak walls. Said buttresses reinforced the walls, but made them very thick, creating a fortress-like feel to the church. Furthermore, because of such thick walls, windows could not be placed at these locations in the church, and therefore the windows in Romanesque cathedrals are located toward the ceiling. There are usually few, small, high windows in Romanesque churches. Moreover, the semi-circular barrel vault, as well as the dome vault, of the ceiling characterizes Romanesque architecture. The Cloisters’ Fuetidueña Chapel exemplifies the features of a true Romanesque chapel.
The Fuetidueña Chapel is one of the first galleries on display in The Cloisters museum. The chapel displays the 12th century apse of St. Martin at Fuetidueña, Spain. The apse is covered by a barrel vault and half-dome, with three small windows piercing the back wall.
The apse of the Fuetidueña Chapel exemplifies Romanesque architecture through the use of the rounded arch, semi-circular barrel vault, dome vault, and the small, highly placed windows. The entrance to the apse itself is a rounded arch, as is characteristic of Medieval Romanesque architecture. The immediate interior of the apse utilizes the semi-circular barrel vault, while the mural of The Virgin and Child in Majesty, with Archangels and the Magi is painted on the dome-vaulted ceiling. The three small windows present in the apse also utilize the rounded arch, and are placed more toward the ceiling of the apse, due to the fact that the thick lower walls of Romanesque cathedrals could not support windows. The windows in the rest of the Fuetidueña Chapel gallery are also placed near the ceiling, further conveying the Romanesque atmosphere. The shift to the Gothic style of architecture arose when architects began to experiment with structural features that would allow ever-taller buildings and ever-thinner walls. They moved the buttresses outward, thus shifting the pressure to the foundation of the building as opposed to the walls; such are referred to as “flying buttresses.” The flying buttresses allowed for the churches to have thinner walls, and therefore Gothic churches are characterized largely by their long stained-glass windows. The windows allow for a flood of natural light, in sharp contrast to the little light present in a Romanesque chapel. The Gothic style is also much more ornate, as opposed to the relatively plain walls of Romanesque churches. Rather than rounded arches, Gothic churches have pointed arches, ever-reaching toward the heavens. The interior of the church is made up of thin shafts and ribs, with rib-vaulted ceilings.
Within the Cloisters’ “Early Gothic Hall” sits the Gothic Chapel. The gallery takes the form of a thirteenth-century chapel, adorned with fourteenth-century Austrian stained glass windows from the church of Saint Leonhard in Carinthia and the castle chapel at Ebreichsdorf near Vienna. Sculptures of royal and noble tombs from France and Spain also fill the chapel-like setting. The Gothic Chapel, as can be inferred from its name, is a great display of Medieval Gothic architecture.
When one descends the steps to the Gothic Chapel, the difference in atmosphere from Fuetiduena Chapel is apparent. The ceilings, as opposed to the smooth barrel or dome vault, instead utilize the rib vault. The rib vault is the intersection of two or three barrel vaults, edged with shafts or pipes, often then decorated with decorative patterns. This ribbing allowed for the churches to be built taller, ever-reaching toward the heavens. The flying buttresses are not present in the chapel as they are an addition to the outside of a Gothic-style building, but the presence of long, thin stained glass windows within the chapel shows the effect of such buttresses. Because the walls of the church were no longer as thick, the force of the arch pushed into the foundation by the flying buttresses, decorative windows, often depicting a story, could be included in the cathedral’s design. Light was a part of the Gothic design, so these long windows allowed for a luminosity to the room. The doorway leading out of the Gothic Chapel further adds to the Gothic atmosphere, for the arch, rather than the Romanesque rounded arch, is instead set into a Gothic, or pointed, arch. The arch reaches upward, furthering the feeling that the church itself is reaching toward the Divine Kingdom.

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