Brabantine Gothic

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St. Rumbold's Cathedral in Mechelen St-Romboutskathedraal3.jpg
St. Rumbold's Cathedral in Mechelen
The tower of the Church of Our Lady in Breda 0943newGrote Kerk Breda.jpg
The tower of the Church of Our Lady in Breda
St. John's Cathedral in 's-Hertogenbosch Sint-Jans-Hertogenbosch.jpg
St. John's Cathedral in 's-Hertogenbosch

Brabantine Gothic, occasionally called Brabantian Gothic, is a significant variant of Gothic architecture that is typical for the Low Countries. It surfaced in the first half of the 14th century at St. Rumbold's Cathedral in the City of Mechelen. [1] [2] [Note 1] [3]


Reputed architects such as Jean d'Oisy, [4] Jacob van Thienen, [5] Everaert Spoorwater, [6] Matheus de Layens, [7] and the Keldermans and De Waghemakere [8] families disseminated the style and techniques to cities and towns of the Duchy of Brabant and beyond. [Note 2] For churches and other major buildings, the tenor prevailed and lasted throughout the Renaissance. [9]


Brabantine Gothic, in a Low Countries context also referred to as High Gothic, differs from the earlier introduced Scheldt Gothic, which typically had the main tower above the crossing of a church, maintained Romanesque horizontal lines, and applied blue-gray stone quarried from the vicinity of Tournai at the river Scheldt that allowed its transportation in particular in the old County of Flanders. [10] [11]

Mosan Gothic (Meuse Gothic) refers to the river Maas (or Meuse, borrowed from French), mainly in the south-eastern parts of the Low Countries: the modern provinces of Limburg in the Netherlands, Limburg, and Liège in Belgium. Though of a later origin than Scheldt Gothic, it also still showed more Romanesque features, including smaller windows. Marlstone was used, and around the capitals on limestone columns are sculptured leaves of irises. [12]


Two centuries of Brabantine Gothic design

Surface conditions and available materials varied. Larger churches could take centuries of building during which expertise and fashions caused successive architects to evolve further from the original plans. Or, Romanesque churches became rebuilt in phases of dismantling and replacing, as (apart from its crypt) St. Bavo's Cathedral in Ghent: the early 14th-century chancel is influenced by northern French and Scheldt Gothic, a century later a radiating chapel appeared, and between 1462 and 1538 the mature Brabantine Gothic west tower was erected; the nave was then still to be finished. [13] Though few buildings are of an entirely consistent style, the ingenuity and craftsmanship of architects could realize a harmonious blend. The ultimate concepts were drawn centuries after the earliest designs. It follows that Brabantine Gothic style is neither homogeneous, nor strictly defined. [Note 3] [14] [15]


The Brabantine Gothic style originated with the advent of the Duchy of Brabant and spread across the Burgundian Netherlands. Besides minor influences by the High Cathedral of St. Peter and St. Mary in Cologne, the architecture builds on the classic French Gothic style as practiced in the construction of cathedrals such as those in Amiens and Reims.

Decorated capital at round column of the nave in the Grote Kerk in Dordrecht Koolbladkapiteel.JPG
Decorated capital at round column of the nave in the Grote Kerk in Dordrecht

The structure of the church buildings in Brabant was largely the same: a large-scale cruciform floor plan with three-tier elevation along the nave and side aisles (pier arches, triforium, clerestory) and a choir backed by a half-round ambulatory. The slender tallness of the French naves however, was never surpassed, and the size tended to be slightly more modest.

Brabantine round columns with cabbage leaf capitals, Hollandic use of wood for vaults in the Grote Kerk in Haarlem Haarlem bavo inside.jpg
Brabantine round columns with cabbage leaf capitals, Hollandic use of wood for vaults in the Grote Kerk in Haarlem

It is characterized by using light-coloured sandstone or limestone, which allowed rich detailing but is erosion-prone. The churches typically have round columns with cabbage foliage sculpted capitals. From there half-pillar buttresses continue often without interruption into the vault ribs. The triforium and the windows of the clerestory generally continue into one another, with the windows taking the entire space of the pointed arch. An ambulatory with radiating chapels ( chevet ) is part of the design (though at the 15th-century choir in Breda added later on). Whereas the cathedrals in Brussels and Antwerp are notable exceptions, the main porch is straight under the single west tower, in French called clocher-porche.

Pillar bundle columns (on this side), and frieze of tracery (underneath windows), in the Cathedral of Our Lady in Antwerp Liebfrauenkathedrale2.JPG
Pillar bundle columns (on this side), and frieze of tracery (underneath windows), in the Cathedral of Our Lady in Antwerp

An alternative type originated with the cathedral of Antwerp: instead of round columns with a capital impost, bundled pillars profiled in the columns continue without interruption through the ribs of vaults and arches – a style followed for churches in 's-Hertogenbosch and Leuven. In addition, the pier arches between nave and aisles are exceptionally wide, and the triforium is omitted. Instead, a transom of tracery is placed above the pier arches. This type was followed by other major churches in Antwerp, St. Martin Church in Aalst, and St. Michael's Church in Ghent.

Demer Gothic in the Hageland and Campine Gothic are regional variants of Brabantine Gothic in the south-eastern part of the former duchy. [Note 4] Those styles can be distinguished merely by the use of local rust-brown bricks. [Note 5] [16]

Brabantine Gothic city halls are built in the shape of gigantic box reliquaries with corner turrets and usually a belfry. The exterior is often profusely decorated.

Adaptations in Holland and of Zeeland

Many churches in the former Counties of Holland and of Zeeland are built in a style sometimes inaccurately separated as Hollandic and as Zeelandic Gothic. These are in fact Brabantine Gothic style buildings with concessions necessitated by local conditions. Thus (except for Dordrecht), because of the soggy ground, weight was saved by wooden barrel vaults instead of stone vaults and the flying buttresses required for those. In most cases, the walls were made of bricks but cut natural stone was not unusual.

Everaert Spoorwater played an important role in spreading Brabantine Gothic into Holland and Zeeland. He perfected a method by which the drawings for large constructions allowed ordering virtually all natural stone elements from quarries on later Belgian territory, then at the destination needing merely their cementing in place. This eliminated storage near the construction site, and the work could be done without the permanent presence of the architect.

Renowned examples of Brabantine Gothic architecture

In the former Duchy of Brabant

[Note 6]

Ecclesiastical buildings

In order of the year mentioned for their earliest Brabantine Gothic style characteristics

Secular buildings

  • Brussels' Town Hall
  • Leuven's Town Hall
  • Round Table (or Tafelrond) in Leuven, 1479 by Matheus de Layens, guildhall built 1480-1487 internally comprising 3 houses, demolished 1817, reconstructed following original plans 1921 [19] [20]
  • Margraves' Palace (Dutch: Markiezenhof) in Bergen op Zoom
  • Mechelen's Town Hall, north wing (in 1526 designed and partially built, 1900-1911 partially rebuilt and fully completed) [Note 3]
  • Oirschot's former Town Hall [21] (Brick building that also housed the Vierschaar , in a minor town: characteristic shrine shape but extremely sober)

In the former Counties of Holland and of Zeeland

[Note 6]

Ecclesiastical buildings

Secular buildings


Ecclesiastical buildings

Secular buildings


  1. The earliest Brabantine Gothic style elements were built soon after 1333 when the Prince-Bishop of Liège passed his feudal claim on Mechelen, in particular through its cathedral chapter, to Louis II, Count of Flanders, who married the heiress of Brabant and in 1355 took the title of Duke of Brabant.
  2. About Gothic architecture in the Low Countries, the Dutch-language term kustgotiek ('Coastal Gothic') occurs. Apparently, that literature describes its present-day national coastal areas: in the Netherlands mainly the subject found in this WP article under Counties of Holland and of Zeeland; in Belgium (including topics about Zeelandic Flanders) mainly (a variant of) Scheldt Gothic.
    Mostly fifteenth-century constructions, Gothic churches in the former Duchy of Guelders are Lower Rhine Gothic, following a style from the area along the Lower Rhine in present-day Germany.
  3. 1 2 Because in many cases, a building shows characteristics of several styles, it may be more accurate to use predicates like 'Gothic' for elements instead of for the entire building. Nevertheless, it is customary to categorize a building by its mainly perceived style, or occasionally by its most noteworthy features. A Gothic building may have been constructed or rebuilt well after the typical period. E.g., apart from one gallery and the ground floor by Rombout II Keldermans, the edifice designed as seat of the Great Council of the Netherlands at Mechelen finally got built following his drawings in the early 20th century, and became a 'new' wing of the City Hall.
  4. The Duchy of Brabant included the area around the city of Halen, a western tip of the present-day circumscription of the Province of Limburg of the Flemish Region.
  5. Sources mention the west tower's sturdiness as a typical Campine Gothic characteristic. Other sources however, note this feature for Brabantine Gothic as a whole.
  6. 1 2 Buildings within a named area's outer boundaries are listed, regardless whether the ruler of that area controlled a particular city therein.
  7. The 'Old Church' in Amsterdam is built with bricks. It shares clear Gothic features with its old hall church character.
  8. In Mechelen, the very heavy St.Rumbold's tower (now 97 metres high but designed to reach 167, which is 5 metres more than any church tower attains) was being built on earlier wetlands. After a few years, in 1454, its chief architect Andries I Keldermans construed the tower at Zierikzee, where dreaded leaning or sagging of the tower (now 62 metres but designed for ca. 130) could wreck the church. This concern led to fully separated edifices, a solution as applied in Mechelen. At both places, in the early 16th century the upper part of the tower became forsaken, not for technical but for financial reasons. The gap with the cathedral was closed upon finishing the construction. That deliberately weak connection had not been made in Zierikzee when the collegiate church burned down, in 1832.

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  1. 1 2 "Sint-Romboutskerk (ID: 74569)". De Inventaris van het Bouwkundig Erfgoed (in Dutch). Vlaams Instituut voor het Onroerend Erfgoed (VIOE). Retrieved 15 July 2011.
  2. "Gotische kerken in de oude steden". Thuis in Brabant – Geschiedenis – Stenen landschap – Religie in steen – Gotische kerkgebouwen (in Dutch). Thuis in Brabant (Erfgoed Brabant), 's Hertogenbosch, Netherlands. Retrieved 18 July 2011.
  3. "Mechelen binnenstad (ID: 26655)". De Inventaris van het Bouwkundig Erfgoed (in Dutch). Vlaams Instituut voor het Onroerend Erfgoed (VIOE). Retrieved 19 July 2011.
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  6. Everaert Spoorwater at archINFORM .Retrieved13 July 2011. (This architect is also known as Evert van der Weyden.)
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  8. Stevens Curl, James. "Waghemakere Family". A Dictionary of Architecture and Landscape Architecture. Oxford University Press, 2000 - Republished online at Retrieved 13 July 2011.
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  12. Cammaerts, Emile. Belgium, From the Roman Invasion to the Present Day (Txt). T. Fisher Unwin Ltd, London, 1921 (republished by The Project Gutenberg eBook, 2008). p. 92. Retrieved 19 July 2011. As the Gothic style develops in its secondary period (late thirteenth and beginning of fourteenth century) the windows increase in size, the pillars are fluted and the tracery of the windows becomes more and more complicated. The best examples of this particular Gothic still in existence are the choir of St. Paul at Liege and Notre Dame of Huy.
  13. "St. Bavo's Cathedral". City of Ghent, © 2006. Archived from the original on 2011-08-23. Retrieved 13 July 2011.
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  18. At Diest, between 1312 and 1321 the building project for the choir started by the Frenchman Pierre de Savoye, but no source indicates anything then to have been (the very earliest anywhere) Brabantine Gothic style. One source specifies that 2 columns became erected by (some time between) 1330 and 1340, and that the first of the radiating chapels (a Brabantine characteristic) also 'dates from this first period' (without specifying its end date); it starts the next phase in 1402. Another source states that around 1400 Hendrik van Thienen became de Savoye's successor and then built the first of the southern radiating chapels, and that in 1432 Sulpitus van Vorst completed the (earlier) begun northern radiating chapel:
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  22. "Leiden, Hooglandse kerk (Highland church)" . Retrieved 17 July 2011.
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  26. Stenvert, Ronald; van Ginkel-Meester, Saskia; Stades-Vischer, Elisabeth; Kolman, Chris; van Cruyningen, Piet. "Monumenten in Nederland. Zeeland" (PDF) (in Dutch). Rijksdienst voor de Monumentenzorg, Zeist / Waanders Uitgevers, Zwolle, the Netherlands (2003), the Netherlands). p. 276. Retrieved 16 July 2011.[ permanent dead link ]
  27. "Belgium 1917: Third Battle of Ypres – Ieper, A walk around Ieper – St Martin's Cathedral Vandenpeerboomplein". Australians on the Western Front 1914-1918. Australian Government, Department of Veterans' Affairs; Board of Studies NSW. December 2010. Archived from the original on 23 August 2011. Retrieved 17 July 2011.
  28. "Historique de la collégiale". La collégiale Sainte-Waudru (in French). ASBL Sainte Waudru, Mons, Belgium. Archived from the original on 2012-03-27. Retrieved 15 July 2011. With sub links: the church: édifices antérieurs Archived 2012-03-27 at the Wayback Machine , chantier Archived 2012-03-27 at the Wayback Machine , réparations et restauration Archived 2012-03-27 at the Wayback Machine ; the tower: projet Archived 2012-03-27 at the Wayback Machine , chantier Archived 2012-03-27 at the Wayback Machine Retrieved 15 July 2011
    "Sainte-Waudru et le gothique brabançon - introduction". La collégiale Sainte-Waudru (in French). ASBL Sainte Waudru, Mons, Belgium. Retrieved 15 July 2011.[ permanent dead link ] Continued with: pourquoi brabançonne ? Archived 2012-03-27 at the Wayback Machine , relation avec autres églises brabançonnes Archived 2012-03-27 at the Wayback Machine Retrieved 15 July 2011