Gothic Revival architecture

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Sint-Petrus-en-Pauluskerk in Ostend (Belgium), built between 1899 and 1908 Oostende Sint-Petrus-en-Pauluskerk R02.jpg
Sint-Petrus-en-Pauluskerk in Ostend (Belgium), built between 1899 and 1908

Gothic Revival (also referred to as Victorian Gothic,neo-Gothic, or Gothick) is an architectural movement that began in the late 1740s in England. The movement gained momentum and expanded in the first half of the 19th century, as increasingly serious and learned admirers of the neo-Gothic styles sought to revive medieval Gothic architecture, intending to complement or even supersede the neoclassical styles prevalent at the time. Gothic Revival draws upon features of medieval examples, including decorative patterns, finials, lancet windows, and hood moulds. By the middle of the 19th century, Gothic had become the preeminent architectural style in the Western world, only to fall out of fashion in the 1880s and early 1890s.


The Gothic Revival movement's roots are intertwined with philosophical movements associated with Catholicism and a re-awakening of high church or Anglo-Catholic belief concerned by the growth of religious nonconformism. Ultimately, the "Anglo-Catholicism" tradition of religious belief and style became known for its intrinsic appeal in the third quarter of the 19th century. Gothic Revival architecture varied considerably in its faithfulness to both the ornamental style and principles of construction of its medieval original, sometimes amounting to little more than pointed window frames and touches of Gothic decoration on a building otherwise on a wholly 19th-century plan and using contemporary materials and construction methods, most notably in the use of iron and, after the 1880s, steel in ways never seen in medieval exemplars.

In parallel with the ascendancy of neo-Gothic styles in 19th-century England, interest spread to the rest of Europe, Australia, Africa and the Americas; the 19th and early 20th centuries saw the construction of very large numbers of Gothic Revival structures worldwide. The influence of Revivalism had nevertheless peaked by the 1870s. New architectural movements, sometimes related as in the Arts and Crafts movement, and sometimes in outright opposition, such as Modernism, gained ground, and by the 1930s the architecture of the Victorian era was generally condemned or ignored. The later 20th century saw a revival of interest, manifested in the United Kingdom by the establishment of the Victorian Society in 1958.

The Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, Savannah (Georgia, United States) Savannah cathedral 2015 17 046.jpg
The Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, Savannah (Georgia, United States)


The rise of evangelicalism in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries saw in England a reaction in the high church movement which sought to emphasise the continuity between the established church and the pre-Reformation Catholic church. [1] Architecture, in the form of the Gothic Revival, became one of the main weapons in the high church's armoury. The Gothic Revival was also paralleled and supported by "medievalism", which had its roots in antiquarian concerns with survivals and curiosities. As "industrialisation" progressed, a reaction against machine production and the appearance of factories also grew. Proponents of the picturesque such as Thomas Carlyle and Augustus Pugin took a critical view of industrial society and portrayed pre-industrial medieval society as a golden age. To Pugin, Gothic architecture was infused with the Christian values that had been supplanted by classicism and were being destroyed by industrialisation. [2]

Gothic Revival also took on political connotations; with the "rational" and "radical" Neoclassical style being seen as associated with republicanism and liberalism (as evidenced by its use in the United States and to a lesser extent in Republican France), the more spiritual and traditional Gothic Revival became associated with monarchism and conservatism, which was reflected by the choice of styles for the rebuilt government centres of the British parliament's Palace of Westminster in London, the Canadian Parliament Buildings in Ottawa and the Hungarian Parliament Building in Budapest. [3]

In English literature, the architectural Gothic Revival and classical Romanticism gave rise to the Gothic novel genre, beginning with The Castle of Otranto (1764) by Horace Walpole, [4] and inspired a 19th-century genre of medieval poetry that stems from the pseudo-bardic poetry of "Ossian". Poems such as "Idylls of the King" by Alfred, Lord Tennyson recast specifically modern themes in medieval settings of Arthurian romance. In German literature, the Gothic Revival also had a grounding in literary fashions. [5]

Survival and revival

Tom Tower, Oxford, by Sir Christopher Wren 1681-82, to match the Tudor surroundings Tom Tower, Christ Church 2004-01-21.jpg
Tom Tower, Oxford, by Sir Christopher Wren 1681–82, to match the Tudor surroundings

Gothic architecture began at the Basilica of Saint Denis near Paris, and the Cathedral of Sens in 1140 [6] and ended with a last flourish in the early 16th century with buildings like Henry VII's Chapel at Westminster. [7] However, Gothic architecture did not die out completely in the 16th century but instead lingered in on-going cathedral-building projects; at Oxford and Cambridge Universities, and in the construction of churches in increasingly isolated rural districts of England, France, Germany, the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth and in Spain. [8] Londonderry Cathedral (completed 1633) was a major new structure in the Perpendicular Gothic style. [9]

In Bologna, in 1646, the Baroque architect Carlo Rainaldi constructed Gothic vaults (completed 1658) for the Basilica of San Petronio in Bologna, which had been under construction since 1390; there, the Gothic context of the structure overrode considerations of the current architectural mode. Guarino Guarini, a 17th-century Theatine monk active primarily in Turin, recognized the "Gothic order" as one of the primary systems of architecture and made use of it in his practice. [10]

Likewise, Gothic architecture survived in an urban setting during the later 17th century, as shown in Oxford and Cambridge, where some additions and repairs to Gothic buildings were considered to be more in keeping with the style of the original structures than contemporary Baroque. Sir Christopher Wren's Tom Tower for Christ Church, University of Oxford, [lower-alpha 1] and, later, Nicholas Hawksmoor's west towers of Westminster Abbey, blur the boundaries between what is called Gothic survival and the Gothic Revival. [12] Throughout France in the 16th and 17th centuries, churches such as St-Eustache continued to be built following Gothic forms cloaked in classical details, until the arrival of Baroque architecture. [13]

Strawberry Hill House, Twickenham, London; 1749 by Horace Walpole (1717-1797). "The seminal house of the Gothic Revival in England", it established the "Strawberry Hill Gothic" style Strawberry Hill House 4 (29886640996).jpg
Strawberry Hill House, Twickenham, London; 1749 by Horace Walpole (1717–1797). "The seminal house of the Gothic Revival in England", it established the "Strawberry Hill Gothic" style

During the mid-18th century rise of Romanticism, an increased interest and awareness of the Middle Ages among influential connoisseurs created a more appreciative approach to selected medieval arts, beginning with church architecture, the tomb monuments of royal and noble personages, stained glass, and late Gothic illuminated manuscripts. Other Gothic arts, such as tapestries and metalwork, continued to be disregarded as barbaric and crude, however sentimental and nationalist associations with historical figures were as strong in this early revival as purely aesthetic concerns. [15]

German Romanticists (including philosopher and writer Goethe and architect Karl Friedrich Schinkel), began to appreciate the picturesque character of ruins—"picturesque" becoming a new aesthetic quality—and those mellowing effects of time that the Japanese call wabi-sabi and that Horace Walpole independently admired, mildly tongue-in-cheek, as "the true rust of the Barons' wars". [lower-alpha 2] [16] The "Gothick" details of Walpole's Twickenham villa, Strawberry Hill House begun in 1749, appealed to the rococo tastes of the time, [lower-alpha 3] [18] and were fairly quickly followed by James Talbot at Lacock Abbey, Wiltshire. [19] By the 1770s, thoroughly neoclassical architects such as Robert Adam and James Wyatt were prepared to provide Gothic details in drawing-rooms, libraries and chapels and, for William Beckford at Fonthill in Wiltshire, a complete romantic vision of a Gothic abbey. [lower-alpha 4] [22]

Some of the earliest architectural examples of the revived are found in Scotland. Inveraray Castle, constructed from 1746 for the Duke of Argyll, with design input from William Adam, displays the incorporation of turrets. [lower-alpha 5] The architectural historian John Gifford writes that the castellations were the "symbolic assertion of the still quasi-feudal power [the duke] exercised over the inhabitants within his heritable jurisdictions". [24] Most buildings were still largely in the established Palladian style, but some houses incorporated external features of the Scots baronial style. Robert Adam's houses in this style include Mellerstain [25] and Wedderburn [26] in Berwickshire and Seton Castle in East Lothian, [27] but it is most clearly seen at Culzean Castle, Ayrshire, remodelled by Adam from 1777. [28] The eccentric landscape designer Batty Langley even attempted to "improve" Gothic forms by giving them classical proportions. [29]

Basilica of Sainte Clotilde Sanctuary, Paris, France Basilica of Saint Clotilde Sanctuary, Paris, France - Diliff.jpg
Basilica of Sainte Clotilde Sanctuary, Paris, France

A younger generation, taking Gothic architecture more seriously, provided the readership for John Britton's series Architectural Antiquities of Great Britain, which began appearing in 1807. [30] In 1817, Thomas Rickman wrote an Attempt... to name and define the sequence of Gothic styles in English ecclesiastical architecture, "a text-book for the architectural student". Its long antique title is descriptive: Attempt to discriminate the styles of English architecture from the Conquest to the Reformation; preceded by a sketch of the Grecian and Roman orders, with notices of nearly five hundred English buildings. The categories he used were Norman, Early English, Decorated, and Perpendicular. It went through numerous editions, was still being republished by 1881, and has been reissued in the 21st century. [lower-alpha 6] [32]

The most common use for Gothic Revival architecture was in the building of churches. Major examples of Gothic cathedrals in the U.S. include the cathedrals of St. John the Divine and St. Patrick in New York City and the Washington National Cathedral on Mount St. Alban in northwest Washington, D.C. One of the biggest churches in Gothic Revival style in Canada is Basilica of Our Lady Immaculate in Ontario. [33]

Gothic Revival architecture remained one of the most popular and long-lived of the many revival styles of architecture. Although it began to lose force and popularity after the third quarter of the 19th century in commercial, residential and industrial fields, some buildings such as churches, schools, colleges and universities were still constructed in the Gothic style, often known as "Collegiate Gothic", which remained popular in England, Canada and in the United States until well into the early to mid-20th century. Only when new materials, like steel and glass along with concern for function in everyday working life and saving space in the cities, meaning the need to build up instead of out, began to take hold did the Gothic Revival start to disappear from popular building requests. [34]


The study at Abbotsford, created for Sir Walter Scott whose novels popularised the Medieval period from which the Gothic Revival drew its inspiration Abbotsford House Study Room.jpg
The study at Abbotsford, created for Sir Walter Scott whose novels popularised the Medieval period from which the Gothic Revival drew its inspiration

The revived Gothic style was not limited to architecture. Classical Gothic buildings of the 12th to 16th Centuries were a source of inspiration to 19th-century designers in numerous fields of work. Architectural elements such as pointed arches, steep-sloping roofs and fancy carvings like lace and lattice work were applied to a wide range of Gothic Revival objects. Some examples of Gothic Revivals influence can be found in heraldic motifs in coats of arms, painted furniture with elaborate painted scenes like the whimsical Gothic detailing in English furniture is traceable as far back as Lady Pomfret's house in Arlington Street, London (1740s), [35] and Gothic fretwork in chairbacks and glazing patterns of bookcases is a familiar feature of Chippendale's Director (1754, 1762), where, for example, the three-part bookcase employs Gothic details with Rococo profusion, on a symmetrical form. [36] [37] Abbotsford in the Scottish Borders, rebuilt from 1816 by Sir Walter Scott and paid for by the profits from his, hugely successful, historical novels, exemplifies the "Regency Gothic" style. [lower-alpha 7] [39] Gothic Revival also includes the reintroduction of medieval clothes and dances in historical re-enactments staged especially in the second part of the 19th century, although one of the first, the Eglinton Tournament of 1839, remains the most famous. [40]

By the mid-19th century, Gothic traceries and niches could be inexpensively re-created in wallpaper, and Gothic blind arcading could decorate a ceramic pitcher. Writing in 1857, J. G. Crace, an influential decorator from a family of influential interior designers, expressed his preference for the Gothic style: "In my opinion there is no quality of lightness, elegance, richness or beauty possessed by any other style... [or] in which the principles of sound construction can be so well carried out". [41] The illustrated catalogue for the Great Exhibition of 1851 is replete with Gothic detail, from lacemaking and carpet designs to heavy machinery. Nikolaus Pevsner's volume on the exhibits at the Great Exhibition, High Victorian Design published in 1951, was an important contribution to the academic study of Victorian taste and an early indicator of the later 20th century rehabilitation of Victorian architecture and the objects with which they decorated their buildings. [42]

In 1847, eight thousand British crown coins were minted in proof condition with the design using an ornate reverse in keeping with the revived style. Considered by collectors to be particularly beautiful, they are known as 'Gothic crowns'. The design was repeated in 1853, again in proof. A similar two shilling coin, the 'Gothic florin' was minted for circulation from 1851 to 1887. [43] [44]

Romanticism and nationalism

Gothic facade of the Parlement de Rouen in France, built between 1499 and 1508, which later inspired neo-Gothic revival in the 19th century Rouen France Palais-de-justice-03.jpg
Gothic façade of the Parlement de Rouen in France, built between 1499 and 1508, which later inspired neo-Gothic revival in the 19th century

French neo-Gothic had its roots in the French medieval Gothic architecture, where it was created in the 12th century. Gothic architecture was sometimes known during the medieval period as the "Opus Francigenum", (the "French Art"). French scholar Alexandre de Laborde wrote in 1816 that "Gothic architecture has beauties of its own", [45] which marked the beginning of the Gothic Revival in France. Starting in 1828, Alexandre Brogniart, the director of the Sèvres porcelain manufactory, produced fired enamel paintings on large panes of plate glass, for King Louis-Philippe's Chapelle royale de Dreux, an important early French commission in Gothic taste, [46] preceded mainly by some Gothic features in a few jardins paysagers . [47]

Saint Clotilde Basilica completed 1857, Paris P1020476 Paris VII Basilique Saint-Clotilde rwk.JPG
Saint Clotilde Basilica completed 1857, Paris

The French Gothic Revival was set on sounder intellectual footings by a pioneer, Arcisse de Caumont, who founded the Societé des Antiquaires de Normandie at a time when antiquaire still meant a connoisseur of antiquities, and who published his great work on architecture in French Normandy in 1830. [48] The following year Victor Hugo's historical romance novel The Hunchback of Notre-Dame appeared, in which the great Gothic cathedral of Paris was at once a setting and a protagonist in a hugely popular work of fiction. Hugo intended his book to awaken a concern for the surviving Gothic architecture left in Europe, however, rather than to initiate a craze for neo-Gothic in contemporary life. [49] In the same year that Notre-Dame de Paris appeared, the new French restored Bourbon monarchy established an office in the Royal French Government of Inspector-General of Ancient Monuments, a post which was filled in 1833 by Prosper Mérimée, who became the secretary of a new Commission des Monuments Historiques in 1837. [50] This was the Commission that instructed Eugène Viollet-le-Duc to report on the condition of the Abbey of Vézelay in 1840. [51] Following this, Viollet le Duc set out to restore most of the symbolic buildings in France including Notre Dame de Paris, [52] Vézelay, [53] Carcassonne, [54] Roquetaillade castle, [55] the famous Mont-Saint-Michel Abbey on its peaked coastal island, [56] Pierrefonds, [57] and Palais des Papes in Avignon. [54] When France's first prominent neo-Gothic church [lower-alpha 8] was built, the Basilica of Saint-Clotilde, [lower-alpha 9] Paris, begun in 1846 and consecrated in 1857, the architect chosen was of German extraction, Franz Christian Gau, (1790–1853); the design was significantly modified by Gau's assistant, Théodore Ballu, in the later stages, to produce the pair of flèches that crown the west end. [60]

In Germany, there was a renewal of interest in the completion of Cologne Cathedral. Begun in 1248, it was still unfinished at the time of the revival. The 1820s "Romantic" movement brought a new appreciation of the building, and construction work began once more in 1842, marking a German return for Gothic architecture. St. Vitus Cathedral in Prague, begun in 1344, was also completed in the mid-19th and early 20th centuries. [61] The importance of the Cologne completion project in German-speaking lands has been explored by Michael J. Lewis, "The Politics of the German Gothic Revival: August Reichensperger". Reichensperger was himself in no doubt as to the cathedral's central position in Germanic culture; "Cologne Cathedral is German to the core, it is a national monument in the fullest sense of the word, and probably the most splendid monument to be handed down to us from the past". [62]

Because of Romantic nationalism in the early 19th century, the Germans, French and English all claimed the original Gothic architecture of the 12th century era as originating in their own country. The English boldly coined the term "Early English" for "Gothic", a term that implied Gothic architecture was an English creation. In his 1832 edition of Notre Dame de Paris, author Victor Hugo said "Let us inspire in the nation, if it is possible, love for the national architecture", implying that "Gothic" is France's national heritage. In Germany, with the completion of Cologne Cathedral in the 1880s, at the time its summit was the world's tallest building, the cathedral was seen as the height of Gothic architecture. [63] Other major completions of Gothic cathedrals were of Regensburger Dom (with twin spires completed from 1869 to 1872), [64] Ulm Münster (with a 161-meter tower from 1890) [65] and St. Vitus Cathedral in Prague (1844–1929). [66]

Cologne Cathedral, finally completed in 1880 although construction began in 1248 Cologne Germany Exterior-view-of-Cologne-Cathedral-01.jpg
Cologne Cathedral, finally completed in 1880 although construction began in 1248

In Belgium, a 15th-century church in Ostend burned down in 1896. King Leopold II funded its replacement, the Saint Peter's and Saint Paul's Church, a cathedral-scale design which drew inspiration from the neo-Gothic Votive Church in Vienna and Cologne Cathedral. [67] In Mechelen, the largely unfinished building drawn in 1526 as the seat of the Great Council of The Netherlands , was not actually built until the early 20th century, although it closely followed Rombout II Keldermans's Brabantine Gothic design, and became the 'new' north wing of the City Hall. [68] [69] In Florence, the Duomo's temporary façade erected for the Medici-House of Lorraine nuptials in 1588–1589, was dismantled, and the west end of the cathedral stood bare again until 1864, when a competition was held to design a new façade suitable to Arnolfo di Cambio's original structure and the fine campanile next to it. This competition was won by Emilio De Fabris, and so work on his polychrome design and panels of mosaic was begun in 1876 and completed by 1887, creating the Neo-Gothic western façade. [70] Eastern Europe also saw much Revival construction; in addition to the Hungarian Parliament Building in Budapest, [3] the Bulgarian National Revival saw the introduction of Gothic Revival elements into its vernacular ecclesiastical and residential architecture. The largest project of the Slavine School is the Lopushna Monastery cathedral (1850–1853), though later churches such as Saint George's Church, Gavril Genovo display more prominent vernacular Gothic Revival features. [71]

The Canadian Parliament Buildings from the Ottawa River, including Gothic Revival library at rear, built between 1859 and 1876 Centre Block and Library of Parliament, Ottawa, West view 20170422 2.jpg
The Canadian Parliament Buildings from the Ottawa River, including Gothic Revival library at rear, built between 1859 and 1876

In Scotland, while a similar Gothic style to that used further south in England was adopted by figures including Frederick Thomas Pilkington (1832–98) [72] in secular architecture it was marked by the re-adoption of the Scots baronial style. [73] Important for the adoption of the style in the early 19th century was Abbotsford, which became a model for the modern revival of the baronial style. [74] Common features borrowed from 16th- and 17th-century houses included battlemented gateways, crow-stepped gables, pointed turrets and machicolations. The style was popular across Scotland and was applied to many relatively modest dwellings by architects such as William Burn (1789–1870), David Bryce (1803–76), [75] Edward Blore (1787–1879), Edward Calvert (c.1847–1914) and Robert Stodart Lorimer (1864–1929) and in urban contexts, including the building of Cockburn Street in Edinburgh (from the 1850s) as well as the National Wallace Monument at Stirling (1859–1869). [76] The reconstruction of Balmoral Castle as a baronial palace and its adoption as a royal retreat from 1855 to 1858 confirmed the popularity of the style. [74]

In the United States, the first "Gothic stile" [77] church (as opposed to churches with Gothic elements) was Trinity Church on the Green, New Haven, Connecticut. It was designed by Ithiel Town between 1812 and 1814, while he was building his Federalist-style Center Church, New Haven next to this radical new "Gothic-style" church. Its cornerstone was laid in 1814, [78] and it was consecrated in 1816. [79] It predates St Luke's Church, Chelsea, often said to be the first Gothic-revival church in London. Though built of trap rock stone with arched windows and doors, parts of its tower and its battlements were wood. Gothic buildings were subsequently erected by Episcopal congregations in Connecticut at St John's in Salisbury (1823), St John's in Kent (1823–26) and St Andrew's in Marble Dale (1821–1823). [77] These were followed by Town's design for Christ Church Cathedral (Hartford, Connecticut) (1827), which incorporated Gothic elements such as buttresses into fabric of the church. St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Troy, New York, was constructed in 1827–1828 as an exact copy of Town's design for Trinity Church, New Haven, but using local stone; due to changes in the original, St. Paul's is closer to Town's original design than Trinity itself. In the 1830s, architects began to copy specific English Gothic and Gothic Revival Churches, and these "'mature Gothic Revival' buildings made the domestic Gothic style architecture which preceded it seem primitive and old-fashioned". [80]

There are many examples of Gothic Revival architecture in Canada. The first major structure was Notre-Dame Basilica in Montreal, Quebec, which was designed in 1824. [81] The capital, Ottawa, Ontario, was predominantly a 19th-century creation in the Gothic Revival style. The Parliament Hill buildings were the preeminent example, of which the original library survives today (after the rest was destroyed by fire in 1916). [82] Their example was followed elsewhere in the city and outlying areas, showing how popular the Gothic Revival movement had become. [33] Other examples of Canadian Gothic Revival architecture in Ottawa are the Victoria Memorial Museum, (1905–08), [83] the Royal Canadian Mint, (1905–08), [84] and the Connaught Building, (1913–16), [85] all by David Ewart. [86]

Gothic as a moral force

Pugin and "truth" in architecture

The Palace of Westminster (1840-1876), designed by Charles Barry & Augustus Pugin Palace of Westminster detail.jpg
The Palace of Westminster (1840–1876), designed by Charles Barry & Augustus Pugin

In the late 1820s, A. W. N. Pugin, still a teenager, was working for two highly visible employers, providing Gothic detailing for luxury goods. [87] For the Royal furniture makers Morel and Seddon he provided designs for redecorations for the elderly George IV at Windsor Castle in a Gothic taste suited to the setting. [lower-alpha 10] [89] For the royal silversmiths Rundell Bridge and Co., Pugin provided designs for silver from 1828, using the 14th-century Anglo-French Gothic vocabulary that he would continue to favour later in designs for the new Palace of Westminster. [90] Between 1821 and 1838 Pugin and his father published a series of volumes of architectural drawings, the first two entitled, Specimens of Gothic Architecture, and the following three, Examples of Gothic Architecture, that were to remain both in print and the standard references for Gothic Revivalists for at least the next century. [91]

In Contrasts: or, a Parallel between the Noble Edifices of the Middle Ages, and similar Buildings of the Present Day (1836), Pugin expressed his admiration not only for medieval art but for the whole medieval ethos, suggesting that Gothic architecture was the product of a purer society. In The True Principles of Pointed or Christian Architecture (1841), he set out his "two great rules of design: 1st, that there should be no features about a building which are not necessary for convenience, construction or propriety; 2nd, that all ornament should consist of enrichment of the essential construction of the building". Urging modern craftsmen to seek to emulate the style of medieval workmanship as well as reproduce its methods, Pugin sought to reinstate Gothic as the true Christian architectural style. [92]

Pugin's most notable project was the Houses of Parliament in London, after its predecessor was largely destroyed in a fire in 1834. [lower-alpha 11] [94] His part in the design consisted of two campaigns, 1836–1837 and again in 1844 and 1852, with the classicist Charles Barry as his nominal superior. Pugin provided the external decoration and the interiors, while Barry designed the symmetrical layout of the building, causing Pugin to remark, "All Grecian, Sir; Tudor details on a classic body". [95]

Ruskin and Venetian Gothic

Venetian Gothic in Baku, Azerbaijan. Ismailiya Palace from the corner.jpg
Venetian Gothic in Baku, Azerbaijan.

John Ruskin supplemented Pugin's ideas in his two influential theoretical works, The Seven Lamps of Architecture (1849) and The Stones of Venice (1853). Finding his architectural ideal in Venice, Ruskin proposed that Gothic buildings excelled above all other architecture because of the "sacrifice" of the stone-carvers in intricately decorating every stone. In this, he drew a contrast between the physical and spiritual satisfaction which a medieval craftsman derived from his work, and the lack of these satisfactions afforded to modern, industrialised labour. [lower-alpha 12] [97]

By declaring the Doge's Palace to be "the central building of the world", Ruskin argued the case for Gothic government buildings as Pugin had done for churches, though mostly only in theory. When his ideas were put into practice, Ruskin often disliked the result, although he supported many architects, such as Thomas Newenham Deane and Benjamin Woodward, and was reputed to have designed some of the corbel decorations for that pair's Oxford University Museum of Natural History. [98] A major clash between the Gothic and Classical styles in relation to governmental offices occurred less than a decade after the publication of The Stones of Venice. A public competition for the construction of a new Foreign Office in Whitehall saw the decision to award first place to a Gothic design by George Gilbert Scott overturned by the Prime Minister, Lord Palmerston, who successfully demanded a building in the Italianate style. [lower-alpha 13] [100]

Ecclesiology and funerary style

In England, the Church of England was undergoing a revival of Anglo-Catholic and ritualist ideology in the form of the Oxford Movement, and it became desirable to build large numbers of new churches to cater for the growing population, and cemeteries for their hygienic burials. This found ready exponents in the universities, where the ecclesiological movement was forming. Its proponents believed that Gothic was the only style appropriate for a parish church, and favoured a particular era of Gothic architecture – the "decorated". The Cambridge Camden Society, through its journal The Ecclesiologist, was so savagely critical of new church buildings that were below its exacting standards and its pronouncements were followed so avidly that it became the epicentre of the flood of Victorian restoration that affected most of the Anglican cathedrals and parish churches in England and Wales. [101]

Exeter College, Oxford Chapel Exeter College Chapel, Oxford - Diliff.jpg
Exeter College, Oxford Chapel

St Luke's Church, Chelsea, was a new-built Commissioner's Church of 1820–24, partly built using a grant of £8,333 towards its construction with money voted by Parliament as a result of the Church Building Act of 1818. [102] It is often said to be the first Gothic Revival church in London, [103] and, as Charles Locke Eastlake put it: "probably the only church of its time in which the main roof was groined throughout in stone". [104] Nonetheless, the parish was firmly low church, and the original arrangement, modified in the 1860s, was as a "preaching church" dominated by the pulpit, with a small altar and wooden galleries over the nave aisle. [105]

The development of the private major metropolitan cemeteries was occurring at the same time as the movement; Sir William Tite pioneered the first cemetery in the Gothic style at West Norwood in 1837, with chapels, gates, and decorative features in the Gothic manner, attracting the interest of contemporary architects such as George Edmund Street, Barry, and William Burges. The style was immediately hailed a success and universally replaced the previous preference for classical design. [106]

Not every architect or client was swept away by this tide. Although Gothic Revival succeeded in becoming an increasingly familiar style of architecture, the attempt to associate it with the notion of high church superiority, as advocated by Pugin and the ecclesiological movement, was anathema to those with ecumenical or nonconformist principles. Alexander "Greek" Thomson launched a famous attack; "We are told we should adopt [Gothic] because it is the Christian style, and this most impudent assertion has been accepted as sound doctrine even by earnest and intelligent Protestants; whereas it ought only to have force with those who believe that Christian truth attained its purest and most spiritual development at the period when this style of architecture constituted its corporeal form". [107] Those rejecting the link between Gothic and Catholicism looked to adopt it solely for its aesthetic romantic qualities, to combine it with other styles, or look to northern European Brick Gothic for a more plain appearance; or in some instances all three of these, as at the non-denominational Abney Park Cemetery in east London, designed by William Hosking FSA in 1840. [108]

Viollet-le-Duc and Iron Gothic

Carcassonne - Viollet-le-Duc restored the citadel from 1853. La Cite Medievale, 11000 Carcassonne, France - panoramio (7).jpg
Carcassonne – Viollet-le-Duc restored the citadel from 1853.

France had lagged slightly in entering the neo-Gothic scene, but produced a major figure in the revival in Eugène Viollet-le-Duc. As well as a powerful and influential theorist, Viollet-le-Duc was a leading architect whose genius lay in restoration. [lower-alpha 14] He believed in restoring buildings to a state of completion that they would not have known even when they were first built, theories he applied to his restorations of the walled city of Carcassonne, [54] and to Notre-Dame and Sainte Chapelle in Paris. [52] In this respect he differed from his English counterpart Ruskin, as he often replaced the work of mediaeval stonemasons. His rational approach to Gothic stood in stark contrast to the revival's romanticist origins. [110] [111] Throughout his career he remained in a quandary as to whether iron and masonry should be combined in a building. Iron had in fact been used in Gothic buildings since the earliest days of the revival. It was only with Ruskin and the archaeological Gothic's demand for historical truth that iron, whether it was visible or not, was deemed improper for a Gothic building. Ultimately, the utility of iron won out: "substituting a cast iron shaft for a granite, marble or stone column is not bad, but one must agree that it cannot be considered as an innovation, as the introduction of a new principle. Replacing a stone or wooden lintel by an iron breastsummer is very good". [112] He strongly opposed illusion, however: reacting against the casing of a cast iron pillar in stone, he wrote; "il faut que la pierre paraisse bien être de la pierre; le fer, du fer; le bois, du bois" (stone must appear to be stone; iron, iron; wood, wood). [113]

Cast-iron Gothic tracery supports a bridge by Calvert Vaux, in Central Park, New York City Gothic Bridge 28 east cloudy jeh.jpg
Cast-iron Gothic tracery supports a bridge by Calvert Vaux, in Central Park, New York City

The arguments against modern construction materials began to collapse in the mid-19th century as great prefabricated structures such as the glass and iron Crystal Palace and the glazed courtyard of the Oxford University Museum of Natural History were erected, which appeared to embody Gothic principles. [lower-alpha 15] [115] [116] Between 1863 and 1872 Viollet-le-Duc published his Entretiens sur l'architecture, a set of daring designs for buildings that combined iron and masonry. [117] Though these projects were never realised, they influenced several generations of designers and architects, notably Antoni Gaudí in Spain and, in England, Benjamin Bucknall, Viollet's foremost English follower and translator, whose masterpiece was Woodchester Mansion. [118] The flexibility and strength of cast-iron freed neo-Gothic designers to create new structural Gothic forms impossible in stone, as in Calvert Vaux's cast-iron Gothic bridge in Central Park, New York dating from the 1860. Vaux enlisted openwork forms derived from Gothic blind-arcading and window tracery to express the spring and support of the arching bridge, in flexing forms that presage Art Nouveau. [119]

Collegiate Gothic

Trinity College, Hartford: Burges's revised, three-quadrangle, masterplan Burgesplan.jpg
Trinity College, Hartford: Burges's revised, three-quadrangle, masterplan

In the United States, Collegiate Gothic was a late and literal resurgence of the English Gothic Revival, adapted for American university campuses. The term "Collegiate Gothic" originated from American architect Alexander Jackson Davis's handwritten description of his own "English Collegiate Gothic Mansion" of 1853 for the Harrals of Bridgeport. [120] [121] By the 1890s, the movement was known as "Collegiate Gothic". [122]

The firm of Cope & Stewardson was an early and important exponent, transforming the campuses of Bryn Mawr College, [123] Princeton University [124] and the University of Pennsylvania in the 1890s. [125] In 1872, Abner Jackson, the President of Trinity College, Connecticut, visited Britain, seeking models and an architect for a planned new campus for the college. William Burges was chosen and he drew up a four-quadrangled masterplan, in his Early French style. Lavish illustrations were produced by Axel Haig. [126] However, the estimated cost, at just under one million dollars, together with the sheer scale of the plans, thoroughly alarmed the College Trustees [127] and only one-sixth of the plan was executed, the present Long Walk, with Francis H. Kimball acting as local, supervising, architect, and Frederick Law Olmsted laying out the grounds. [126] Hitchcock considers the result, "perhaps the most satisfactory of all of [Burges's] works and the best example anywhere of Victorian Gothic collegiate architecture". [128]

The movement continued into the 20th century, with Cope & Stewardson's campus for Washington University in St. Louis (1900–09), [129] Charles Donagh Maginnis's buildings at Boston College (1910s) (including Gasson Hall), [130] Ralph Adams Cram's design for the Princeton University Graduate College (1913), [131] and James Gamble Rogers' reconstruction of the campus of Yale University (1920s). [132] Charles Klauder's Gothic Revival skyscraper on the University of Pittsburgh's campus, the Cathedral of Learning (1926) exhibited very Gothic stylings both inside and out, while utilizing modern technologies to make the building taller. [133]

Vernacular adaptations and the revival in the Antipodes

Church of St Avila, Bodega, California Saint Teresa of Avila Church, Bodega.jpg
Church of St Avila, Bodega, California

Carpenter Gothic houses and small churches became common in North America and other places in the late 19th century. [134] These structures adapted Gothic elements such as pointed arches, steep gables, and towers to traditional American light-frame construction. The invention of the scroll saw and mass-produced wood moldings allowed a few of these structures to mimic the florid fenestration of the High Gothic. But, in most cases, Carpenter Gothic buildings were relatively unadorned, retaining only the basic elements of pointed-arch windows and steep gables. A well-known example of Carpenter Gothic is a house in Eldon, Iowa, that Grant Wood used for the background of his painting American Gothic. [135]

New Zealand and Australia

Benjamin Mountfort, born in Britain, trained in Birmingham, and subsequently resident in Canterbury, New Zealand imported the Gothic Revival style to his adopted country and designed Gothic Revival churches in both wood and stone, notably in Christchurch. [136] Frederick Thatcher designed wooden churches in the Gothic Revival style, for example Old St. Paul's, Wellington, contributing to what has been described as New Zealand's "one memorable contribution to world architecture". [137] St Mary of the Angels, Wellington by Frederick de Jersey Clere is in the French Gothic style, and was the first Gothic design church built in ferro-concrete. [138] The style also found favour in the southern New Zealand city of Dunedin, where the wealth brought in by the Otago Gold Rush of the 1860s allowed for substantial stone edifices to be constructed, using hard, dark breccia stone and a local white limestone, Oamaru stone, among them Maxwell Bury's University of Otago Registry Building [139] and the Dunedin Law Courts by John Campbell. [140]

Australia, in particular in Melbourne and Sydney, saw the construction of large numbers of Gothic Revival buildings. William Wardell (1823–1899) was among the country's most prolific architects; born and trained in England, after emigrating his most notable Australian designs include St Patrick's Cathedral, Melbourne and St John's College and St Mary's Cathedral in Sydney. In common with many other 19th century architects, Wardell could deploy different styles at the command of his clients; Government House, Melbourne is Italianate. [141] His banking house for the English, Scottish and Australian Bank in Melbourne has been described as "the Australian masterpiece of neo-Gothic". [142] This claim has also been made for Edmund Blacket's MacLaurin Hall at the University of Sydney, [143] which sits in the quadrangle complex described as "arguably the most important group of Gothic and Tudor Revival style architecture in Australia". [144]

Global Gothic

Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus in Mumbai, India CSTM Mumbai Panoramic view by Dr. Raju Kasambe 20190712 (4) (cropped and fixed angles).jpg
Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus in Mumbai, India

Henry-Russell Hitchcock, the architectural historian, noted the spread of the Gothic Revival in the 19th and early 20th centuries, "wherever English culture extended – as far as the West Coast of the United States and to the remotest Antipodes". [145] The British Empire, almost at its geographic peak at the height of the Gothic Revival, assisted or compelled this spread. The English-speaking dominions, Canada, Australia particularly the state of Victoria and New Zealand generally adopted British styles in toto (see above); other parts of the empire saw regional adaptations. India saw the construction of many such buildings, in styles termed Indo-Saracenic or Hindu-Gothic. [146] Notable examples include Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (formerly Victoria Terminus) [147] and the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel, both in Mumbai. [148] At the hill station of Shimla, the summer capital of British India, an attempt was made to recreate the Home counties in the foothills of the Himalayas. Although Gothic Revival was the predominant architectural style, alternatives were also deployed; Rashtrapati Niwas, the former Viceregal Lodge, has been variously described as Scottish Baronial Revival, [149] Tudor Revival [150] and Jacobethan. [lower-alpha 16] [152]

Other examples in the east include the late 19th century Church of the Saviour, Beijing, constructed on the orders of the Guangxu Emperor and designed by the Catholic missionary and architect Alphonse Favier; [153] and the Wat Niwet Thammaprawat in the Bang Pa-In Royal Palace in Bangkok, by the Italian Joachim Grassi. [154] In Indonesia, (the former colony of the Dutch East Indies), the Jakarta Cathedral was begun in 1891 and completed in 1901 by Dutch architect Antonius Dijkmans; [155] while further north in the islands of the Philippines, the San Sebastian Church, designed by architects Genaro Palacios and Gustave Eiffel, was consecrated in 1891 in the still Spanish colony. [156] Church building in South Africa was extensive, with little or no effort to adopt vernacular forms. Robert Gray, the first bishop of Cape Town, wrote; "I am sure we do not overestimate the importance of real Churches built after the fashion of our English churches". He oversaw the construction of some fifty such buildings between 1848 and his death in 1872. [lower-alpha 17] [158] South America saw a later flourishing of the Revival, particularly in church architecture, [159] for example the Metropolitan Cathedral of São Paulo in Brazil by the German Maximilian Emil Hehl, [160] and the Cathedral of La Plata in Argentina. [161]

20th and 21st centuries

Construction of Washington National Cathedral began in 1907 and was completed in 1990. National Cathedral in DC.jpg
Construction of Washington National Cathedral began in 1907 and was completed in 1990.

The Gothic style dictated the use of structural members in compression, leading to tall, buttressed buildings with interior columns of load-bearing masonry and tall, narrow windows. But, by the start of the 20th century, technological developments such as the steel frame, the incandescent light bulb and the elevator made this approach obsolete. Steel framing supplanted the non-ornamental functions of rib vaults and flying buttresses, providing wider open interiors with fewer columns interrupting the view.

Some architects persisted in using Neo-Gothic tracery as applied ornamentation to an iron skeleton underneath, for example in Cass Gilbert's 1913 Woolworth Building [162] skyscraper in New York and Raymond Hood's 1922 Tribune Tower in Chicago. [163] The Tower Life Building in San Antonio, completed in 1929, is noted for the arrays of decorative gargoyles on its upper floors. [164] But, over the first half of the century, Neo-Gothic was supplanted by Modernism, although some modernist architects saw the Gothic tradition of architectural form entirely in terms of the "honest expression" of the technology of the day, and saw themselves as heirs to that tradition, with their use of rectangular frames and exposed iron girders.

Liverpool Cathedral, whose construction ran from 1903 to 1978 Liverpool Anglican Cathedral (64928225).jpeg
Liverpool Cathedral, whose construction ran from 1903 to 1978

In spite of this, the Gothic Revival continued to exert its influence, simply because many of its more massive projects were still being built well into the second half of the 20th century, such as Giles Gilbert Scott's Liverpool Cathedral [165] and the Washington National Cathedral (1907–1990). [166] Ralph Adams Cram became a leading force in American Gothic, with his most ambitious project the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York (claimed to be the largest cathedral in the world), as well as Collegiate Gothic buildings at Princeton University. [167] Cram said "the style hewn out and perfected by our ancestors [has] become ours by uncontested inheritance". [168]

Though the number of new Gothic Revival buildings declined sharply after the 1930s, they continue to be built. St Edmundsbury Cathedral, the cathedral of Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk, was expanded and reconstructed in a neo-Gothic style between the late 1950s and 2005, and a commanding stone central tower was added. [169] A new church in the Gothic style is planned for St. John Vianney Parish in Fishers, Indiana. [170] [171] The Whittle Building at Peterhouse, University of Cambridge, opened in 2016, matches the neo-Gothic style of the rest of the courtyard in which it is situated. [172]

Gothic Revival in other decorative arts

Besides architecture, the Gothic Revival also manifested in furniture, metalworks, ceramics and other decorative arts during the 19th century. In France, it was the first reaction against the hegemony of Neoclassicism. During the Restoration (1814–1830) and the Louis-Philippe period (1830-1848), Gothic Revival motifs start to appear in France, together with revivals of the Renaissance and of Rococo. During these two periods, the vogue for medieval things led craftsmen to adopt Gothic decorative motifs in their work, such as bell turrets, lancet arches, trefoils, Gothic tracery and rose windows. This style was also as "Cathedral style" ("À la catédrale"). [173] [174]


By 1872, the Gothic Revival was mature enough in the United Kingdom that Charles Locke Eastlake, an influential professor of design, could produce A History of the Gothic Revival. [175] Kenneth Clark's, The Gothic Revival. An Essay, followed in 1928, in which he described the Revival as "the most widespread and influential artistic movement which England has ever produced." [176] The architect and writer Harry Stuart Goodhart-Rendel covered the subject of the Revival in an appreciative way in his Slade Lectures in 1934. [lower-alpha 18] [178] But the conventional early 20th century view of the architecture of the Gothic Revival was strongly dismissive, critics writing of "the nineteenth century architectural tragedy", [179] ridiculing "the uncompromising ugliness" [180] of the era's buildings and attacking the "sadistic hatred of beauty" of its architects. [181] [lower-alpha 19] The 1950s saw further signs of a recovery in the reputation of Revival architecture. John Steegman's study, Consort of Taste (re-issued in 1970 as Victorian Taste, with a foreword by Nikolaus Pevsner), was published in 1950 and began a slow turn in the tide of opinion "towards a more serious and sympathetic assessment." [183] In 1958, Henry-Russell Hitchcock published his Architecture: Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries, as part of the Pelican History of Art series edited by Nikolaus Pevsner. Hitchcock devoted substantial chapters to the Gothic Revival, noting that, while “there is no more typical nineteenth-century product than a Victorian Gothic church”, [184] the success of the Victorian Gothic saw its practitioners design mansions, [74] castles, [185] colleges, [186] and parliaments. [184] The same year saw the foundation of the Victorian Society in England and, in 1963, the publication of Victorian Architecture, an influential collection of essays edited by Peter Ferriday. [187] By 2008, the fiftieth anniversary of the founding of the Victorian Society, the architecture of the Gothic Revival was more fully appreciated with some of its leading architects receiving scholarly attention and some of its best buildings, such as George Gilbert Scott's St Pancras Station Hotel, being magnificently restored. [188] The Society's 50th anniversary publication, Saving A Century, surveyed a half-century of losses and successes, reflected on the changing perceptions toward Victorian architecture and concluded with a chapter entitled “The Victorians Victorious”. [189]


North America

South America

Australia and New Zealand


Decorative arts


  1. Christopher Wren consciously set out to imitate Cardinal Wolsey's architectural style. Writing to Dean Fell in 1681, he noted; "I resolved it ought to be Gothic to agree with the Founder's work", adding that to do otherwise would lead to "an unhandsome medley". Pevsner suggests that he succeeded "to the extent that innocent visitors never notice the difference". [11]
  2. This was Walpole's appraisal of the sham castle at Hagley Park, Worcestershire designed by his friend, Sanderson Miller. [16]
  3. Tours of the house, conducted by Walpole's housekeeper, Margaret Young, proved hugely popular. Walpole wrote to a friend; "I am so tormented by droves of people coming to see my house, and Margaret gets such sums of money by showing it, that I have a mind to marry her". [17]
  4. Alfred's Hall, built by Lord Bathurst on his Cirencester Park estate between 1721 and 1732 in homage to Alfred the Great, [20] is perhaps the earliest Gothic Revival structure in England. [21]
  5. The little-researched Clearwell Castle in Gloucestershire, by Roger Morris who also undertook work at Inveraray, has been described as "the earliest Gothick Revival castle in England". [23]
  6. Thomas Rickman trained as an accountant and his posthumous famed rested on his antiquarian researches, rather than his considerable corpus of buildings, which were disparaged as the creations of a "self-taught" architect. It was only towards the end of his life, and after, that the position of architect was recognised as a profession, with the establishment of the Institute of British Architects in 1834 and the Architectural Association in 1847. [31]
  7. Sir Walter Scott’s novels popularised the Medieval period and their influence went well beyond architecture. The historian Robert Bartlett notes that, at one point in the mid-19th century, four different stage adaptations of Ivanhoe were running simultaneously in London theatres, and nine separate operas were based on the work. [38]
  8. In Montreal, Quebec, Canada, the earlier neo-Gothic Basilica of Notre Dame (1842) belongs to the Gothic Revival exported from Great Britain. Its architect, James O'Donnell, was an Irish immigrant with no known connections to France. [58]
  9. The choice of the canonized wife of King Clovis, the first Christian king of a unified France, held significance for the Bourbons. [59]
  10. Pugin subsequently recanted, writing in the second of his two lectures, The True Principles of Pointed or Christian Architecture; "A man who remains any length of time in a modern Gothic room, and escapes without being wounded by some of its minutiae, may consider himself extremely fortunate. There are often as many pinnacles and gables about a pier glass frame as are to be found in a church. I have perpetrated many of these enormities in the furniture I designed some years ago for Windsor Castle... Collectively they appeared a complete burlesque of pointed design". [88]
  11. Pugin recorded his delight at the destruction of what he considered the wholly inadequate earlier restorations of James Wyatt and John Soane. "You have doubtless seen the accounts of the late great conflagration at Westminster. There is nothing much to regret...a vast amount of Soane's mixtures and Wyatt's heresies have been consigned to oblivion. Oh it was a glorious sight to see his composition mullions and cement pinnacles flying and cracking." [93]
  12. Ruskin also had an abhorrence of the contemporary "restorer" of Gothic buildings. Writing in the Preface to the first edition of his The Seven Lamps of Architecture, he remarked; "[My] whole time has been lately occupied in taking drawings from the one side of buildings, of which masons were knocking down the other". [96]
  13. The rumour that Scott repurposed his Foreign Office design for the Midland Grand Hotel is unfounded. [99]
  14. In the Preface to his Dictionary of French Architecture from 11th to 16th Century (1854–1868) ( Dictionnaire raisonné de l'architecture française du XIe au XVIe siècle ), le-Duc wrote of the ignorance of Gothic architecture prevalent at the start of the 19th century: "as for [buildings] which had been constructed between the end of the Roman empire and the fifteenth century, they were scarcely spoken of except to be cited as the products of ignorance or barbarousness". [109]
  15. Ruskin was unimpressed by Joseph Paxton's Crystal Palace, describing it as nothing but "a greenhouse larger than ever greenhouse was built before". [114]
  16. Thomas R. Metcalf, in his study An Imperial Vision: Indian Architecture and the British Raj, records a debate at the Royal Society of Arts in London in 1873 between proponents of the European and indigenous approaches. While T. Roger Smith contended that, "as our administration exhibits European justice, order, law and honour, so our buildings ought to hold up a high standard of European art", William Emerson argued that "it is impossible for the architecture of the west to be suitable for the natives of the east". [151]
  17. An unusual feature of the church building programme overseen by Bishop Gray was that the majority of the churches were designed by his wife, Sophy, a considerable rarity at a time when women were almost entirely excluded from the professions. [157]
  18. In his speech in 1976, on receiving the RIBA Gold Medal, Sir John Summerson recalled Rendel's contribution; "It was well known that Victorian architecture was bad or screamingly funny, or both. Rendel begged to differ, but what really stunned his audience was that he knew, and knew in great detail, what he was talking about". [177]
  19. Kenneth Clark, despite his sympathetic approach, recalled that during his Oxford years it was generally believed not only that Keble College was "the ugliest building in the world" but that its architect was John Ruskin, author of The Stones of Venice. The college was built to the designs of the architect William Butterfield. [182]

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Further reading

See also

Sub-varieties of the Gothic Revival style