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Dictionary of the History of Ideas

Studies of Selected Pivotal Ideas
170 occurrences of ideology
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170 occurrences of ideology
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In current usage the term “Gothic” has two main
applications: (1) to a Germanic tribe that played a
major role in the dismemberment of the Roman Empire


in the fourth and fifth centuries of our era, and (2) to
the last of the great medieval styles of art and archi-
tecture, flourishing chiefly from the mid-twelfth
through the fifteenth century. (Note that the use of
Gothic as a term of stylistic analysis is restricted to
modern times; it was not so employed during the
medieval period itself.) Apart from these well-defined
and seemingly unrelated current senses, scholarly and
polemical writings from the fifteenth through the
nineteenth century reveal a surprisingly wide range of
meanings, most of them now surviving in at best
shadowy form—though they once had far-reaching
implications for aesthetics, political thought, and social
customs. In fact the two currently accepted senses may
be likened to modern towns built on very old sites,
with the present urban pattern overlying successive
strata of earlier development and with the roads and
tracks which linked the two sites in former times just

Historically, two great trends—ethnological and
critical-aesthetic—have conditioned the growth of the
idea of the Gothic. The first trend is a body of ethno-
logical and historical speculation combining the pres-
ervation of authentic traditions with fanciful embroi-
dery based on a defective philological method. In the
Middle Ages the term Goth served—as it still does
today—to designate the Germanic tribal group that
migrated into Spain, southwestern France, and Italy
in the late phase of the Roman Empire. In addition,
however, through confusion with the Getae, a histori-
cally distinct group, its scope was extended to the
inhabitants of Scandinavia, which was sometimes re-
garded as the original home of the larger amalgam.
This extension figures prominently in the sixth century
in the Gothic History of Jordanes, who denied it from
Orosius and Cassiodorus. Another source, a ninth-
century vernacular rendering of Bede, was to lead
seventeenth-century English students of Anglo-Saxon
language and literature to a further amplification,
identifying the Goths with the Jutes who had settled
in southern England. Thus the Old English dictionary
compiled by William Somner (Dictionarium Saxino-
Oxford, 1649) defines Gothi as “Jutes,
Getae, Gothes.” Through this process of identification
the scope of the term Goth expanded enormously:
geographically, to the borders of the Germanic world
in Scandinavia and its offshoots in Iceland and Green-
land, as well as to England; and temporally, reaching
early modern times so that, for example, it seemed
natural to hail the seventeenth-century Swedish king
Gustavus Adolphus as a paragon of the Gothic virtues.

The second main trend appearing in writings on the
historical evolution of the Gothic idea is a value judg-
ment. Gothic appears as a pejorative label for medieval
traits and customs considered outworn and repugnant.
Not only were the Goths lumped together with the
Vandals and Huns as destroyers of classical Mediter-
ranean civilization, but they were also held to have
played a further disastrous role in the creation of the
bastard culture that took its place. Thus Gothic came
to be employed to designate bad taste in general.

In the discussion that follows other factors will
emerge, but the main development results from the
interweaving of the ethnological and aesthetic trends.
Paradoxically, Gothic is and is not equivalent to medi-
eval tout court, and the connotations associated with
it are complex, so much so that they seem at times
to defy exact definition. In order to bring out the
variety of nuances it has sometimes been necessary to
depart from a strictly chronological exposition in the
following account, which stresses the critical-aesthetic
trend at the outset, then the ethnological.

1. The Renaissance Tradition:Gothic Barbarism.
The pejorative use of the term “Gothic,” which was
dominant in modern times at least until the late eight-
eenth century, depended on a three-stage concept of
history apparently first adumbrated by Petrarch, and
then elaborated and diffused by Filippo Villani, Leone
Battista Alberti, and other Italian humanists of the
Renaissance. According to this concept two periods of
cultural excellence—classical antiquity and the nascent
modern era—flank a dark chasm of ignorance and
barbarism, the Middle Ages. The Italian scholars
blamed the Germanic invaders for this catastrophe. In
two areas of cultural development—handwriting and
architecture—they specifically emphasized the perni-
cious role of the Goths. Lorenzo Valla, whose anti-
medieval attitude is exemplified in his best-known
achievement, the exposure of the “Donation of Con-
stantine” as a forgery, condemned the “monkish” Black
Letter script as Gothic, a designation which serves to
distinguish late medieval script from the Carolingian
and Renaissance hands that precede and follow it. (In
Germany a version of Gothic script, termed Fraktur,
survived in printed books into the twentieth century.)
Valla also suggested that the Goths were responsible
for the decay of the Latin language. From this usage
the term could be extended, as by François Rabelais,
to condemn a coarse and rustic literary style, i.e., one
employed by writers insufficiently disciplined by study
of good Greek and Latin models. Yet the most influen-
tial pejorative use of the Gothic idea is due to the
reflections on architecture of the art historian Giorgio
Vasari. In his Lives of the Architects, Painters and
(1550), Vasari generally follows his fifteenth-
century predecessors Manetti and Filarete in designat-
ing medieval architecture as simply “German”
(tedesco). On several occasions, however, he attributes
it specifically to the Goths (though he does not use
the adjectival form gotico, only the noun). Vasari con-


demns medieval architecture as disorderly, mean,
overdecorated, and flimsy in appearance. The archi-
tectural style presumably introduced by the Goths was
thus synonymous with a whole array of faults of taste,
standing at the opposite pole from the classical style,
which was held to be a universally valid model.

In the seventeenth century Vasari's polemic was
echoed in transalpine Europe, not only by specialist
writers on the visual arts such as Sir Henry Wotton
and Joachim von Sandrart, but also by poets such as
John Dryden and Molière. The last-named author, for
example, in his poem “La Gloire du Val-de-Grâce,”
inveighs against the fade goust des ornamens gothiques
(“outmoded taste for Gothic ornamentation”). All these
writers used the adjective Gothic—first attested in 1610
in this sense—as a matter of course, discarding the
older term “German,” possibly because of the chance
of confusion with modern Germany where cultivated
taste had long since rallied to the classical ideal. More-
over, the characteristic seventeenth- and eighteenth-
century doctrine of the parallel of the arts invited the
extension of the pejorative connotation of Gothic to
other media besides architecture. Charles Dufresnoy
(1611-88), in a posthumously published tract which
was to enjoy great popularity, De arte graphica, applied
the idea to painting. In France this approach struck
deep roots: in 1757 the Encyclopédie defined Gothic
painting as un genre de peinture aux formes grêles et
(“a style of painting with harsh and rigid forms”),
a judgment frequently echoed down to the first decades
of the nineteenth century.

Literature, however, provided the largest arena for
the search for Gothic aberrations, though it is notable
that the parallel with architecture is never far out of
mind, witness John Dennis' disapproving remarks on
the state of English literature in his day (1701): “While
the French reformed the structure of their poems by
the noble models of ancient architecture,... we re-
solved... to adhere to our Gothic and barbarous
manner.” The attractions of the parallel were, of
course, enhanced by the vogue among the nobility of
the Grand Tour, in which examples of ancient and
modern classical architecture were carefully inspected
with a view to the cultivation of taste in general. In
literature, apart from the broad condemnation of rustic
modes already found in Rabelais, more specific fea-
tures, correctly or incorrectly traced to medieval
sources, were exposed to pillory as Gothic faults. Poets,
for example, were admonished to cast off “Gothic
rhyme” and turn instead to blank verse, which was
held to be more in accord with the precepts of the
ancients. This admonition may be traced back as far
as Roger Ascham's Scholemaster (1570), and Jean-
Antoine de Baïf's Étrennes de poésie (1574). And in
England admirers of Tasso, Ariosto, Spenser, and other
supposedly medievalizing epic poets had to cope with
the charge that these works were hopelessly marred
by fanciful and chivalrous elements redolent of linger-
ing Gothic taste.

In the work of some critics the idea of the Gothic
escaped entirely from its historical moorings so that
phenomena we now would term baroque—Italian
opera, the architecture of Francesco Borromini, and
the complex metaphors of metaphysical poetry—are
tarred with the Gothic brush. In this way the category
of the Gothic could merge with that of the bizarre
or grotesque. Oddly enough, even the geometric gar-
dens of the Renaissance incurred censure as Gothic by
Bishop Richard Hurd (1719-1808) and other enthusiasts
for the freer and more “natural” art of English land-
scaping. These writers were, of course, unaware that
this trend in gardening, as Arthur O. Lovejoy has shown
(Essays..., pp. 136-65), was a subversive intrusion,
a harbinger of a new aesthetic orientation that was,
among other things, to achieve the rehabilitation and
even for a time the exaltation of the Gothic.

In England such social customs as duelling and
hunting were denigrated as survivals from the era of
Gothic darkness. In some eighteenth-century writers
the adjective is often reduced to an epithet meaning
simply “old-fashioned” or “countrified,” as in Oliver
Goldsmith's She Stoops to Conquer (1773), where Mrs.
Hardcastle, a self-proclaimed lady of fashion, com-
plains ironically of the “Gothic vivacity” (i.e., dullness)
of her husband, a conservative country squire.

Gradually, then, the idea of the Gothic broadened
to embrace almost any fault of taste, ranging from a
harmless social gaffe to the crudest barbarity. Paradox-
ically, Gothic aberration might stem not solely from
rusticity and lack of cultivation but also from perverse
overrefinement, as in the phenomena we now generally
regard as baroque. Thus the sanity of the classical
golden mean stood between the opposing menaces of
the Gothic Scylla and the Gothic Charybdis.

2. Positive Undercurrents. In this torrent of abuse
two underground trends of more positive character still
emerge, one in England, the other in Spain—two
countries which have always been somewhat periph-
eral to the main currents of European civilization, but
thereby more open to innovation. It was noticed by
English defenders of parliamentary rights as against the
presumed monarchic encroachments of seventeenth-
century Stuart absolutism that the institutions of rep-
resentative government did not in fact stem from the
much lauded era of classical antiquity. Even Tacitus,
that haughty Roman, could be summoned to testify to
the claims of the Germanic tribes to priority in the
invention of this institution. Thus according to the


Parliamentarians, the Germanic peoples of north-
ern Europe had an inbred disposition to free insti-
tutions in ineradicable opposition to tyranny and

This happy trait of the northern peoples, as con-
trasted with their less fortunate Mediterranean
counterparts, was sometimes designated “Gothic bal-
ance,” “Gothic government,” or “Gothic polity.” As
Algernon Sidney remarks, “All the northern nations,
which upon the dissolution of the Roman Empire pos-
sessed the best provinces that had composed it [sic],
were under that form which is usually called the Gothic
polity: They had king, lords, commons, diets, assem-
blies of estates, cortez and parliaments in which the
sovereign power of these nations did reside, and by
which they were exercised” (Discourses concerning
London, 1698). In the seventeenth cen-
tury English interest in the national past was not re-
stricted to political theory, nor was it confined to any
particular group—it spread into various circles con-
cerned with diverse realms of enquiry: royalist and
parliamentarian, Puritan and Catholic, aristocratic and
popular. As a result the English did great service in
pioneering in the exploration of various aspects of the
constellation that historically makes up the phenom-
enon of Gothic. This cultural nationalism stimulated
enthusiasm for the Anglo-Saxon (or Old English) lan-
guage, as exemplified by the production of various
dictionaries and philological treatises, an activity that
spread to the Continent in the first edition of the
Stockholm fragment of Bishop Ulphilas' fourth-century
version of the Bible in the Gothic language (Dordrecht,
1665), prepared by Franciscus Junius, who had been
the Earl of Arundel's librarian. Furthermore, attention
was directed to the surviving monuments in stone: the
cathedrals and other buildings of medieval England.
The three volumes of William Dugdale and Roger
Dodsworth's Monasticon anglicanum (1654-73) con-
stitute, as Paul Frankl (1960) has remarked, the “first
illustrated architectural history of a medieval style,”
though not surprisingly they provide little hint of the
various ramifications of the style.

Not long after, however, the architect Sir
Christopher Wren was to evolve, despite his primary
allegiance to the Renaissance tradition, a perceptive
account of the style and even to practice actual build-
ing in a late Gothic mode that anticipated K. F.
Schinkel, A. W. N. Pugin, and others. (It is significant
that Wren's Saracenic theory of the origin of the style,
while mistaken, has been revived by serious writers
of the mid-twentieth century.) The English state of
awareness contrasts with the fantastic approach to the
Gothic style that generally (though not invariably)
prevailed across the channel, where alchemical, astro
logical, and generically hermetic explanations were in
vogue, as exemplified by Gobineau de Montluisant's
Explication très curieuse des énigmes et figures hiéro-
glyphiques... de Notre-Dame de Paris
(Paris, 1640).
This hermetic approach to Gothic monuments was to
resurface in Victor Hugo's popular novel Notre-Dame
de Paris
(1831) and, a century later, in le Mystère des
(Paris, 1925, and later editions) by an
occultist who called himself Fulcanelli.

Other temptations, however, lay in wait for seven-
teenth- and eighteenth-century Englishmen who boldly
sought to explore the Gothic terra incognita. Apart
from the understandable temptation to exalt Gothic
as a purely national achievement, it could also be
viewed as a response to the salutary rigors of the
northern climate, thus resembling Arnold J. Toynbee's
later concept of “challenge and response.” In this way
the ground was laid for the later notion of “Nordic”
culture traits as contrasted with outworn, indeed
decadent Mediterranean values. In the earlier period
of English investigation and theorizing, however, the
need to defend the so-called “Gothic balance” and
related phenomena greatly diminished after the Glori-
ous Revolution of 1688 and the establishment of the
Hanoverian Dynasty in 1714. In the nineteenth cen-
tury, however, the notion was to enjoy a new lease
on life in the work of such historians as Edward Augus-
tus Freeman and John Richard Green, who traced the
progressive institutions of Victorian England to the
country's remote medieval past.

In Spain, the second exceptional country, the pre-
sumed Visigothic origin of the nobility led to much
speculation, ethnic, political, and social. In his De rebus
(1243) Archbishop Rodrigo of Toledo used
Jordanes to prove that the Spanish Goths were related
to the inhabitants of Gothia in Scandinavia. This con-
nection was repeated and embroidered by later Spanish
writers, contributing to an amusing imbroglio at the
Council of Basel (1431-49), where the Scandinavian
and Spanish delegates disputed over precedence on the
grounds of Gothic lineage. Gradually there developed
an extension of the meaning of the noun godo (“Goth”)
to signify “noble, well-born, illustrious” (attested as
early as 1490). In Spanish sixteenth- and seventeenth-
century authors the term acquired an ironic twist, as
in the expression hacerse de los godos (“to claim nobil-
ity, to put on airs”). And it is significant that the art
theorist Vicente Carducho in his Diálogos de la pintura
(1633), while condemning Gothic architecture in the
wake of Giorgio Vasari, takes pains to point out that
this degenerate mode was created by the Ostrogoths
of Italy and not by the revered Spanish Visigoths. In
Spain, then, the concept of the Gothic is bound up
with the emergence of a peculiar sense of national


distinctiveness, for which Cervantes' Don Quixote
stands, in some respects, as the archetypal figure.

3. Pre-romanticism and the “Gothic Mood.” The
positive sub-trends just mentioned were but exceptions
that proved the rule, for in the seventeenth and eight-
eenth centuries the general attitude to the idea of the
Gothic was overwhelmingly pejorative. The true basis
for a revaluation of the idea was laid in a series of
far-reaching changes in taste that developed primarily
in England (if present-day scholarship is correct) and
then spread to the Continent. This shift in taste pre-
supposed a loosening of the bonds of normative classi-
cism with its insistence on qualities of clarity, regular-
ity, and symmetry—qualities often exemplified, as has
been noted, by reference to concrete architectural
models. The shift was achieved by a gradual redefini-
tion of the pivotal concept of Nature, which had hith-
erto been monopolized by the classicists. Partly as a
result of the influence of the new fashion for English
landscape gardening, writers began to emphasize that
irregularity and variety were inseparable from any
adequate concept of Nature. Ultimately, these aspects
were subsumed under the general rubric of “the Pic-
turesque,” which was popularized by William Gilpin
(1724-1804). A related aesthetic concept, that of the
Sublime, assumed a pole of sensory experience, strongly
tinged with emotional expectancy, that was very
different from its opposite, the Beautiful. From this
it was but a step (though many, because of the prestige
of classical normative concepts, refused to take it) to
identifying the Beautiful with the classical, the Sublime
with the nonclassical. In this way the tables could be
turned, and Nature in its highest sense (the Sublime)
be linked to a departure from the constraint of classical
rules. In another direction, an ambiguous position
developed from the association of the natural with the
primitive or primordial, as in the work of the French
architectural critic, the Abbé Marc-Antoine Laugier
(1713-69). These various trends in taste are often linked
with emergent romanticism and the whole vast move-
ment is consequently termed “pre-romanticism.”

Another major factor in the improved climate of
response to the Gothic constellation is the growth of
the trend towards aesthetic relativism. As Bishop Hurd
asserted in 1762: “The Gothic architecture has its own
rules by which when it comes to be examined, is seen
to have its own merit, as well as the Grecian” (Letters
on Chivalry and Romance,
Letter VIII). Gradually and
uncertainly there developed the conviction, by no
means universally established even today, that every
cultural manifestation deserves to be evaluated in terms
of the conditions prevailing in the age in which it was
produced, rather than being judged in advance in
accordance with some predetermined external stand
ard. Thus the rise of aesthetic pluralism is closely linked
with the emergence of an appreciation for the phe-
nomena previously denigrated as Gothic.

It is important to note, however, that this rehabil-
itation of Gothic was a complex process, developing
in the later eighteenth century out of the mists of an
aesthetic constellation known as the “Gothic mood.”
Throughout the eighteenth century—and even into the
nineteenth as Michelet and Victor Hugo attest—
exploration of Gothic themes continued to be tinged
with an aura of the forbidden, the exotic, and the
supernatural. Such preoccupations were certainly to
the fore in the eighteenth-century fashion for grave-
yard or sepulchral verse compositions, sometimes sim-
ply called Gothic poetry. Such works as David Mallet's
The Excursion (1726) and Thomas Warton's The Pleas-
ures of Melancholy
(1747) present lurid images of
ghosts and owls infesting desolate moonlit landscapes
punctuated by tombs and ruins. Later in the century
the poems of “Ossian” with their evocation of a rude
but noble society localized in a quintessentially north-
ern setting were to bring this trend closer to the sphere
of aesthetic primitivism. Since the Celts of the Ossianic
poems were often wrongly annexed to the Germanic
stock, it was a simple matter for Klopstock and others
to enshrine Ossian in their pantheon of primordial
Germanic antiquities. Another feature closely con-
nected to this general complex is the so-called Gothic
novel, the fashion for this term being launched by
Horace Walpole's sensational The Castle of Otranto:
A Gothic Story

Walpole is, of course, also significant for his interest
in architecture, evidenced notably by the creation of
that important landmark in the early development of
the Gothic revival, Strawberry Hill, his country seat
near London, where the new work began in 1750. This
structure was, in all frankness, a somewhat flimsy and
unconvincing exercise, and the host of English garden
pavilions that followed in its wake deserve little better
than to be called sham Gothic. Yet the eighteenth
century indubitably saw the beginnings of the first
genuine efforts to grapple with the problem of giving
a firm theoretical basis to the understanding of Gothic

One of the most important lines of development in
this effort to achieve theoretical justification was to
trace Gothic building practices to a conscious imitation
of plant forms, especially trees (an idea that, inci-
dentally, was broached as early as 1510 by an anony-
mous writer, the pseudo-Raphael, in a report to Pope
Leo X on the antiquities of Rome, and then apparently
forgotten). In 1751 Bishop Warburton developed at
some length the idea that the Goths who had been
accustomed to worship in sacred groves were subse-


quently impelled to give their permanent religious
shrines the appearance of an avenue of trees. This
supposed origin of Gothic architecture, actually devoid
of any historical foundation, was nonetheless important
for the eighteenth century because it suggested a link
between Gothic and the mysterious fecundity of Na-
ture. Apart from such explanations, Gothic might also
be made more palatable by reforming it so as to bring
the style at least within hailing distance of classical
respectability. Thus an “improved” Gothic, suitably
pruned and chastened, could be exhibited as virtually
the peer of the classical orders, just as long before the
Italian Tuscan order had been cleaned up to take its
place among the other orders of pure Greek lineage.
This reform was primarily accomplished by the
brothers Batty and Thomas Langley in their Ancient
[i.e., Gothic] Architecture Restored and Improved by
Rules and Proportions
(London, 1742). The Langleys'
presentation of Gothic as a separate order had been
anticipated by Hans Vredeman de Vries' Architectura
(Antwerp, 1565). Nonetheless, as has been noted, actual
Gothic revival building of the eighteenth century
remained trifling and largely unserious, flourishing
alongside the ephemeral fashions for chinoiserie and

4. The Apotheosis of Gothic. The nineteenth cen-
tury was to see a complete reassessment of the qualities
of Gothic architecture, for building now became the
central concern of those who admired Gothic. For
some enthusiasts a startling reversal of values occurred,
and medieval architecture, at least in its culminating
phases, was seen to tower immeasurably over the aes-
thetic muddle of Renaissance work. In the atmosphere
of widespread disillusionment with the Enlightenment
tradition and the complementary fascination with me-
dieval civilization engendered by the romantic move-
ment, Gothic architecture came to be regarded as a
quintessential embodiment of true spiritual values—
and specifically as the vehicle of the highest aspirations
of the Christian religion. At the same time more atten-
tion was paid to the historical variations of medieval
building. Gothic was clearly differentiated from the
preceding Romanesque period, and its various phases
clarified. The enthusiasm for Gothic architecture par-
alleled the glorifying of pre-Renaissance painting—
the so-called taste for the primitives—which was espe-
cially promoted by English and German collectors,
artists, and critics. This interest led to a great revival
movement championed initially by the group of
German brethren known as the Nazarenes (founded in
1809 as the Lukas-Brüder, or Guild of Saint Luke) who
in Vienna and later in Rome tried to recapture the
devotional purity and innocence of late medieval
painting. The Nazarenes were followed at a distance
by analogous movements elsewhere, notably the Italian
purismo and the English Pre-Raphaelite group.

The trend toward a revaluation of the architecture
and painting of the Gothic era was furthered by a
powerful impulse toward a return to traditional
Christianity in the early nineteenth century. In fact,
many of the key figures in this movement either were
or became Roman Catholics. Enthusiasm for medieval
antiquities was undeniably broadly diffused among the
romantics; in 1832 Heinrich Heine went so far as to
claim that romanticism was “nothing but the re-
awakening of the poetry of the Middle Ages, as it
manifested itself in songs, sculptures and architecture,
in art and life (V, 217). In some respects this enthusiasm
for the Middle Ages and for Gothic architecture in
particular was a matter of fashion: thus Parisian letters
of 1834 record as superlatives current in the salons—
alongside such curiosities as pyramidale, babylonien,
and apocalyptique—the epithets gothique, ogival, and
flamboyant. Yet in the long run the contribution of
this enthusiasm, vague and unfocussed as it sometimes
was, to the understanding of medieval architecture and
the culture that produced it was enormous.

It is an ironic fact that a key role in the rehabilitation
of the concept of the Gothic was played by a figure
who later turned his back on the style and in fact on
romanticism as a whole. Goethe's Von deutscher
(1772), written in a highly rhapsodic style,
records the impact of Strasbourg Cathedral (or more
precisely the structure's west façade) during Goethe's
stay in the city. Despite the obscure circumstances of
its publication, this pamphlet came to be cherished by
all the principal German eulogists of Gothic during
the romantic era as a manifesto of prime significance.
Goethe likens the cathedral to a “tree of God,” its
marvelous wholeness accruing from the harmonious
interaction of countless tiny details. The German poet's
emphasis on the organic and living quality of the
building was to evoke a powerful response among his
younger contemporaries. At the same time, in his ex-
plicit polemic against the Abbé Laugier, whom Goethe
unfairly pilloried as a typical representative of narrow
French taste, he links his admiration for the cathedral
with the burgeoning German effort to escape from
French tutelage by rediscovering what would appear
to be one of the great landmarks of the national past
(actually Strasbourg Cathedral displays strong French

Moreover, Goethe, in exalting the creative genius
of the cathedral's architect Erwin von Steinbach, ig-
nored the building's character as a product of medieval
Christian ethos—quite apart from its national and
personal affiliations. This broader aspect of Gothic
architecture was, however, singled out a little later by


the novelist Wilhelm Heinse whose diary of 1780 de-
scribes Milan Cathedral as “the most glorious symbol
of the Christian religion that I have seen.” The Chris-
tian and mystical character of Gothic architecture was
strongly emphasized by the romantic critic and theorist
Friedrich Wilhelm Schlegel, who is also responsible
for diffusing the concept of Gothic architecture as the
tangible expression of the Infinite, a view which had
been adumbrated by the Englishman John Milner in
1800. The German enthusiasm for Gothic architecture,
tinged as it was by national and Christian accents,
culminated in the decision to complete Cologne Ca-
thedral according to the thirteenth-century plans

It was the English, however, with their greater eco-
nomic resources, who took the lead in the actual con-
struction of Gothic revival buildings. Neo-Gothic
structures erected in the first three decades of the
nineteenth century varied considerably as to archaeo-
logical accuracy. Yet the gradual diffusion of illustrated
handbooks assembled by such men as John Carter, John
Britton, and Thomas Rickman permitted the architects
to achieve a higher standard, while at the same time
helping to educate public taste.

The Gothic revival movement found an eloquent
champion in Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin, like
Friedrich Schlegel a convert to Roman Catholicism.
Apart from his emphasis on the essentially Christian
character of Gothic building, Pugin is important for
his early formulation of what was later to become the
functionalist credo in architecture. At the beginning
of The True Principles of Pointed or Christian Architec-
(London, 1843), he laid down two guiding rules:
(1) “That there should be no features about a building
which are not necessary for convenience, construction
or propriety,” and (2) “that all ornament should consist
of enrichment of the essential construction of a build-
ing.” In addition, Pugin linked the understanding of
Gothic architecture with the older idea that architec-
ture was the direct outgrowth of a society; in the effort
to return to Gothic standards no mere mechanical
copying of Gothic forms could suffice, for what was
needed was to recapture the spirit of medieval civili-
zation in its entirety.

Pugin was an eloquent spokesman for two important
doctrines, functionalism and the ethical evaluation of
architecture, both founded on his personal view of the
strengths of the Gothic style. The functionalist credo,
transmitted by William Morris and the English Arts
and Crafts Movement, was to come to fruition in the
German Bauhaus and related and widespread twentieth-
century trends. The ethical approach to architecture
had a shorter efflorescence, mainly in the middle years
of the nineteenth century when it was championed by
a host of writers associated with the Cambridge
Camden Society. Echoes of this approach, and even
dogmatic reformulations of it, are nonetheless occa-
sionally found in later writers such as Ezra Pound; cf.
his well-known usury Canto of 1937 (Canto XLV). The
veritable Lucifer of the ethical approach, however, is
John Ruskin, who despite his often strident advocacy
of the merits of Gothic, weakened the force of the
revival by various equivocations, among which was his
glorification of the bastard Venetian Gothic, an alien
model which undercut the claim of Gothic to eminence
as the characteristically northern (and consequently
English) style.

Despite these critical confusions, an enormous
amount of building was done in the revived Gothic
style, and the success of such nineteenth-century
English Gothicists as the prolific Sir George Gilbert
Scott, the sensitive George Edmund Street, and the
forceful William Butterfield greatly assisted the
emergence of analogous movements on the European
Continent and in North America. In the United States,
alongside much work that was imitative of the English
and European examples, there developed an indigenous
type of skyscraper Gothic, as exemplified by Cass
Gilbert's Woolworth Building (1913) in New York.
Perhaps the most creative figure to develop from the
matrix of the Gothic revival was the Catalan architect
Antonio Gaudì, for whom Gothic forms served as the
starting point for bizarre and personal experiments.
Moreover, beginning in the late nineteenth century the
effects of faceting and fragmentation suggested by
Gothic buildings attracted progressive painters in
search of new principles of visual organization. Claude
Monet's series on Rouen Cathedral was succeeded by
cubist and expressionist interpretations of Gothic
structures, such as those of Robert Delaunay, Lyonel
Feininger, and Chaim Soutine. The impress of Gothic
forms is also evident in the sets of German expressionist
films, notably Robert Wiene's Das Kabinett des Dr.
(1919). Incidentally, in Germany in the trou-
bled times after World War I the Gothic cathedral
might serve as a symbol of social reconciliation, as in
Fritz Lang's film Metropolis (1925), where the repre-
sentatives of capital and labor join at the end before
a huge Gothic cathedral façade.

Paralleling the various efforts to make creative use
of Gothic forms, however, were serious efforts to gain
a better understanding of the principles, sources, and
course of development of the style. Those following
this approach, which Paul Frankl (1960) terms “the
scholarly trend,” could draw on a considerable body
of antiquarian research, especially that accumulated
in England from the mid-seventeenth century onwards.
Jean-François Félibien des Avaux (1658-1733) had


been exceptional in France (and elsewhere in Europe)
in giving a clear statement of the difference between
the light and elegant mode of building we now know
as Gothic and the more massive work that had pre-
ceded it (Recueil historique de la vie et des ouvrages
des plus célèbres architectes,
Paris, 1687). This neces-
sary distinction was at best fitfully observed in the
following century, and one of the urgent tasks con-
fronting nineteenth-century scholars was still to sepa-
rate clearly Gothic architecture from the preceding
style, which was baptized Romanesque (a term ap-
parently invented independently about 1819 by
William Gunn and Charles de Gerville). The true prin-
ciples of the Gothic structural system were first eluci-
dated by the German scholar Johannes Wetter, in a
guide to Mainz Cathedral (1835). A little later his
fellow countryman, Franz Mertens, conclusively dem-
onstrated that the style had first appeared in France,
at the Abbey of Saint-Denis, and not in Germany or
England, as writers in these countries had chauvinis-
tically assumed. In France the greatest theorist and
historian of Gothic architecture was the brilliant and
industrious Eugène-Emmanuel Viollet-le-Duc, who,
benefitting from the labors of such archaeologists as
Arcisse de Caumont and Alexandre de Laborde,
worked out a prodigiously detailed account of the style,
embodied in his Dictionnaire raisonné de l'architecture
française du XIe au XVIe siècle
(Paris, 1854-68), and
Entretiens sur l'architecture (Paris, 1863-72), that re-
mains unsurpassed. Viollet-le-Duc regarded Gothic
architecture primarily as a system of equilibrium, and
emphasized the rationality and economy of its proce-
dures. His theories exercised a strong influence on
nineteenth-century building in iron and steel, as seen,
for example, in Gustave Eiffel's famous tower in Paris
and in the work of Baron Victor Horta in Brussels.
Viollet-le-Duc's rational approach to the interpretation
of medieval buildings was, however, to receive severe
criticism from Pol Abraham in Viollet-le-Duc et le
rationalisme médiéval
(Paris, 1934). Abraham con-
sidered the earlier scholar's method to be fantastic, a
mécanique romancée. More specifically, Abraham de-
nied the functional value of the rib; this debate, which
involved many scholars in the interwar period, has not
yet been conclusively resolved.

5. Aftermath. As the nineteenth century drew to a
close enthusiasm for Gothic generally slackened, while
at the same time the fashion for Gothic revival building
yielded to new modes derived from Renaissance and
baroque exemplars. Scholarly attention began to focus
increasingly on a more careful examination of individ-
ual monuments and groups of monuments so as to
define their status more exactly, a course that is still
being fruitfully pursued in the 1970's. In the twentieth
century, however, there were renewed efforts to un-
derstand Gothic art and architecture as the products
of a single essence of the civilization, thus harking back
to the broader perspective of the seventeenth and
eighteenth centuries. The German art historian Wil-
helm Worringer, for example, advocated a semimys-
tical conception of Gothic as the product of an inborn
racial factor, the Nordic spirit (Formprobleme der
Munich, 1912). A more abstract concept was
set forth by Dagobert Frey in his Gotik und Renais-
(Augsburg, 1929), where the key to the Gothic
attitude is seen in the factor of succession as against
simultaneity, which was supposed to have prevailed
in the Renaissance. Frey's concept, though buttressed
by many ingenious observations regarding such varied
topics as mapmaking and stagecraft, is essentially
unverifiable, as shown by the fact that it has been
possible for Marshall McLuhan to maintain just the
opposite, namely, that the era dominated by the prin-
ciple of succession set in only with the spread of print-
ing, i.e., after the effective end of the Gothic age. In
a more restricted fashion Erwin Panofsky attempted
a demonstration of the often mooted parallel between
Gothic architecture and scholastic philosophy, but
without success because of faulty methodology. It is
significant that historians of music and literature,
though often receptive to such art-historical concepts
as mannerism and baroque, have generally ignored the
concept of Gothic.

The inherent difficulty of reaching conclusions about
such a broad and much contested concept as Gothic
civilization may be illustrated by the thinking of Paul
Frankl who devoted much of his long life to a tenacious
effort to clarify just this problem. While Frankl elo-
quently affirmed his faith in the idea of Gothic Man
(concretely symbolized for him in the figure of the
suffering Jesus), he was forced to admit that even in
his chosen sphere of architecture most castles built
during the so-called Gothic period are decidedly
un-Gothic in style. Thus the Gothic cannot be defended
as a universally valid period concept even in architec-
ture, but is only applicable to ecclesiastical buildings,
their decoration, and sphere of influence.

In conclusion, attention must be drawn to two im-
portant results of the centuries-long quest for the
meaning of the idea of the Gothic (apart, that is, from
the incidental illumination it may offer to historians
in search of bypaths relating to such concepts as classi-
cism and the sublime). The first result is an elucidation
of certain essential and original traits of medieval
civilization—parliaments, the feudal system, special
genres of lyric and epic poetry—even though none of
these is normally termed Gothic nowadays. The second
result is the enhanced understanding of Gothic art and


architecture and its decoration. With its various phases
and manifestations, especially in cathedral building,
Gothic architecture is now generally recognized as
one of the greatest creations of Western civilization.


P. Frankl's vast The Gothic: Literary Sources and Inter-
pretations through Eight Centuries
(Princeton, 1960), con-
tains much valuable material and a large bibliography, but
is mainly concerned with architecture. A valuable pilot
project spreading a wider net in a particular area is J.
Haslag, “Gothic” im siebzehnten und achtzehnten Jahr-
(Cologne and Graz, 1963).

The following list gives other useful studies. E. S. de Beer,
“Gothic: Origin and Diffusion of the Term,” Journal of the
Warburg and Courtauld Institutes,
11 (1948), 143-62. Jan
Białostocki, “Late Gothic: Disagreements about the Con-
cept,” Journal of the British Archaeological Association, 29
(1966), 76-105. A. Bøe, From Gothic Revival to Functional
(Oslo, 1957). K. Clark, The Gothic Revival, 3rd ed.
(London, 1962), has valuable illustrations. C. L. Eastlake,
A History of the Gothic Revival (London and New York,
1872). R. Haferkorn, Gotik und Ruine in der englischen
Dichtung des 18. Jahrhunderts
(Leipzig, 1924). H. Heine,
Sämtliche Werke, ed. E. Elster, 7 vols. (Leipzig and Vienna,
1924). George Henderson, Gothic (Harmondsworth and
Baltimore, 1967). S. Kliger, The Goths in England...
(Cambridge, Mass., 1952). A. O. Lovejoy, Essays in the
History of Ideas
(Baltimore, 1948), pp. 136-65, “The First
Gothic Revival and the Return to Nature.” H. Messmer,
hispania-Idee und Gotenmythos (Zurich, 1960). E. Panofsky,
“The First Page of Giorgio Vasari's Libro: A Study on the
Gothic Style in the Judgment of the Italian Renaissance,”
in Meaning and the Visual Arts (Garden City, 1955), pp.
169-225. N. Pevsner, Ruskin and Viollet-le-Duc: Englishness
and Frenchness in the Appreciation of Gothic Architecture

(London, 1970). R. Menéndez Pidal, Los Godos y la epopeya
(Madrid, 1956). G. Previtali, la Fortuna dei primi-
tivi: Dal Vasari ai neoclassici
(Turin, 1964). A. W. N. Pugin,
The True Principles of Pointed or Christian Architecture
(London, 1843). W. D. Robson-Scott, The Literary Back-
ground of the Gothic Revival in Germany
(Oxford, 1965),
contains an extensive bibliography. E. Stutz, Gotische Liter-
(Stuttgart, 1966). J. Svennung, Jordanes und
Skrifter utgivna av k. humanistiska vetenskapssam-
fundet i Uppsala, Vol. 44, No. 2A (Stockholm, 1967); idem,
Zur Geschichte des Goticismus, Vol. 44, No. 2B, see above
(Stockholm, 1967). L. Venturi, Il Gusto dei primitivi
(Bologna, 1926). Otto von Simson, The Gothic Cathedral
(New York, 1956; also reprint). N. Wagner, Getica: Unter-
suchungen zum Leben des Jordanes und zur frühen
Geschichte der Goten
(1967), Quellen und Forschungen zur
Sprach- und Kulturgeschichte der germanischen Völker,
N. F., 22. J. F. White, The Cambridge Movement: The
Ecclesiologists and the Gothic Revival
(Cambridge, 1962).


[See also Baroque; Beauty; Classicism; Culture and Civili-
zation; Hermeticism; Romanticism; Style.]