Gothic art dates back to around 1140AD in France, where it was first reported to be used. Italian writers first used the word gothic in a pejorative context likening gothic architecture to the work of barbarian Goths.
The beauty of gothic architecture is primarily based on the structural sophistication. According to Tallon and Ochsendorf, the gothic structures were constructed using solid stone vaults, the downside to this was that they were heavy and had too much outside pressure which could lead to the crumbling of buildings. A breakthrough in this department came around the 12th century in the form of the ribbed vault. The ribbed vault reduced pressure by replacing the round arch with a pointed one, which is more vertical; hence, directing the pressure downwards. The ribbed vault consisted of stone arches running in different directions and was much thinner and lighter (2348). Further pressure could be reduced using the buttress, which later came to be known as the flying buttress since they could often extend into the aisles on the sides of the buildings which were mostly churches or other large buildings. The advent of thin walls with a provision for glass windows provided room for extensive interior design; thus, representing a revolutionary breakthrough in the building.
The new vault provided room for a variety of shapes which could be chosen after drawing the ground plans of different shapes. However, the Cathedrals maintained a basic plan, which usually involved a long nave with three aisles, a transept cut across the nave with a shorter choir, and sanctuary coming right after. They also retained the chevet, which is from the French Romanesque architecture. The chevet has an ambulatory from which a series of chapels follow. The design also consists of tall piers, thin shafts rising through the clerestory, springing ribs and a pointed arch all contributing to the unique expression of gothic architecture (Mittler 340).
Excluding the western facade, the exterior of a basic gothic cathedral, church, or castle, which were the main users of gothic architecture is essentially designed to act as an exoskeleton for supporting the vaults. The Gothic facade is characterized by a large parallelogram surmounted by twin towers, three aisles in the interior and a large rose window above the central portal providing a detailed focus on the entire design.
Rolph explains that Gothic architecture is easy to tell from the other architectures due to its undeniably unique features. The breakthrough in gothic architecture allowed for the construction of tall buildings, which was earlier curbed by the mere weight stone walls. From the typical height is the flying butters, which can be classified as the most outstanding external characteristic and the beauty of it is the fact that it is decorative too besides reducing the pressure (111). Pointed arches and a vaulted ceiling are other notable features of the gothic architecture that differentiate it from other architectures. Another dominant feature is the bright and airy nature of gothic architecture. Before these cathedrals, castles and the like used to be moist, dark, and probably dump compared to a gothic architecture whose tall design provides lots of room for windows creating a much more pleasant environment. Finally, in the distinctive features of Gothic architecture are the gargoyles, which are decorative creatures taking different forms found on roofs or other locations in gothic architecture.
Gothic architecture proved to be an important method of attracting a faithful congregation. Builders were now free to use stained-glass windows between walls. This allowed for the streaming of light into the cathedrals, making the glass brighter and attractive. Stained glass windows have also been used to instruct the congregation. They contain stories that represent the lives of Christ, saints as well as the Virgin Mary that have been maintained for many years (Mittler 334).
Gothic constructions depicted religious devotion and also civic pride. Different from the rural settings of Romanesque churches, they were products of the new and successful cities. This was especially seen in the rivalry between bishops as to whose cathedral was the tallest, or more beautiful. In successful cities, all residents wanted to have a part in constructing these elaborate structures. They joined individuals from every divide in contributing money and effort towards the construction of a magnificent place to worship and in making their cities beautiful. The Gothic style was also adapted to other countries in Europe. In addition, the pointed arches and flying buttresses allowed the fitting of stained glass windows in between walls. Gothic architecture has continued to fascinate architects, historians, and engineers for many centuries.
As Mittler explains, sculptural decorations with an upward tendency are distinctively noted in pointed arches, pillars, and windows of gothic cathedrals. This was an improvement from the Romanesque carving of statues that were firmly attached to the wall. Gothic sculptors made theirs project into space and more recognizable and familiar to biblical figures. The use of monumental painted crucifixes at the high altars as part of rood screen became widespread and had greatly been employed since the thirteenth century. The development of altarpieces became instrumental in dignifying and distinguishing roles; for instance, saints depicted for emulation and veneration from other figures needing representation (333).
Mittler goes on to elaborate that Italian builders employed the use of paintings on wooden panels to decorate the interior of churches. They had religious meanings and expressions. The diverse techniques used in painting this gothic structure revolutionized how artistic impressions are employed to portray certain emotions and gestures are passed on to a congregation. The stylish art became appealing to the tastes of the rich throughout Western Europe. Therefore, the demand for manuscripts demonstrated in this way grew in great detail. This gave rise to the International style of painting. In essence, the concern for a more realistic approach to gothic sculptors was thus achieved (345).
Gothic architecture is still widely used in the United States as well as in modern architecture as evidenced by a number of buildings on most American college campuses. For instance, the Towers and chapels in the modern society still depict this form of architecture.