The essay I'm writing is a comparison of the two main art styles in the Middle Ages: Romanesque and Gothic, applied mostly to architecture, not so much to art in general.
Both styles were placed in Western Europe, in the Middle Ages, but not at the same time; Romanesque was first. It began in 7th century, reach to the rest of western Europe in a short period of time, and it was the main architectural and artistical style until 12th century, when it gave way to the commencement of Gothic architecture. The Gothic style was developed fully in France and England during the 12th century. By the 13th century, Gothic style spread to Germany.
Gothic period followed the Romanesque period. Though, they did not follow the same elements. The primary difference between Gothic cathedrals and Romanesque churches is ideological.
Romanesque and Gothic styles of architecture were some of the few symbols of civilization in the poverty Middle Ages. These two main styles of architecture, have many similarities, but also have many differences. This is because lifestyles changed in the time between these two époques. Romanesque was designed to be more for protective purposes than for any aesthetic quality, as gothic cathedrals. Monasteries housed the relics of saints, and during the Romanesque period the cult of relics became a major cultural factor influencing architecture. Devout Christians would undertake longpilgrimagesin order to visit and venerate the relics of saints and martyrs. People travelled widely to visit sites and see relics believing them to have curative powers. These large numbers of people travelling created standard routes from one monastery to another "Pilgrimage Roads"- they became routes of trade/commerce and travel. Gothic style architecture included big churches called cathedrals. Cathedrals had tall skyscraper-like towers. They made them that way to get people to look up in the sky and think of God; the experience of looking at one of the great gothic cathedrals is to look up towards divinity. That is why most Gothic structures emphasize the vertical. Gothic cathedrals represented faith, dedication, and cooperation. The spiritual attitude that dominated the Romanesque age was not as strong and sure during the Gothic. In the earlier period, people believed that the world was a God - inspired mystery that could be expressed in art. Through engineering, intellect and spirituality these cathedrals perfectly express the medieval mind. The church in the Middle Ages was a place that all people, could belong to.
The ideal in from 7th century to 10th century, approximately, was permanence, stability and eternalness, and they based their ideas on classical background. Later on, in the Gothic period, they changed their mind. It was a more convulse era, and they liked to experiment with new discovers. Romanesque was a more static age; restlessness is a characteristic of Gothic period.
The primary characteristics of Romanesque architecture were Roman in origin: large internal spaces, covered by barrel vaults, rounded arches on doors and windows, and thick walls. In Gothic architecture, none of the style elements such as the pointed arch, ribbed groin vault, and the pilgrimage choir plan are really new. They can be found separately in various Romanesque structures, but never in the same building. Gothic style has three main characteristics that make it its own unique style: highness, vertical lines and flying buttresses.
Romanesque buildings were solid, heavy because of the thick walls, and, as a result of the comparatively small windows, dimly lighted. They had a heavy frame structure. Gothic cathedrals were built with a slender skeleton, made up with pointed arches and flying buttresses, which gives impressions of harmony and luminosity.
Gothic architecture involved lots of big windows of stained glass, which was impossible for Romanesque buildings, where the thick walls made it not viable to open big spaces on it. Romanesque had splayed windows, and Gothic had mullioned windows, so Gothic is more luminous than Romanesque.
The ribbed vault gave the builders a flexibility of design and construction that was simply not possible with the barrel or groin vault. It was easier to construct than the barrel or groin vault, and it was stronger and more flexible. The ribbed vault is made by combining three separate but connected arches. These are the transverse arches that span the ends of the vault, the lateral or longitudinal arches that span the length or sides of the vault, and the two diagonal arches that reach from corner to corner... Instead of one large curved surface to cover with a webbing of concrete, the vault was divided into smaller sections or cells that could be filled with concrete. The second great advantage of the ribbed or arched vault was the flexibility it gave to the builder. This came about not by using a diagonal arch but by breaking the round arches. A broken arch becomes a pointed arch. The breaking of the round arch allowed the builder to vary the height of each of the three arches, the transverse, the longitudinal, and the diagonal. There is always lateral thrust as weight tries to spread outward. With the barrel vault the lateral thrust is considerable and has to be met with thick walls or with side aisles that serve as buttresses to the main vaults, the vaults of the side aisles served as raised buttresses. The ribs of the aisle vaults could reach over the aisles from the massive exterior walls, which allowed the builder to open the aisle arcade to the nave. Hidden under the aisle roofs, the aisle vault arches were really the first flying buttresses. In reality, the flying buttress is the arch of an aisle vault raised above the aisle roof to the position where it absorbs the most thrust from the main vaults.
The invention of the flying buttress was a later improvement. Development of the flying buttress allowed medieval builders to construct taller and more delicate-looking buildings. The flying buttress directs the force of the wall out and down into the ground. As flying buttresses are perpendicular to the walls, this opens up space between the buttressing for stained glass windows.
A significant characteristic of gothic architecture is height. However, the higher the wall, the more force there is pushing in a outwardly direction. Buttresses allowed builders to go higher with their walls as it allowed more support. Romanesque buildings are lower, because that epoch is more primitive, so builders had less technological advances. Romanesque walls support all the weight of the building, and the forces of the barrel vaults, so they can't be much high.
Romanesque churches are built in the shape of a Latin cross; they base their form in Roman basilica, modified by the addition of aisles to the nave, buttress, transept, and tower, whereas the cross section of Gothic cathedrals is more compact and condensed.
The decoration on Romanesque buildings was plane and geometrical, and it was very scarce. Gothic used lots of sculpture, and its ornaments are delicate but functional. Even the most little part of the most little sculpture works as an structural element.
The entrance to a gothic cathedral was usually decorated with sculpture. Using the sculpture in successive arches creates what is called an archivolt. The semi-circular arch above the door was called a tympanum. In Romanesque churches, the tympanum was decorated with geometrical forms, or with more primitive sculpture, which were thin and elongated figures, almost abstract. Gothic sculpture was more realistic and proportionate.
Ribbed vaulting was very important for structural as well as design reasons. This allows finish work and decoration to be done on the ribs creating a light, delicate look.
There were some ornamental elements that are new in Gothic age. For example, the gargoyles. The original purpose of a gargoyle was to act as a spout to prevent seepage and damage to the building. People believed they could scare away evil.
The beauty and elegance of Gothic architecture is depicted most in the great cathedrals of the 12th, 13th and 14th centuries—St. Denis, Notre Dame, Chartres, Salisbury, Durham, Amiens, and more. An example of Romanesque cathedral, we can see St. Sernin, in Toulouse, France.
As a conclusion, I can say that Gothic architecture introduces a lot of advances, which is normal, because it had place almost five centuries later. Romanesque architecture has a lot of merit, because it is not easy to make such resistant buildings.