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Romanesque and Gothic Architecture

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Romanesque architecture was the main style of church buildings, art and sculpture between 800-1100 AD. Gothic came after Romanesque and was the main architectural style of building churches, synagogues, palaces, castles, town halls, hospitals, bridges and courthouses from the mid 12th Century. This easy is going to compare and contrast these two architectural styles.

The obvious similarity is that both of them originated from Europe. The Romanesque architectures are the pioneering constructions that were development and were derived from Spain and France. The Romanesque architecture is also accredited with the development of various architectures and also contributed some points to the already existing ones while the first Gothic architecture to be widely noticed started in France. This was in ambulatory of the abbey of St. Denis built between 1140 and 1144. This church became a model for other churches around that period and beyond. The other similarity is that both had some religious connotation. They became famous with church buildings depicting the spiritual condition of their day. From church buildings they both spread to other areas of architecture such as in homes, public buildings and art. The two styles were also symbols of civilization in the poverty ridden medieval ages.

The difference between the Romanesque and the Gothic architecture was the style in which these buildings were constructed. In Romanesque the architecture was simple, regular and symmetrical which resulted in a simple finish, this was directly different from the Gothic architecture that was somehow complex and lacked certain features that the Romanesque had. .

Romanesque style was designed basically to provide protection mainly to pilgrims on their journey to pay homage to sacred places where miracles were believed to happen. 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 long pilgrimages in 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.

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These large numbers of people travelling created standard routes from one monastery to another "Pilgrimage Roads" − they became routes of trade/commerce and travel. The design was therefore inspired by the need to offer protection and to a large number of people.

Gothic on the other had aesthetic quality. The style included big churches called cathedrals. These cathedrals had tall towers made so to make people look up in the sky and probably think of their maker; the experience of looking up towards heavens at those tall gothic cathedrals is to look up towards God. This explains why most of the Gothic structures lay emphasis on the vertical. These cathedrals symbolized faith, dedication and cooperation. Part of the difference between these two styles has something to do with the age each was dominant. The influence of religion on the people was not as strong during the Romanesque age as it was during the Gothic ages. In the earlier Romanesque people were more pagan in their ways believing that the world itself was God. This inspired mystery that was expressed in art. Through engineering, intellect and religion these cathedrals expressed the thinking of the medieval ages. The church in the middle ages was a place for all people. These cathedrals’ architecture therefore was built with permanence, stability and eternalness in mind 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 buttressed.

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 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 a 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.

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 is St. Sernin, in Toulouse, France.

As a conclusion, 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.


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