The Gothic Revival Style in Art History

The Gothic Revival Style

The Gothic Revival style is a revival of architecture that took place in the early nineteenth century in England. Around 1840 to about 1880, the Renaissance happened when Victorian artists chose to build on previous classical styles. The architectural Gothic Revival is often referred to as Victorian Gothic or Neo-Gothic, based on medieval cathedrals and castle designs. As a restoration of the original Gothic style used in the medieval era, the Gothic Revival was introduced. Houses is modelled on the forms of the early churches, cathedrals and castles of this period, marking the innovative Gothic architecture of the 12th century. Gothic furniture as the years passed on, continued being different to classical furniture. The excitement of Gothic art dominated till around the 16th century when it died down. Upon its subsequent revival, Gothic furniture primarily symbolized affluence and class of the owner. The Gothic Revival began in America but quickly gained popularity in Europe. This style of furniture was especially popular with the opulent and rural residents.

Cause and Inspiration of the Gothic Revival Style

The roots of the Gothic Revival can be traced back to France in the 12th century. During this period, furniture was made based on Gothic architecture. Paint was initially preferred for decoration of furniture. However, carvings were heavily used during the Gothic Revival of early nineteenth century (I.). Gothic Revival style had religious inspiration in that it was based on church designs. Medieval cathedrals’ designs were transferred onto furniture to create Gothic Revival furniture. The style also borrows from the design of early castles which made Gothic Revival to be more significant among the high-end educated section of society. In this sense, therefore, the Neo-Gothic awakened the interest in the church and in Christianity as a whole. The movement of educated art lovers from America into Europe’s schools and art is considered the driving force behind the Gothic Revival of the 19th century.

Features of Gothic Revival Furniture

The furniture during the Victorian area was characterized by several factors. These attributes made the furniture appealing especially to the rich connoisseurs of the 19th century. Initially, gothic revival houses were made of stone and brick just like medieval cathedrals and churches. However, wood quickly became the main material used became wood. The availability of heavy lumber from America and the growing lumbering technology facilitated the Gothic Revival. The following hallmark features characterized Gothic Revival furniture:

  • More space- initial Gothic furniture was made small and with ornamental hinges for the chests. By contrast, furniture during the Gothic Revival was made larger, stronger and more spacious owing to the use of hinged doors and embedded storage spaces within the furniture. This welcome increase in space was created by using three-dimensional sideboards and building legs that could create more space. This characteristic served to establish Gothic Revival furniture as a mainstay of indoor décor in Gothic houses.

  • Intricate gothic motifs- During the Gothic era of the 12th to 16th century, Gothic furniture decoration was mainly using painting and basic shapes. In the 19th century, however, Gothic Revival furniture was donned by heavy ornamental shapes and intricate carvings to create unique finials and motifs. Intricate patterns were added to various furniture items in the form of trefoils, quatrefoils and cinquefoils according to their respective number of carvings. In addition to tracery, gothic furniture also featured pointed arches and spiky shapes. These features effectively made Gothic Revival furniture unique and appealing, especially to the rich educated class.

  • Higher durability- Gothic furniture was also made of heavy wood like oak and rosewood, mahogany and walnut that significantly increased the furniture’s durability (Segal). Features to increase furniture life span were duly added onto the furniture; legs were introduced for flat items while extra layers were created on sitting furniture to make them stronger and more durable. The heavy nature of Gothic Revival furniture was primarily due to framing and reinforcement of the pieces using intricately contoured hardwood material. This feature also ensured most of Gothic Revival furniture would not be moved around much but rather remain a part of the domestic Gothic interior.

What makes Gothic Revival so Distinctive?

The Gothic Revival stood out for its geometrical nature in construction of various items and intricate decorations. Certain ornamentation motifs are associated with Gothic Revival furniture; trefoils, quatrefoils, cinquefoils, linen-fold, wheels and the rose. While initial Gothic style furniture was elementary and relatively simple, it evolved to complex and intricate ornamentation. Tracing became the single most telling feature of Gothic Revival furniture. Most of Gothic Revival furniture was both framed and reinforced by well-carved hard wood available during the 19th century. The invention of the steam-powered saw mill, coupled with the availability of hardwood at the time accentuated the revival of the Gothic style in America and Europe. Gothic Revival houses were heavily ornamented and carved out according to personal preference drawing from old medieval chapels and castles (Reagan). These houses ranged from Gothic Cottages to Gothic Villas which were mostly situated in rural settings. The windows were constructed with arched carvings of between three to five significant shapes. The shapes of boards and eaves of the houses were also styled by intricate carvings. The main decoration for the houses was carving and various ornaments used.

Gothic Revival furniture was created in conjunction with Gothic houses to provide a perfect match. The furniture was distinctive for the use of hardwood to build, frame and reinforce the furniture and the use of heavy fabric in the upholstery. This feature made Gothic Revival furniture become significantly heavier and static. For this reason, Gothic Revival furniture was primarily used for decorative purposes in Gothic houses. Some of the hardwood used in Gothic Revival furniture includes rosewood, mahogany, oak and walnut. Leather and velvet was mainly used in upholstery and in other cases, brocade was the preferred choice. Furniture was made with straight legs that reduced destruction and pointed arches that tended formed a spiky shape at the top, mostly on Gothic Revival chairs and beds. These unique furniture decorative shapes, coupled with intricate ornamentation borrowed from medieval castles and cathedrals, presented an architectural revival that made Gothic Revival style so distinct in this period.

Gothic Furniture Pieces

Gothic Chair

Initially, Gothic chairs were smaller and made out of basic shapes like rectangles or circles. Gothic Revival chairs, on the other hand, were much larger and more intricately ornamented. Gothic Revival chairs were relatively rare and were primarily reserved for the masters of the house. This particular chair epitomizes the Gothic Revival in its features that make it so distinct. The chair was designed by Thomas Chippendale in England in the late 18th century. This chair is made of heavy wood, oak in specific that is well-polished. The chair makes minimal use of painting; rather it is decorated with ornamentation. The carvings on the chair, particularly on the back rest and between the legs are Gothic trefoils that were popular during the Gothic Revival. The shapes of the carvings are distinct and symmetric as in all other Gothic revival furniture. The chair has pointed arches at the top; a major feature of Gothic Revival furniture. The chair, in addition, has long reinforced legs to give it a majestic presence. The legs also serve to reduce wear and tear on the chair’s surface. To this effect, the Gothic Revival chair is further reinforced with elaborate Gothic architectural tracery. This was important since Gothic Revival chairs were mostly used by the leader of the house and therefore ought to indicate a certain prestige. The upholstery of this chair is made of velvet, a heavy fabric that would increase the chair’s comfortability. Nonetheless, Gothic Revival furniture was not only made for the comfort it provides to its users but also to symbolize medieval architecture.

Gothic Cupboard

Gothic Revival chests were and still remain one of the most breathtaking pieces of historical furniture. These chests were divided into armoires, cupboards, buffets and cabinets. Initially, Gothic chests were intended for luggage-carrying purposes. Therefore, they were made basic, light and with ceremonial hinges. However, all this changed with the Gothic Revival. Chests became heavier, more ornamented and an integral part of the in-house décor. In addition, they came with more space and accessibility making them a fixture of Gothic Revival houses.

The above particular Gothic cupboard was designed by Walnut French Cupboards in the 18th century in France. This cupboard is a Gothic Revival cupboard owing to the Gothic Revival features it possesses. Firstly, the cupboard is made of walnut, a hardwood available in Europe during the 19th century. This is in line with the use of hardwood to create durable furniture during the Gothic Revival. The walnut boards of the cupboard are straight and symmetrical in design; majorly indicative of the Gothic Revival. A major indicator that this chair is Gothic Revival furniture is the use of intricate carvings on the doors and sides of the cupboard. The carvings form a floral motif by use of a Gothic trefoil and cinquefoil for decoration. The ornamentation just above the legs indicates tracery and carved finials that typified Gothic Revival furniture. The cupboard is not really painted but has its smooth hardwood surface polished and chiseled into intricate Gothic shapes and patterns. The cupboard also has real hinges that were introduced during the Gothic Revival. This enables the cupboard to open up to more space that can be used by the owner. The addition of legs to this cupboard is also an exclusive feature of Gothic Revival that was meant to reduce destruction and wearing off of the furniture. This Gothic Revival cupboard typifies Gothic Revival chests and furniture in general; intricate, large, symmetrically and well-decorated spiky pieces.

Works Cited

I., Thomas Harding. Architects of Little Rock. Arkansas: University of Arkansas Press, 2014. Print.

Reagan, Charles Wilson. The New Encyclopedia of Art Culture: Art and Architecture. North Carolina: University of North Carolina Press, 2013. print.

Segal, Troy. The Spruce. 4 April 2017. Print. 10 November 2017.

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