Gothic style and culture
Originally, the term ’Gothic’ means barbarous or even rude – it was a term of insult in Renaissance times! The term originally refers to the style of architecture of the High and Late Medieval period, and it is chiefly characterized by the use of pointed arches, high ceilings with ribbed vaults and ‘flying buttresses’, the arched supports on the outside of cathedrals, which actually support the weight of the roof. At that time it was mainly used on European cathedrals and churches, as well as palaces, universities, castles, town halls and guild halls, and is associated with Christianity and its philosophy. It fell out of favour during the Renaissance.
The House of Lords.
In the C18th in Britain there was a revival of building in the Gothic style. The architect Pugin, who with Charles Barry designed the Houses of Parliament, admired the Gothic for its association with High Church Christian belief, saw it as the true Christian architecture and as being the product of a purer society. The major metropolitan cemeteries were built in parallel with this movement; Sir William Tite pioneered the first cemetery in the Gothic style at West Norwood in 1837, with chapels, gates, and decorative features in the Gothic manner, attracting the interest of contemporary architects such as Street, Barry, and Burges. He adopted a curved layout of paths, instead of the more Classical straight line, so that the walks in the cemetery would twist and turn up the hill to the two chapels. Pugin insisted on using the original materials associated with early Gothic: the limestone, red sandstone and green Purbeck marble can be see also in tombs around West Norwood. The style was immediately hailed a success and universally replaced the previous preference for classical design.
Now Gothic means something more than architecture. In 1764 Horace Walpole published The Castle of Otranto
, calling it a ‘Gothic story’. Jane Austen enjoyed lampooning the Gothic plot typical of Ann Radcliffe’s novels, such as The Mysteries of Udolpho
, 1794, in Northanger Abbey
, 1818, where the heroine has trouble distinguishing reality from the fantasy created by a Gothic sensibility.
In 1796 Matthew Lewis published The Monk
; its violence and subject matter shocked the reading public. The intense, emotional style of writing of Percy Bysse Shelley, of Lord Byron, and the darker subject matter of Baudelaire, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein
, and Edgar Allan Poe, has come to be associated with Gothic, and modern horror books and films are embraced by a contemporary British Gothic subculture, which also extends to an American style. It also has developed as a pop music genre and a style of dress. Its original meaning as ‘barbarous’ has come full circle and it is no longer associated with the ecclesiastical, but with a darker aspect of human culture and with the paraphernalia of death and mourning. The idea of ‘Gothic’ is constantly evolving, absorbing styles from other cultures.
Given that Goths are seen to reject 'normal' society, do you think that the sub-culture can ever become mainstream? Would this be desirable?
‘Mainstream culture will, as ever, steal the elements useful to them and leave the scene broken and soulless until it forms again’.
Found on: www.vam.ac.uk/gothic/object
The overgrown Victorian cemetery creates a romantic atmosphere readily appreciated by fans of the ‘Gothic’! Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula was partly set in Highgate cemetery and Lucy’s tomb is apparently based on a mausoleum there.
|West Norwood cemetery
||Highgate cemetery: entrance to the catacombs