Horace Walpole On Gothic Architecture
I just read an essay by Horace Walpole on what he considers to be the roots of Gothic architecture. He should know, having single handedly launched the modern (18th century) vogue for Gothic literature.
In his essay on the State Of Architecture To The End Of The Reign Of Henry 8th published in 1762 as an afterword to his novel, The Castle Of Otranto , Walpole argues that it is over-simplistic to see Gothic art as vulgar and in disregard of the rules of line, form, etc., associated with classical and neo-classical art and architecture.
The Goths are seen primarily as barbarians who desecrated much of Rome’s mighty palaces and columns, replacing them with stark, dark buildings with, heresy of heresies, pointed roofs and archways.
To Walpole, this was in many ways the point. It was not a primitive pagan throwback, but an advancement. Walpole notes that early human inventions were basic and relatively easy to create; the wheel, the hammer, etc. Similarly, the Grecian-Roman temple design was easy to create – the Goths, Ostrogoths & Visigoths were more experimental and daring. Their reputation for destruction was rooted in a need to demolish the old in order to replace it with the new.
Rome itself fell to the Catholic faith after its sacking by the Goths; and by Henry’s time, the Reformationists were falling out with Catholicism across Europe. The English taste for Gothic (strictly speaking neo-Gothic) art and architecture was part of that transformation.
Walpole notes how after the Post-Restoration rebuilding of London by Wren and Inigo Jones, much was restored in a pre-Gothic style – the domed New Saint Paul’s Cathedral rejected the Gothic structure of its predecessor (destroyed in the Great Fire). Walpole claims that Wren had no idea how to do Gothic buttresses and archways, which is highly unlikely and derogatory.
A fascinating little essay, well worth reading as is the novel itself.