Gothic Revival designates a key moment in architectural history. It also refers to the use of Gothic forms and motifs in furniture, design, and the decorative arts. It is inextricably connected to the reawakened interest in medieval architecture that began in the 18th century and that provided both its scholarly basis and intellectual context. Thus, Gothic Revival comprises neo-Gothic artifacts as well as the antiquarian, scholarly, and literary texts that fueled it. Scholars distinguish between Gothic Revival and Survival. “Survival” refers to the continued use of the Gothic style in post-medieval building, whereas “Revival” describes the reuse of Gothic details. As an aesthetic term, in 16th-century Italy “Gothic” was associated with the “barbaric” medieval style and by the 18th-century it was equated with bad taste. “Gothick” was used for 18th-century garden architecture, design, and buildings, such as Walpole’s villa at Strawberry Hill or the Gothic House at Wörlitz, both playful amalgamations of Gothic motifs. Lenoir followed a similar aesthetic when he created monuments from the rubble of the French Revolution. With the rise of antiquarian studies and a growing number of architects schooled in the Gothic style, the Revival grew in impetus and importance through the 19th century. Frivolous Gothick gave way to an archeologically informed style that characterized the work of Pugin and Viollet-le-Duc. Neo-Gothic was adopted by Catholics and Protestants alike and promoted by local and national governments. Monumental restoration and completion of edifices such as Notre-Dame de Paris and Cologne Cathedral also played an important role. Significantly, Gothic Revival reflected each nation’s understanding of its history: in England it was nostalgic, looking back to a lost golden age; in France, Gothic forged a continuity with a past irreparably severed by the French Revolution; in the German-speaking lands Gothic was considered to symbolize the lost unity of the medieval German Empire, which meant that the German Revival was forward looking toward future political and religious unity. Creativity and eclecticism characterized the later Gothic Revival, with Romanesque, Byzantine, and Rundbogen styles becoming viable alternatives to Gothic. Scholarship on Gothic Revival dates to the late 19th century, when Eastlake set the pattern for the scholarly discourse. In the early 20th century, Clark and Abraham negatively appraised the Revival, a stance that English architectural historians began to revise in the 1940s. By the 1970s, England, France, and Germany were considered the center of Gothic Revival. In the 1990s Gothic Revival was recognized to be a pan-European phenomenon, and in the 21st century scholars have assiduously explored Gothic’s worldwide spread. This article reflects these scholarly developments.
General Works and Overviews
Most general studies of Gothic Revival discuss architecture and ideas, often in connection with the decorative and visual arts and other cultural phenomena. The works presented in this section are representative of this scholarly stance. Architectural surveys are covered in the next section. Classic works include Frankl 1960, Germann 1972, and Pevsner 1972. Frankl 1960, the most comprehensive work on the reception and interpretation of Gothic architecture from the Middle Ages through the 20th century, contains material essential to Gothic Revival. Pevsner 1972 discusses the writings of many Gothic Revivalists, mostly British, alongside some German and French. Germann 1972 is the most important and thorough study of Gothic Revival in Britain, Germany, and France and remains a fundamental work. Other works covering the three national traditions include Addison 1967, which interweaves the literary and architectural contexts of the three European nations and the United States, while Glaser 2002 covers major aspects of Gothic Revival in England and Germany as background to an in-depth study of France and underscores differences in the national discourses. The introduction to Glaser 2018 (cited under Scholarly Collections) provides a useful overview of the three national traditions, evaluates existing scholarship on the Revival, and deliberates the usefulness of the term “Gothic Revival” in an international context. Brooks 1999 and Lewis 2002 are affordable scholarly histories that stress the Revival’s transnational dimensions: Lewis 2002 succinctly covers the stages of the architectural revival in its transnational manifestations, and Brooks 1999, while giving a detailed account of buildings, also discusses other cultural expressions of Gothic. Another reliable source is the Victorian Web, which offers an extremely detailed Gothic Revival page. Two studies covering the intellectual underpinnings of the Revival are also included here. Germann 2004 offers an incisive analysis of the European ideas and theories that engendered the Gothic Revival. Collins 1965 takes a cultural-historical perspective to 19th-century architectural history.
Addison, Agnes. Romanticism and the Gothic Revival. New York: Gordian Press, 1967.
Republication of a 1938 doctoral thesis, this book is an early attempt at tracing the Gothic Revival in England, France, Germany, and the United States and elucidating each one’s particular literary and intellectual traditions. Though not a work of analysis, it offers a solid interdisciplinary introduction to the topic. Glossary of Gothic Revival terms, chronological list of representative buildings, bibliography of primary and secondary sources, arranged according to national traditions, and an index.
Brooks, Chris. The Gothic Revival. London: Phaidon, 1999.
Original and persuasive study of Gothic Revival in Britain, Europe, and the United States, bookended by chapters on the Middle Ages and 20th-century Gothicism. Shows that Gothic was a powerful cultural force permeating literature, the arts, and popular culture, as well as architecture. Handy art book with mostly color illustrations, architectural glossary, short bibliographies, timeline from Tacitus’s Germania to German reunification, topical list of further reading, index.
Collins, Peter. Changing Ideals in Modern Architecture 1750–1950. London: Faber and Faber, 1965.
Lays out the intellectual and ideological matrix in which European architecture developed during the period, showing how new aesthetic sensibilities, the evolving historical consciousness, and literary criticism influenced architectural thinking and production. Discussing Gothic Revival among other Revivals, it examines the nationalistic, religious, and aesthetic reflections that impelled the Gothic Revival and explains how the Revival impacted European culture. Black-and-white illustrations throughout, two indexes (one to the illustrations, one to the text).
Frankl, Paul. The Gothic: Literary Sources and Interpretations Through Eight Centuries. Translated by Priscilla Silz. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1960.
Encyclopedic work presenting centuries of writing on the Gothic. Frankl explains cultural and historical contexts and summarizes each writer’s major ideas and overall contribution to the understanding of Gothic. Though recent scholarship has revised and supplemented some information, the work remains an excellent starting point for research. Quotations in English (original language in footnotes). Thirty-one appendices contain longer excerpts. Useful indexes of people, places, and subjects, as well as thought-provoking illustrations.
Germann, Georg. “Dal gothic taste al gothic revival.” In Arti e storia nel Medioevo IV—Il Medioevo al passato et al presente. Edited by Enrico Castelnuovo, Giuseppe Sergi, 391–438. Translated by Eliana Carrara. Torino, Italy: Giulio Einaudi editore, 2004.
A compact, but thorough study in Gothic reception, this insightful analysis of the continued European interest in the Gothic from the Cinquecento through the 18th century explains the formation of the Gothic taste which led to the Revival. All quotes in original language, with Italian translations in the footnotes. Twelve illustrations. Translation of “Vom Gothic Taste zum Gothic Revival” (to this date unpublished). Useful for students.
Germann, Georg. The Gothic Revival in Europe and Britain: Sources, Influences and Ideas. Translated by Gerald Onn. London: Lund Humphries, 1972.
Essential reading. In-depth examination of Gothic Revival as a European phenomenon and contextualized within the history of ideas. Explores its beginnings, emphases, objectives, and influence within each national context. The discussion of periodicals and international collaboration remains fundamental to Gothic Revival scholarship. Sources meticulously noted in footnotes (no separate bibliography). Ninety-eight illustrations, detailed index. Translation of the author’s original, but later-published manuscript, Neogotik: Geschichte ihrer Architekturtheorie (Stuttgart: Deutsche Verlangs-Anstalt, 1974, which contains updated references).
Glaser, Stephanie Alice Moore. “Explorations of the Gothic Cathedral in Nineteenth-Century France.” PhD diss., Indiana University, 2002.
Underscoring the importance of the Gothic cathedral and the variety of meanings imposed upon it by different groups through the 19th century, this study focuses on the representation of the cathedral in literature, the visual arts, and architectural treatises. It is a thoroughly researched study of Gothic Revival, and one of few works to present French and German material in English. Valuable for students and scholars. Extensive bibliography, with thirty-three illustrations.
Lewis, Michael J. The Gothic Revival. London: Thames and Hudson, 2002.
Broad overview focusing on the architecture and cultural context of Gothic Revival in Europe, Scandinavia, and the United States. Structured thematically: each chapter offers a synchronic study of developments in different locations. Progresses chronologically to the Revival’s 20th-century legacy: collegiate Gothic and skyscrapers. Excellent introduction to Gothic Revival in an affordable and handy book. Includes 181 black-and-white and color illustrations, international bibliography, and an index.
Pevsner, Nikolaus. Some Architectural Writers of the Nineteenth Century. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1972.
Good overview of the issues that concerned 19th-century architects and propelled the Gothic Revival. Focuses primarily on British writers but also includes advocates of the Rundbogen and neo-Renaissance styles. Opening essays give important background to Gothic Revival, and those on German and French proponents of the Gothic are useful to English speakers. Contains essays in the appendices: Kerr’s “English Architecture” and Morris’s “Revival of Architecture.” Interesting illustrations, index. Useful for students.
The Victorian Web. Gothic Revival Architecture in Britain, the Empire and Europe.
The Gothic Revival page features internal links to architects, theoreticians, designers, representative buildings and the decorative arts. It also includes sections on Gothic Revival in Europe, especially eastern Europe, and in the colonies. Subject pages generally contain links to related material as well as a list of references of primary and secondary sources, some with links. Although the website is highly complex, it is easily navigable.
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