Gothic architecture is a style of architecture that flourished during the high and late medieval period. It evolved from Romanesque architecture and was succeeded by Renaissance architecture. Originating in 12th-century France and lasting into the 16th century, Gothic architecture was known during the period as Opus Francigenum (“French work”) with the term Gothic first appearing during the later part of the Renaissance.
Gothic architecture is the architecture of the late medieval period, characterised by use of the pointed arch. Other features common to Gothic architecture are the rib vault, buttresses, including flying buttresses; large windows which are often grouped, or have tracery; rose windows, towers, spires and pinnacles; and ornate façades.
As an architectural style, Gothic developed primarily in ecclesiastical architecture, and its principles and characteristic forms were applied to other types of buildings. Buildings of every type were constructed in the Gothic style, with evidence remaining of simple domestic buildings, elegant town houses, grand palaces, commercial premises, civic buildings, castles, city walls, bridges, village churches, abbey churches, abbey complexes and large cathedrals.
A characteristic of Gothic church architecture is its height, both absolute and in proportion to its width, the verticality suggesting an aspiration to Heaven. A section of the main body of a Gothic church usually shows the nave as considerably taller than it is wide. In England the proportion is sometimes greater than 2:1, while the greatest proportional difference achieved is at Cologne Cathedral with a ratio of 3.6:1. The highest internal vault is at Beauvais Cathedral at 48 metres (157 ft)
The pointed arch lends itself to a suggestion of height. This appearance is characteristically further enhanced by both the architectural features and the decoration of the building.
On the exterior, the verticality is emphasised in a major way by the towers and spires and in a lesser way by strongly projecting vertical buttresses, by narrow half-columns called attached shafts which often pass through several storeys of the building, by long narrow windows, vertical mouldings around doors and figurative sculpture which emphasises the vertical and is often attenuated. The roofline, gable ends, buttresses and other parts of the building are often terminated by small pinnacles, Milan Cathedral being an extreme example in the use of this form of decoration.
Expansive interior light has been a feature of Gothic cathedrals since the first structure was opened. The metaphysics of light in the Middle Ages led to clerical belief in its divinity and the importance of its display in holy settings.