Flamboyant Gothic Architecture

Instructor: Stephanie Przybylek

Stephanie has taught studio art and art history classes to audiences of all ages. She holds a master's degree in Art History.

Have you ever seen a church with stained glass windows that looked like tongues of flame? It might have been done in a style called Flamboyant Gothic. In this lesson, learn about Flamboyant Gothic Architecture.

What is Flamboyant Gothic Architecture?

Have you ever visited a fancy church with high curving arches and windows with panels that looked like tongues of flame? If so, you may have been looking at elements of an architectural style called Flamboyant Gothic. It was one of several styles connected to Gothic architecture.

First let's cover some background. Gothic architecture developed in medieval France in the 12th century. Advances in building technology like pointed arched windows, vaulted ceilings and flying buttresses, which were external supports for walls, allowed for towering structures with plenty of windows. The Gothic style became very popular and eventually spread all over Europe.

Over time, the Gothic style changed and variations developed. In France and Spain, one of the most ornate variations came about between 1350 and the early 1500s. It was known as the Flamboyant Gothic style for its flame-shaped windows and extensive surface decoration.

Now let's discuss some of the most important features of Flamboyant Gothic architecture.

Characteristics of Flamboyant Gothic Architecture

By the time Flamboyant Gothic style developed, Gothic's important architectural components, like the flying buttress and vaulted ceilings, were already in place. No new structural advances came with Flamboyant Gothic. Rather, it took decoration to a whole new level. When you look at a Flamboyant Gothic church, almost every surface has some kind of embellishment, and the style has sometimes been described as flowery or lacy.

One of the most obvious characteristics of Flamboyant Gothic is elaborate window tracery. Tracery is the decorative supporting stonework between glass segments. In this style, the tracery is created out of many distinct S-shaped curvilinear lines. They form almost continuous sections of swirling figures that look like tongues of flame.

Detail of the exterior of a Flamboyant Gothic church with distinctive flame-shaped window tracery. Also visible are rows of canopied niches with figural sculptures.
image of flame tracery

Flamboyant Gothic churches often had lavish entrances and attenuated or unusually thin proportions to their architectural elements. Areas between windows, roof lines and even flying buttresses seem almost delicate. Flamboyant Gothic churches also featured steep gabled roofs. A gable roof is one with two sloping sides with a triangular wall portion connecting them. The church walls might include canopied niches with sculptural figures of saints and other holy personalities from the Bible.

Detail of a Flamboyant Gothic church with flame tracery, highly decorated flying buttresses and steep gable roof sections. Also notice the crockets on the small steeples.
Detail of a Flamboyant Gothic church

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