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Italian Gothic Architecture: Venetian & Roman

Instructor: Andrew Manero
In this lesson, you will learn about Italian Gothic Architecture's place in the history of architecture, defining style characteristics and examples of how it developed in the cities of Venice and Rome.

Italian Gothic Architecture

When you think about Gothic Architecture, you may imagine a dark haunted castle ruled by Count Dracula. The word Gothic can sometimes be perceived as gloomy and dark. However, Gothic Architecture is actually magnificent and full of light. Gothic architecture is meant to give us a transcendental spiritual experience. As you can see in this picture, the word 'Gothic' comes from The Goths, which where the Germanic civilization that invaded the ancient Roman Empire based in Rome, Italy for 1500 years.

Sack of Rome by French Painter Sylvestre depicts the Goths conquering Rome
Sylvestre Le Sac de Rome 1890

Perhaps for that same reason, we can begin to understand why Italians did not fully embrace Gothic Architecture. In fact, in order to interpret Italian Gothic Architecture, we need to learn about Italian history, influencing styles, and examples of structures in cities like Rome and Venice.

A Place in History

Italian Gothic Architecture took hold mostly from the 6th century to the 12th century, so it is very important to learn what was happening in history around this time period. Everything started in the 5th century, which was a period of great disaster and instability in Italian history because of the collapse of the Western Roman Empire due to the Germanic invaders such as The Goths. The Roman Empire ruled great parts of Europe, Asia, Africa and the Mediterranean. Emperors ruled the government with the capital based in Rome. The fall of the Western Roman Empire marked the beginning of the Medieval Period or also called The Dark Ages.

According to the historians, this was a period marked by foreign migration, invasions, wars, loss of Roman culture, unstable power and religious dominance. Even after the Byzantine Empire— which was originally The Eastern Roman Empire— replaced the Western Roman Empire as the leader of the Roman Empire, there was still a lot of instability and uncertainty. The Byzantine Empire, ruled by Emperor Constantine, declared Christianity the only religion of Rome. For the centuries to come, western civilization transitioned from classical Roman civilization to a monarchy divided by villages and kingdoms. By the 8th century, the Kingdom of Italy was part of the Holy Roman Empire led by King Charlemagne. He was crowned by a pope in Rome, and one of his and his successor's main goals was to bring back the greatness of the ancient Roman Empire. Finally, in the 14th and 17th century there was The Renaissance, which was a movement that started in Italy to bring back the lost classical Greek and Roman philosophy and human focused culture as well as lost architecture tradition. As you can see, history shows how Italian Gothic Architecture was highly influenced by classic Roman ideas.

Influencing Styles

Italian Gothic Architecture is a mixture between Romanesque Architecture and Gothic Architecture, so we need to learn both to master this style. Romanesque Architecture manifested around the 6th and 10th century, and it was based on early basilicas, or churches. The Romanesque style is characterized by the monumental quality, solidity and strength. The details of this style are massive walls, small windows, the use of groin vaults, semi-circular arches, large pillars, columns, tall towers and rolls of arches called arcades. The Modena Cathedral in Modena, Italy shows examples of the Romanesque style.

Modena Cathedral, Italy - Exterior, Interior and Groin Vault detail
Romanesque

Gothic Architecture started around the 12th century and the 16th century, and started in France with chapels and cathedrals. The characteristics are thin and extremely tall structures full of light that are meant to evoke emotional spiritual transcendence and civic pride for the wealthy royalty and citizens who invested on it. The important details are thinner walls, tall vertical windows, pointed arches, ribbed vault, figurative decorations and flying buttress. An example is the Amiens Cathedral in Amiens, France.

Amiens Cathedral in France. Exterior and Interior
Gothic

Flying buttress and ribbed vault details
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Ultimately, Italian Gothic Architecture is a mixture of both Romanesque and Gothic Architecture. One of the main characteristics was the Italians created a toned down version of Gothic Architecture by keeping their Romanesque Architecture and local traditions of church building. In fact, they used vaults and pointed arches from the Gothic Architecture but they sometimes excluded the extreme vertically, large windows, and excessive iconic decorations.

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