Ogee Arches: Definition & Construction

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.

How many curved lines can you fit into an arch? Have you ever heard of an ogee? In this lesson, learn about ogee arches and how they're used in architecture.

What Is an Ogee Arch?

Architects use many kinds of arches on buildings. One of the most decorative is an ogee arch. But what is an ogee? An ogee is a decorative line formed by two connected curves. The upper curve is concave, or bowed inward like the inside of a bowl. The lower curve is convex, or curved outward like part of a sphere. When the two curves are linked together they form an S-shaped curve.

An ogee arch, then, uses two ogees to form an arch. They meet at the top of the arch in a point. Here's an image of an ogee arch from a church in Barcelona, Spain.

Ogee arch on a building in Barcelona
ogee arch in Barcelona

Notice how the sides of the arch curve inward just a bit before they join in a point. That's what makes it an ogee arch.

Using Ogee Arches in Architecture

Scholars think ogee arches originated somewhere in the Middle East, possibly Persia or Morocco. By the 14th and 15th centuries, ogee arches began appearing in Europe where they were used in late Gothic architecture, especially in England. Ogee arches also became very popular in Venice and were widely used in Venetian Gothic architecture. This is why you'll sometimes see ogee arches called Venetian arches. They're also sometimes referred to as a cyma versa, which is Latin for 'moulding returned.'

Here's another image with a series of ogee arches used for windows, in this case on a structure called the Venetian House, built in the 15th century in Slovenia.

View of several ogee arches on the Venetian Building
Ogee arches on the Venetian Building in Slovenia

The ogee arch lends a very ornamental character to architecture, but it can only really be used for decoration. Unlike other arch forms, which help support parts of the wall of a building, an ogee arch isn't very functional. The combination of concave and convex curves gives it less strength than other arches, so it can't be used for structural support.

Here's an image of an ogee arch used as a decorative accent on a Gothic church in England. The ogee rises to a high point full of ornament.

Ogee arch on part of a Gothic church in England
Ogee arch on a part of a church in England

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