Oriel Windows: Definition & Style

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 do you add natural light to a room? Architects do it with different types of windows. In this lesson, learn about oriel windows and see how they're used in buildings.

What is an Oriel Window?

Architects design rooms with many kinds of windows. Sometimes, to bring more natural light into a room on an upper floor, they add oriel windows.

Oriel windows are a set of projecting windows arranged together in a bay to protrude from a building's face on an upper floor. They extend a room's interior space and allow more light to reach it. Below is an example of an oriel window from the inside. This is an interior view an abbey in France with two rows of five windows.

Interior view of an oriel window
interior view of an oriel window

Oriel Window Characteristics

A building may have a series of oriel windows on upper floors, one on top of another, but they do not touch the ground. This is what makes them different from bay windows, which do touch the ground, and are only located on a first floor room. Often rectangular or semi-hexagonal in shape, oriel windows are usually supported underneath by a bracket or corbel of wood, stone, or masonry. A corbel is a support shaped like a squat cone, smaller at the bottom and wider at the top.

Oriel Window History

The term ''oriel'' comes from the Latin word ''oriolum,'' meaning porch. Scholars aren't sure where oriel windows developed, but during the Middle Ages they appeared with increasing frequency in European and Middle Eastern architecture. By the early 15th century, oriel windows were common in geographic areas where changing seasons with varying light levels encouraged architects to make the most of limited sun. Oriel windows were especially popular in English buildings from the late medieval and early Renaissance periods.

Today, oriel windows are used all over the world. They come in many styles and are found in a wide range of structures, from grand palaces and public buildings to smaller private homes.

Styles of Oriel Windows

Because oriel windows have been used as an architectural element for such a long time, they reflect the changing styles of the time period in which they were built. They may have varying fenestration, or the number and arrangement of windows. They may protrude from a wall a little or a lot. Let's look at a few oriel windows and compare them.

Our first example is an oriel window made from stonework and found on a castle in England.

Example of an oriel window from an English castle
oriel window from English castle

This style features a series of three long windows surrounded by ornate Gothic pointed arches and elaborate ornamentation. The base of the corbel on which the window sits features a small-winged angel, and the top of the window is emphasized by a series of pinnacles, small pointed architectural elements similar to spires.

Our next example is an oriel window from France, made of timber and masonry.

Example of an oriel window from France
oriel window from France

You can see how different this window is from our first example. It's located on the corner of the building, has many more window segments, and protrudes much farther from the wall. It's a series of two oriel windows on the building's second and third floors. Instead of elaborate stonework, it features shutters, decorative wood panels, and a heavy masonry corbel.

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