What is Perpendicular Gothic 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.

Have you ever stood inside a large cathedral and marveled at its soaring height? You might have been looking at a Perpendicular Gothic church. In this lesson, learn about Perpendicular Gothic architecture.

Definition of Perpendicular Gothic

Have you ever visited a cathedral and looked up, only to marvel at the high ceilings and stained glass windows? You might have been seeing an example of Gothic architecture or a variation that developed out of it. One of these later variations was a style called Perpendicular Gothic.

Gothic architecture developed in medieval France during the 12th century. Because of advances in building technology like pointed arches, vaulted ceilings and flying buttresses (external supports that braced church walls), builders were able to create large, open structures with high roofs and large windows. The Gothic style gradually spread throughout Europe and in some locations, variations developed.

In England from the 14th through the early 16th century, one of these variations became known as Perpendicular Gothic because it emphasized strong vertical lines in many architectural elements. On Perpendicular Gothic structures, everything from windows, spires and pinnacles to flying buttresses seems to point emphatically skyward.

Characteristics of Perpendicular Gothic Architecture

To understand the appearance of Perpendicular Gothic, let's discuss some common characteristics.

One of the first things you notice about Perpendicular Gothic architecture is the presence of external walls filled with rows of long windows. It's sort of like using maximum windows and minimum walls. There may be multiple rows of windows, all taller than they are wide. These window-filled walls were made possible by the development of supporting stone work between the windows, or tracery. The vertical stone supports between window sections are sometimes also called mullions.

Section of the choir of Glouchester Cathedral, begun circa 1335, showing how windows dominate the wall in Perpendicular Gothic architecture
Example of windows with mullions

Perpendicular Gothic structures also tend to have highly decorated flying buttresses with elements that emphasize verticality. Sometimes along their edges these buttresses have many pinnacles, or small decorative structures that end in a point.

Section of Bath Abbey, showing flying buttresses between windows topped by pinnacles
Bath abbey with flying buttresses

The interiors of Perpendicular Gothic churches are also distinctive. Some have ceilings made of elaborate vaulting called fan vaulting. In fan vaulting, the ribs of the vault radiate out from the center in an appearance similar to an open fan. All the ribs are roughly equal size, and they are bordered by a semi-circular rib. Fan vaulting is only found in English churches and one fine example is the ceiling of the Kings College Chapel in Cambridge, built in the late 15th century.

Interior of Kings College Chapel in Cambridge showing intricate fan vaulting
fan vaulting

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