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English art and architecture

Norman and Gothic Styles

The great impact of the Norman Conquest was manifested in the 12th-century Anglo-Norman churches, closely related to the Romanesque. They were built with extremely long naves, often with a rectangular east end, in contrast with the Gallic surge toward lofty, aspiring structures with a curved chevet. The cathedral at Durham (begun 1093) employs a complete system of ribbed vaulting, together with the pointed arch and concealed flying buttresses, which are thought to antedate these Gothic features in France.

England made a significant contribution in Gothic decorative styles. In phases known as the Decorated style (14th cent.; e.g., the cathedrals of Lincoln and Wells) and the Perpendicular style (late 14th–middle 16th cent.; e.g., Sherbourne Abbey and York Minster), exuberant and complicated networks of bar tracery and multiple ribbed vaults were devised, influencing the flamboyant style in France. In addition, a flourishing religious art of painting, sculpture, monumental brasses, stained glass, and embroidery enriched the medieval church in England. The splendid and unique Anglo-Saxon embroidery, known as the Bayeux tapestry (c.1066–77), attests to the English interest in dramatic narrative. It is thought to be one of the rare secular works of the period.

Enough architectural and memorial sculpture has survived to provide evidence of centuries of achievement, from the Anglican crosses of Cumberland (7th cent.) to the 15th-century figures of Henry V's chantry in Westminster Abbey. A similar long tradition can be traced in stained-glass windows still adorning many churches. Very little church painting has survived, but there are many superb examples of illuminated manuscripts, which by the 10th cent. show a considerable skill in the French Carolingian fashion (see illumination). The high development of this art form influenced the growth of English sculpture, which abounds in fantasies and grotesqueries of the medieval period. Early reliefs at Chichester (c.1140), Lincoln (c.1145), and Malmesbury (c.1160–70) are particularly noteworthy sculptural works.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

See more Encyclopedia articles on: European Art to 1599


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