This essay was written for the Cambridge University Certificate in History of Art: Early Modern to Contemporary 4/1/2021 by Hugh Gregory Waldock (me). Do Join us for a course next season at the Institute of Continuing Education (ICE). There are many courses on offer not just this!
You are more than welcome to refer to it my views are my own.
With reference to the written work of either Ruskin or Pugin, consider whether the Gothic Revival Style is imbued with moral qualities absent from the Classical language
Pugin is credited with two seminal works in architecture. These are True Principles of
Pointed and Christian Architecture (Pugin 2019) and Contrasts (Pugin and Pugin 2011) .
Section 1 undertakes a practical criticism of these works with close reference to their
strengths and limitations. In the 2nd section the analysis focuses on how these relate to
concrete examples of Neoclassical Palladian and Victorian Gothic architecture. Finally, in
Section 3 there is a brief personal opinion piece as to whether the Neo Gothic style imbues
moral values that are absent from Classical architecture.
Looking at True Principles it is a well organised piece of writing with the meat of the
argument occurring on the very first page. This side is by far the most useful in terms of
explaining a theoretical approach to architecture. If there is a limitation to True Principl e s ,
then it is by modern standards poorly referenced. He does analyse his own sketches and
drawings, but pays little attention to Ruskin who has similar ideas.
The two great rules for design are these: 1st, There should be no features about a building which are
not necessary for convenience, construction or propriety; 2nd That all ornament should consist of
enrichment of the essential structure of the building. P.1 (Pugin 2019)
The register and tone is fervently authoritarian, at first glance justified only by his own
deductions. Unlike Inigo Jones the founder of English Palladianism, he doesn’t parade out to
Italy with a firm plan of ideas he wants to research and practice:
Jones created a new synthesis animated by both literature and architecture,which
responded to antique and Renaissance prototypes. P.280 (Jordan 1991)
Pugin appears to have been determined to pursue his style of aesthetically pleasing
architecture through sketching on childhood holidays. P.28 (Hill 1999). His lack of systematic
approach proves mortally disappointing as he is infuriatingly subjective:
The ancient masons achieved great altitude and great extent with surprising economy of wall
and substance; the wonderful strength and solidity of their buildings as a result. P.2 (Pugin
On closer inspection however, this unreferenced observation encompasses a distinctly
antiquarian approach with True Principles and a more professional archaeological input in
Contrasts. This is primarily due to his qualification. He completed a paternal apprenticeship
rather than a sophisticated university education and secondly his opinions are his fathers
and are handed down via a family tradition. P.27 (Hill 1999)
The Pointed Architecture book reinstates the principle of the traditional. It refutes dissent and
revolution and prefers stability and incremental change within an established movement or
style. It’s eclecticism, with Pugin praising the tradition of the ‘ancient masons’ in the above
citation. P.2 (Pugin 2019)
Although oversighted in Pugin’s architectural theory in this book, Catholic arts are often
religiously allegorical pertaining to the sensus spiritualis prominent in medieval textual
understanding. ("Catechism Of The Catholic Church - Sacred Scripture" 2021). The spiritual
senses manifest themselves in painting as well in The Great Morning by the German painter
Philipp Otto Runge in which one can decipher references to Christ, father, son &, holy ghost.
Source: (Runge 1809)
At least in part then, a quintessentially Catholic beauty is unspoken or reflective, contained within argument structure, coding, and the apparently unexplainable that seems beyond comprehension at first, but it nevertheless exists within art, and the architecture of stone buildings if we truly seek it out. This is what Pugin is saying and practising by trying to see hidden stories behind the architecture himself in describing the ‘great altitude’ created with ‘surprising economy’. P.2 (Pugin 2019)
Source: ("St. Pancras Renaissance Hotel London" 2021)
Pugin’s tastes are monumental; towering Neo Gothic buildings like the later George Gilbert Scott’s Hotel at St Pancras 1873 ("St. Pancras Renaissance Hotel London" 2021) dominate people with their sheer size, making one feel humble before God. Remembering the artistic context of the early 19th century in which he was writing The British Bee Hive originally from 1840 (Cruikshank 1867) depicted English people as busy bees, England captured in a positive tower of Babel with everyone working and speaking their language for the greater good; individuals who all knew their place.
Source: (Cruikshank 1867)
God is great in Puginism; man is humble and insignificant. Pointed buildings that appear to pray like clasped hands towards heaven such as in the Gothic nave of Lincoln Cathedral are praiseworthy. Ornamented lavishly with flying buttresses to distribute the weight and are all in keeping with the proportions and style of an ecclesiastical building, Pugin sees these as embodying a sense of whole rather than a sum of the parts. P.5 (Pugin 2019)
("Lincoln Cathedral" 2021)
Pugin epitomises a wealthy man living a successful life of religious significance. Christian morals manifest themselves in other areas of visual arts in the 19th Century. Pugin was just one vital part of the imperial social discipline scene within Victorian art. Here are 2 examples from visual art; George Cruickshank’s The Bottle series glorifies teetotalling; the moral message behind it being if working class people drank they would succumb to an early death through poverty (Cruickshank 1847). One negative side of Victorian moralism might be that women were blamed for the behaviour of their children and downfall such as in Augustus Egg’s Past and Present Series (Egg 1840) In Catholicism, there is an element of philanthropy in employing quality craftsmanship as a means of social mobility for poorer men who utilise traditional cathedral building skills to make money.
Joints should be neat when the same space in good old constructions would have been occupied by five or six stones tailing into the wall, and lying in their natural led (fig. B) ; a point which should be most strictly attended to. P.35 (Pugin 2019)
There is emphasis on anonymity, of being in a large group in Catholicism. This is empowering and liberating in a different way; by allowing modest people to flourish away from charismatic leadership. (Renfrew and Bahn 1996) The sacred space of St Chad's Cathedral in Birmingham imbues religious ritual in Catholicism with so called bells and smells and it contrasts with the Classical 17th Century courtroom like appearance of the church we see in St Paul’s Covent Garden by Inigo Jones.
One can imagine being asked pretty searching questions as to adhering to God’s laws in here, as if on trial almost. Sources: ("Actors Church – St Paul's Church, Covent Garden" 2021)
St Chads, by contrast, promotes engaging in routine and habitual actions to create a trance-like status of divine awe in religious practice like; with it’s high ceiling, the gold painted alter, and the Christian artefacts acquired from European churches.
("File:St Chad S Cathedral (89200557).Jpeg - Wikimedia Commons" 2021)
To say that Puginism is just and Protestantism is immoral just simply isn’t true though. The original Catholic church wasn’t the historical pretty picture of holiness that Pugin claims. For example, philanthropy was competitive; people were forced to pay for a privileged place within society otherwise they risked not going to heaven. ("Roman Catholic Church In 1500" 2021) This was a corrupt way of printing money for the Catholic church.
In addition, the Calvanistic line in defence of the faith was just plainly implausible at times; take a look at this quote from the beginning of the original Faust Book translated by me from Early Modern High German:
("Dr Faustus Wolfenbüttel Manuscript 1587" 2021)
In order that raw and Godless Luther were not reflected in it, promoted by it, and would want to work from it under the shadows of darkness. Then, one would prefer to grasp the evil, than the good, then the devil would see the heart of that person and capture it in so far as he’d be trapped within himself as if married to eternal misery, then the end finally comes when that person is snatched away from the first true denomination of God by another; leaves it and negotiates how the Lord Christ spoke of science to Satan himself.
This is so carried away and ineffective. Sure, it contains neat rhetorical triplings, a holy trinity of points, but the content of those sets of three points is farcical in implausibility, which Christopher Marlowe seeks to mock in his Dr Faustus (Marlowe, Ormerod and Wortham 1989). For example, the author suggests that Luther is a manifestation of the devil that has been imprisoned in some kind of failed marriage with mankind from which he must rip himself free in an act of suicide. In so doing, he liberates himself from life as a manifestation of a ‘scientific’ informed antichrist. This is a ludicrous hyperbole.
That’s why I think some pre-reformation logic and rhetoric of the Catholic church had gone just about as far as it could have gone within that style and it needed reform and revolution at that stage. In the same way music had to abandon its own tonality at the beginning of the 20th century. It is not true to say that it shouldn’t have been touched. (Schoenberg, Black and Stein 1975)
Pugin lacks detail in Pointed Architecture. Red lines of a truly succinct philosophical argument for pro-catholic architecture along the lines of Aristotle’s immaculate theory of leisure Ch.1.2 (Price 2008) So Contrasts was clearly a book with greater use of long quotation and this increases it’s academic significance. P.9 (Pugin and Pugin 2011) He has clearly been converted from high Anglicanism to Catholic architecture P.1 (Hill 1999) and religion detailing the injustices of the reformation and addressing his critics who say he lacks substance.
I found it perfectly right in the abstract fact that the excellence of art was only to be found in catholicism but I did not draw a sufficient distinction between Catholicism and its own venerable garb or as disguised in the modern externals of Pagan corruption P.15 (Pugin and Pugin 2011)
The bloodletting and the pillage of the Catholic church by Henry VIII is a hate of his. Pugin condemns his divine right of kings to rule and to make love to his new friend Anne Boleyn as a selfish aim for a barbaric revolution.
This arrogant and impious step drew forth the indignation of those who had the constancy and firmness to prefer the interests of a religion to the will of a tyrant. P.21 (Pugin and Pugin 2011)
It was the power of the church that preserved the fabric of that early society against the rule of the state. The Catholic church as one that stuck up for human rights as God’s witness. The artistic treasures of the catholic era were deliberately destroyed along with those who defended them and to Pugin this was a big deal and clearly the destruction of Catholic art and burning of bridges to create that something new was immoral.
The suppression of the religious houses, and the spoliation and desecration of those shrines....had raised doubts amongst men who were more excited than suppressed P. 25 (Pugin and Pugin 2011)
In Contrasts, he describes what these treasures mean to him and why saints were praised, and why Henry the VIII and his family the Tudors and Stuarts were evil in their condemnation of Catholicism.
Catholic architecture was: The architecture that emanated from the faith itself in the erection of churches , instead of adopting a bastard imitation of Pagan edifices P.19 (Pugin and Pugin 2011).
Section 2: Examples of Neo-Gothic and Neoclassical Palladian Architecture
Summary of Contrasts and Pointed Architecture
Pointed Architecture (Pugin 2019) Contrasts (Pugin and Pugin 2011)
No unessential additional features to the essential construction of the building other than what is functional (by implication I suppose he means things like columns and Palladian makeovers of country houses)
No over ornamentation only that which is essential for the enhancement of the aesthetic beauty of a building
Pointed architecture is the most aesthetically beautiful
Pointed architecture is the most naturally Christian architecture
Loss of centre in architecture and society which is loosely connected to the reformation but also to other factors
A return to Catholic features in building will facilitate healing old wounds
Medieval art and society was better than industrial society of the 19th century, more tactile, more caring, less about the individual and the genius and more about the group. This was facilitated by when he practically defines it as pro-Christian architecture or architecture that facilitated Christian values of things such as philanthropy.
The reformation was a big deal for society and something he sees as a mistake eg. because of the desecration of English Renaissance art by the Puritans and during the dissolution of the monasteries by Henry VIII
St Chad’s Cathedral, Birmingham
Source: ("St Chad's Cathedral, Birmingham" 2021)
Although the design of St Chad’s is intended to be a praiseworthy original English Catholic cathedral, it is in fact related to the Roman Gothic style of Northern Germany possibly Lübeck which Pugin visited shortly before it was constructed between 1839-1841. It is not of Pugin’s preferred stone construction because the diocese couldn’t stretch that far financially, so it was constructed of Warwickshire red brick. Use of brick served to save time in completing the first post reformation Catholic Cathedral in the UK. (McKellar 2008)
Its entrance is as normal at the West End and was originally situated in an urban residential area with a Bishops House. This was demolished in the 1960s to pave the way for the new road construction. There is an ornamented doorway and above it rose windows, each in a pattern with 7 four sided quatrefoil windows 6 in a ring around one in the centre contained within a circular surround to give the impression of a petal. It wasn’t all finished by Augustus Pugin. His eldest son completed the west tower and his grandson the lady chapel in the 1930s (McKellar 2008)
Source: ("St Chad's Cathedral, Birmingham" 2021
Augustus Pugin said of his Cathedral ‘I have adopted a foreign style of pointed architecture as it is both cheap and effective and likewise because it is totally different from any protestant erection’. ("The Cathedral Church Of St Chad, Birmingham, By A. W. N. Pugin(Exterior)" 2021)
Bath stone is utilised for doorways and windows but brick bears the largest part of the integral structure. St Pauls, though neoclassical, does also feature the twin Germanic towers reminiscent of Lübeck cathedral on the West side, being rare examples of this style of cathedral tower in England. (McKellar 2008)
The door hinges and metal work are reminiscent of the medieval originals at York minster and Lichfield and are referenced in Pointed Architecture. P. 20 (Pugin 2019). St Chad’s has a continuous, pitched, German style slate roof. (McKellar 2008)
Pugin was forced to sacrifice some of his principles of building such as exclusive use of stonework in order to fit the Victorian brief which he was unhappy about. The German style arcade is 75 ft high and employs pointed arches. He originally divided the nave with a rood screen, and included a Choir Gallery. (McKellar 2008) St Chad’s is not typically Puginesque as he later abandoned nearly all the Germanic features of his church in later buildings. The construction is likeable and it’s decoration does make one awe at the power of God and ready for some healing and ritualistic prayer. (McKellar 2008) Although Pugin claims this is not Protestant architecture; as the construction of the German cathedrals pre-dates protestantism this statement appears hypocritical as original English Gothic does too. I suggest he’s referring to the added tower he despised at Ely P.10 (Pugin 2019) rather than the spire he admires at Salisbury.
Source: ("St Chad's Cathedral, Birmingham" 2021)
Containing a reliquary with the remains of St Chad based on the original described by the Venerable Bede this is one of Pugins own highly commendable works. It has angels on either side which were typical of Catholic altar pieces from Northern Europe in the mid to late Renaissance. It evokes a sense of just how rich and worthy the catholic Church was, how it commanded the service of its ancient teutonic defenders who prayed at it’s temples and for whom church was a part of everyday life in which rich and poor mingled. (McKellar 2008)
Christ on the Cross
Dismantled from the rood screen in 1967, The Christ on the Cross figure is of typical Belgian late Renaissance origin. The figure has not been constructed as an original pastiche but conversely the statue itself was purchased from Europe and combined with Pugin’s original mock gothic cross depicting the four apostles. Repainted, and with the blood emanating from his side, the ribs and even his veins are all part of the original wooden construction. Displayed on the ceiling near the altar it is situated within relief of a gold painted ceiling. It is stunningly beautiful and evokes a warm feeling of spirituality about the sacred space. Due to its height you are reminded that there is something or someone greater than yourself to respect and admire. It does embody a lot of the strengths of the Catholic revival depicted above in the table about justice for the reformation and the restoration of public art. (Pugin and Pugin 2011) It welcomes pilgrims at the centre of its being. Yet having been purchased, not made new this is its weakness also. It isn’t an original composition but a sort of artistic re-interpretation of an existing piece. At worst, it feels stolen from a lost place rather than composed specifically for this purpose.(McKellar 2008)
Statue of the Virgin and Child
Source: ("St Chad's Cathedral, Birmingham" 2021)
This 15th century piece is of Dutch origin. The blessed Virgin holds a manifestation of humanity’s fall from the Garden of Eden, an apple in one hand, and a manikin of Christ in the other. Again repainted more than once; these statues evoke a Catholic sense of Christ's house functioning as a house rather like your or mine containing significant amounts of art and furniture especially when ceded by Pugin himself as a gift. The warm colours of this artefact clearly show that it was one of Pugins own well loved pieces. (McKellar 2008)
Norfolk Exterior Architecture
Source: ("The Bones Of Holkham Hall") Holkham Hall Frontage
Source: ("The Holkham Hall Wedding // Rebecca + Henry | Luis Holden Photography / Norfolk Wedding Photographer" 2021) Holkham Hall Rear
Source ("The Bones Of Holkham Hall" 2021) Holkham Hall Floor Plan.
Source: ("Villa Capra \" 2021) Villa Rotunda Floor Plan
Source: (" Villa Rotonda - Data, Photos & Plans - Wikiarquitectura" 2021)
Holkham Hall on Norfolk Coast is a Classic example of Neo-Palladian architecture. Neo-Palladian architecture is the first kind of Neoclassical architecture imported into the UK from the grand tourists to Italy. English Neo-Palladianism was fathered by the joiner Inigo Jones in the 17th century. He interested himself in the Neo-classical architecture of Italy at the end of the Renaissance particularly the work of Palladio, who used classical orders of columns, pediments and windows to create a quintessentially Italian neo-roman architecture. Jones purchased many of the Palladio drawings and spoke to some of the late Palladio's disciples and friends. He came back to the UK and created the first example of Neo-palladian architecture in the UK, the Queen Mother’s House at Greenwich. (Smith 1952)
A generation or two later Holkham Hall was constructed for Thomas Coke by Matthew Brettingham who was the site architect with significant design input from William Kent and Lord Burlington architect of the Royal Academy in London. The wholly symmetrical Villa Rotunda is Palladio’s most famous building. Source: ("Villa Rotonda - Data, Photos & Plans - Wikiarquitectura" 2021) My personal take on Holkham Hall is that the floor plan of this building is a family of Villa Rotundas one big squarish, rectangular building in the centre and four symmetrical box satellites each with an adjoining passage. Source: ("The Bones Of Holkham Hall" 2021) Holkham Hall Floor plan So that it too is roughly symmetrical if flipped 180 degrees,
except for the additional pediment at the front. The other four wings are perfect squares. One feature of the Villa Rotunda is the large central atrium, now covered. This feature is replaced at Holkham by a spectacular rectangular hall (A) and 2 asymmetrical courtyards on either side of it. It’s deceptively rotunda-esque without actually being the villa rotunda because it is slightly different at the front to the back. Source: ("Villa Capra \" 2021) Villa Rotunda. The pediment and columns out the front support a grand view on the way in and conversely a gallery to greet your visitors on coming down the drive. The rear contains a row of five palatial Palladian windows to open up light to the living areas and provide stunning views of the ground. The feel at the back is one of homeliness and informality. There is a Palladian pediment, but no supporting columns and a plain entrance this time for the squire and his guests showing it is his country home as well as a palace. Source: ("The Holkham Hall Wedding // Rebecca + Henry | Luis Holden Photography / Norfolk Wedding Photographer" 2021) Holkham Hall Rear. The outer skin of the building is Rustic and Tuscan in appearance and an opaque browny sedimentary colour associated with Italian Villas. Source: ("The Bones Of Holkham Hall") Holkham Hall Frontage
Source: (Sampson 2021)
"Temple Of Fortuna Virilis” (Temple Of Portunus) 2021
Source: ("6 Surprising Truths About The Pantheon In Rome" 2021)
The interior design of the entrance hall is the most spectacular part of the palace. The column styles are taken from the Temple of Fortuna Virilis in Rome ("Temple Of Fortuna Virilis” (Temple Of Portunus) 2021) which guests would be expected to recognise along with the ceiling coffering from the Pantheon in Rome. ("6 Surprising Truths About The Pantheon In Rome" 2021). So the guest would be received and they’d have a little polite game of guessing the artifact and how learned your grand tour was and how much of it you had taken in before they were given dinner and shown to their room. The owners were prominent and elitist pro-European Whigs.
Section 3: My Opinion and Conclusion on imbued moral qualities in Neo-Classicism vs Gothic Architecture based on the above.
It’s less of a question as to whether something imbues morality in general; moreover, it depends on what ideology you are adhering to. Classical architecture is supposed to imply a resurgence of Pagan-Hellenistic or humanistic values in society, an ideology that had its own set of morals, peace, security, sociological and philosophical sophistication and love of Athenian society. (Price 2008) Others believed in strict religious adherence to rituals. Classical and Gothic architecture stand for two very different moral approaches. Broadly speaking Puginites are the architectural Pharisees and the Sadducees ("Pharisees, Sadducees & Essenes" 2021) are the grand-touring elite Palladianists who were likely to have been sexually immoral, openly promiscuous partiers. Thus, Classical architecture appealed more to the morally liberal. Some people value honesty more in social morality terms than Catholic hypocrisy about gay priests for example. Classical architecture incorporates space that facilitates talking, socialising, and even making love like in a Roman forum or bath house. Many people prefer these humanistic or hellenistic values. ("The Steamy Truth About The Roman Bath" 2021)
As discussed above, if you are more spiritually moral, e.g. if you have had a fall or mental imbalance at any stage in life then equally, calmness, spiritual healing, balance, and yin and yang that ritual facilitating architecture such as Pugin’s implies would potentially imbue grater significance and moral standards for you as a person. Indeed, it depends on one’s independent moral compass as to which architectural style people find more imbued with morality, and this can change over time with the ebb and flow of life.
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Runge, Philipp Otto. 1809. The Great Morning. Oil on Canvas. Hamburg: Kunsthalle.
Sampson, Annabel. 2021. "Holkham Hall To Unveil Queen Victoria's Bedroom For The First Time For Her 200Th Birthday". Tatler. https://www.tatler.com/article/behind-the-scenes-of-holkham-hall-secret-passages-and-where-a-youn g-princess-victoria-stayed.
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