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Classical and Gothic Architecture Essay

The cultures of the ancient Greeks and medieval Europeans were significantly influenced by religion. Greek Classicism brought about some of the most beautiful artwork and architecture that still exists today. The style strives to exemplify a culture of harmony, order, reason, intellect, objectivity, and formal discipline (Sporre, 2010). Classicism is best exemplified in the ancient temples that are found throughout the region of Greece and Italy. Gothic style art and architecture began in the areas surrounding Paris in the sixteenth century (Sporre, 2010). Similarly, the Gothic architecture of the late medieval era is best exemplified in places of worship. The Gothic cathedral is described by Sporre (2010) as a, “synthesis of intellect, spirituality, and engineering, perfectly expressing the medieval mind”(p.242). There are significant similarities between Classical and Gothic architecture, both also some noteworthy differences; however, no matter the result of comparison, both styles have left the world with beautiful architectural achievements.

The Parthenon in Greece is one of the best examples of Greek Classicism. Built on the Athenian Acropolis, this temple was dedicated to the Greek goddess Athena, the goddess of wisdom, courage, inspiration, skill, and strength. The precision and symmetry of the Parthenon has been called the culmination of the Doric order and is largely considered one of the world’s greatest cultural monuments. The Parthenon was completed in 438 BC and is one of the most elegant (and ancient) examples of post-and-lintel creations (Sporre, 2010). The Parthenon is also a peripteral temple, in which columns surround the interior room (Sporre, 2010). The composition of the temple beautifully typifies the classical style and the Doric character; it achieves harmony through its clean simplistic configuration.

The Doric order is best recognized by the capitols that rest the lintels of a classical column. The Parthenon easily shows this style with the addition of “fluting”, which was common for Doric columns. Sculptures within the Parthenon represent various mythical battles and stories, although many of the pieces are lost or destroyed. The Parthenon is well noted for its architectural refinements, particularly the entasis of the columns, which may have been to reverse the optical illusion of “bowing”. The Parthenon achieves the symbolism needed to represent the ancient Greeks; it beautifully presents a clean, intelligent structure that stands with dignity and grace.

Like the temples of ancient Greece, the Gothic cathedral of medieval times was built to be the center of their society. According to Sporre (2010), the cathedral was, “a source of civic pride”, and built for, “the service of God”(p.242). Similar to classical architecture, Gothic cathedrals often used stone columns to emphasize vertical height and allow natural light within the building. Gothic architects were masters in achieving a look of “lightness”; this look was achieved by the implementation of the flying “buttress” which not only gave the appearance of angels’ wings but also practically carried the outward thrust of the vaults (Sporre, 2010). Furthermore, the pointed arch marks one of the easiest identifiable trademarks of a Gothic cathedral. The pointed arch not only represents Gothic Spirituality, but also engineering practicality; the pointed arch better redistributes the thrust of downward force and allows more natural light to fill the interior (Sporre, 2010).

The cathedral in Salisbury, England is one of the world’s greatest Gothic achievements. The Salisbury Cathedral, also known as the Cathedral Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary, was completed in 1258 AD. The church is home to the world’s oldest working clock and the best surviving copy of the Magna Carta. The cathedral is one of the few pieces of architecture that singularly represent the style of Early English Gothic. The tower is one of the best examples of the usefulness that the buttress brings to the Gothic style; the stone that is typical for Gothic cathedrals weighs an enormous amount, the buttress helps alleviate that stress. The religious symbolism reflected in the Salisbury Cathedral are extremely hard to miss; typical of Gothic cathedrals, it has many pointed arches that seem to point to heaven. The sculptures within the church also exemplify the role religion had in medieval culture.

As a learner of the arts, it would be difficult to choose a favorite between Classical and Gothic Style architecture. While it is impossible not to admire the engineering marvel that is the Gothic cathedral, I prefer the clean simplistic nature of the ancient Greeks. The beauty of ancient Greek architecture is in its grace, as compared to Gothic cathedrals, the latter seems much to busy. Despite my personal preference, the engineering tenacity of the architects, and the symbolism and emotions that these structures exude, truly makes these artworks treasures of the earth.


Sporre, D. J. (2010). Sculpture. _Reality through the arts_ (7th ed., p. 86). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Sporre, D. J. (2010). Artistic Reflections in The Pre-Modern World. _Reality through the arts_ (7th ed., pp. 222, 228, 241-242). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

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