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In this lesson, you will explore the architectural revivals that coincided and cooperated with European Romanticism.

Then, you can test your understanding of this knowledge with a brief quiz.

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Architectural Revival

Often, when we are in need of inspiration, we look back to our greatest successes. And why not? It reminds us of our potential, our goals, and, yeah, that little ego boost doesn’t hurt either. People do this, and so do nations. In between the late 18th and mid-19th centuries, European nations began looking back to their proudest moments as a source of inspiration and found styles in art and architecture that fit their modern goals, while reminding everyone of their greatness.

For England, and later France, the period they looked back on was the medieval era, when knights saved princesses from dragons and whatnot. The major architectural style of England and France in the medieval era was called the Gothic style, so this is the style they revived. The neo-Gothic style of architecture combined Gothic elements with the modern fascination with freedom of forms, a fascination derived from the Romanticism movement of the time. Revival architecture was more than just a way to fondly reminisce on past greatness, however. It was also an expression that the nation was climbing back to the top.

Neo-Gothic Architecture

Neo-Gothic architecture was focused on the revival of medieval, Gothic styles.

One of the earliest examples is the Inveraray Castle, a summer home for the Dukes of Argyll, built in Scotland in 1746. It looks like a genuine castle, doesn’t it? The towers, or turrets, on each corner give it a distinctly medieval character. Now, the Dukes who lived here were not planning to be attacked by any invading armies, so the choice to model the estate after a castle was purely for design purposes.

Inveraray Castle

France jumped onto the neo-Gothic thing as well, restoring prominent Gothic cathedrals, like the famous Notre Dame, and building entirely new ones in the Gothic revival styles. The first major neo-Gothic church to come out of France is the Basilica of Sainte-Clotilde, built from 1846-1857. Look at the tall towers, covered in decorative spires. Even the inside feels very Gothic, with high, vaulted ceilings, pointed arches, and prominent stained glass windows.


Perhaps the most famous example of the neo-Gothic style, however, comes from England.

In 1834, the Houses of Parliament burnt down, and the government began searching for architects to design a new government building. Charles Barry won the competition, and along with A.W.N. Pugin, designed the neo-Gothic Palace of Westminster, commonly called the Houses of Parliament, since this is where both sections of British parliament meet. The entire structure is lined with towers and spires, culminating in the enormous clock lovingly called Big Ben.

Despite the Gothic appearance, the actual layout is very conservative, and of course, the amenities are far from medieval. So, Gothic inspired, but new. Thus, neo-Gothic.

Romantic Architecture

Romanticism, as a movement, embraced freedoms of artistic styles. Many architects found that freedom in the neo-Gothic style, which allowed for towers, spires, and ornate decorations that did not have to reflect the perfect proportions of other styles: classical architecture, for example.

Architects also expressed this freedom by mixing Gothic styles with new building materials, like cast iron. This bridge in New York’s Central Park, built by Calvert Vaux in the 1860s, shows Gothic-style decorations created completely out of cast iron.


Lesson Summary

One of the major movements of the late 18th to mid-19th centuries was Romanticism, a philosophy that encouraged freedom of form and style in the arts.

In architecture, the Romantic passion mixed with a surge of national pride, leading to the revival of former styles. The medieval Gothic style was re-imagined as the neo-Gothic, a blending of medieval and modern designs that focused on the use of ornate spires and towers to create complex, strong structures.One of the most famous examples of the neo-Gothic style is the Palace of Westminster, designed in 1835 for the Houses of Parliament.

Romantic-era architects also used new building materials, like cast iron, to play with Gothic forms, and introduced exotic motifs inspired by Britain’s global empire. The neo-Gothic style was a way for England and France to demonstrate their proud histories, but also to suggest that they were reaching a new height of their power, much more than just reminiscing.

Learning Outcomes

After completing this video lesson, make certain that you can:

  • Describe the revival of romanticism in architecture
  • Define neo-Gothic style
  • Identify types of neo-Gothic architecture

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