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Perpendicular architecture

Perpendicular architecture was the last, great, culminating phase of Gothic architecture in England, so called because of the vertical lines of its window tracery and the similar effect of panelling, executed in stone, covering wall surfaces. Complex and decorative, it also makes use of the ‘four-centred’ arch, allowing extended, sometimes enormous, window apertures. Ever more intricate ‘stellar’, ‘fan’, and ultimately ‘pendant’ vaulting systems are also typical. So distinctively English was this style, and of such longevity (c.1350–1550), that the term ‘Perpendicular’ fails to convey its true importance; as John Harvey suggested it was, in effect, the national style of English Gothic and as such a major contribution to European art.

No complete English cathedral dates from the Perpendicular period, but many 14th- and 15th-cent. parish churches, especially in wool-rich East Anglia, exemplify the richness of this architecture; so too do the royal chapels of St George, Windsor (1475–1528), and of Henry VII, Westminster abbey (begun 1503), and, on a smaller scale, the numerous late Gothic chantries and tombs often inserted into earlier ecclesiastical buildings. The Divinity School, Oxford (1424–83), with its remarkable pendant-vaulted roof, is another excellent example. Quintessentially Perpendicular is King's College chapel, Cambridge (1447–1515), where the new, more open concept of space and light is seen to advantage in a building almost like an elaborate cage of glass and stone. This had later parallels in the development of domestic architecture during the Tudor period, as at Hardwick Hall, Derbyshire (‘more glass than wall’).

The Perpendicular style seems to have originated in the remodelling of the choir and east end of Gloucester cathedral (carried out c.1337–67) by the king's master mason, William Ramsey (d. 1349). Here the aisles are disguised and thus the spatial concept is remarkably unified, accentuated by panelling, tracery, vaulting, and, above all, the light pouring in through the gigantic east window itself. Ramsey reminds us of the increased importance and status of named architects (or designer-masons) at this time, a process initiated during the earlier periods of Gothic architecture. There was, for example, John Wastell, responsible for the completion of King's College Chapel, Cambridge, the central tower of Canterbury cathedral (1493–7), and probably for the retrochoir at Peterborough cathedral (c.1496–1508), and, above all, the prolific royal masons William Wynford (c.1320–1405) and Henry Yevele (c.1320–1400). Wynford redesigned the nave of Winchester cathedral (from 1394) and the influential Yevele, who was the king's master mason from 1360 until his death, was responsible for the nave and south transept of Canterbury cathedral (begun 1379). One of the last great works of Perpendicular Gothic was Bath abbey (1501–39), designed by Robert and William Vertue.

T. E. Faulkner

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