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Romanticism: Friedrich Karl Wilhelm von Schlegel: Excerpts from Selected Works (1798-1804)

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II. From The Fundamentals of Gothic Architecture (1803)

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[On the architecture in Cambray] Wonderful style of architecture! springing from the highest story of the tower, it seems to pierce the clouds like a transparent obelisk, or pyramid of open tracery! more pointed and slender than the one, it is less so than the other, and formed of slender shafts, clustering together, with various flowers and crockets, it terminates at length in a slender spire and finial.

The design of most Gothic towers is similar, although very few of them have ever been finished.

I have a decided predilection for the Gothic style of architecture; and when I am so fortunate as to discover any monument, however ruined or defaced, I examine every portion of it with unwearied zeal and attention, for it appears to me that from a neglect of such study the deep meaning and peculiar motive of Gothic architecture is seldom fully arrived at.

It unites an extreme delicacy and inconceivable skill in mechanical execution, with the grand, the boundless, and infinite, concentrated in the idea of an entire Gothic fabric; a rare and truly beautiful combination of contrasting elements, conceived by the power of human intellect, and aiming at faultless perfection in the minutest details, as well as in the lofty grandeur and comprehensiveness of the general design.

No art ought ever to be permitted to encroach upon its sister arts. The ancient classic monuments at Athens, Pæstum, and Girgenti would undoubtedly, if seen in their native clime, excite feelings of veneration, in the same manner as the feeble designs and gigantic works of Egyptian, Persian, or Indian antiquity inspire wonder and astonishment. But what with us is usually styled Grecian art is merely a copy, a soulless imitation of the period when Greek art was in its decline, and an agreeable but most unmeaning symmetry had replaced that grandeur of soul and expression which had too long been lost.

The Gothic may possibly be styled in the next work on architecture the German style, from its having been common among all the nations of ancient Germany, and the grandest, heretofore called Gothic, edifices in Italy, France, and even in Spain, being also the work of German architects. This old Teutonic architecture certainly requires some effort of the mind to penetrate its unfathomable obscurity. It flourished most in the Netherlands, and appears to have attained there its highest perfection, scarcely a town in Brabant being without one or more remarkable monuments of that art.

However, the general title of "Gothic Architecture," if that great national name be taken in its widest sense, for the old Christian and romantic style of the middle ages, from Theodoric down to the present time, is decidedly the most appropriate, and must ever be retained. I may remark also that the apparently arbitrary epithet of Romantic, applied to Mediæval poetry, so completely expresses the prevalence of fancy in that art, that it seems impossible to exchange it for any other term equally significant and appropriate.

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