Seldom has a word carried such a range of similar, but really quite different, meanings than that one. Somehow, we all think we know what it means, but try to tie it down and it’s slippery. Pointy arches? Ivy covered walls? Vampires? Victorians? Languid long haired girls in black frocks and chokers? Anything black? Anything brooding? Pugin? Would Pugin have wanted aforementioned young ladies draped over his architecture? And what happens when ‘gothic’ turns into ‘goths’? Whole new can of worms to open there.
The OED defines Gothic as:
1. relating to the Goths or their extinct language, which belongs to the East Germanic branch of the Indo-European language family. It provides the earliest manuscript evidence of any Germanic language (4th–6th centuries ad).
2. of or in the style of architecture prevalent in western Europe in the 12th–16th centuries (and revived in the mid 18th to early 20th centuries), characterized by pointed arches, rib vaults, and flying buttresses, together with large windows and elaborate tracery. English Gothic architecture is divided into Early English, Decorated, and Perpendicular.
3. (also archaic Gothick) belonging to or redolent of the Dark Ages; portentously gloomy or horrifying: 19th-century Gothic horror.
4. (of lettering) of or derived from the angular style of handwriting with broad vertical downstrokes used in western Europe from the 13th century, including Fraktur and black-letter typefaces.
5. (gothic) relating to goths or goth music.
Well, bad news for the Goths but nobody seems to consider them when they think of Gothic, which is a bit sad really given their impact on the shape of post Roman Europe, but that’s how it is, we’re ignoring them. Future blog on the art of the Goths: promise. Not really sure the popular imagination is really down with number four either. Lettering and typography isn’t really featuring much. Which pretty much leaves us with a mixture of two and three with a smattering of five; architecture with added portentous gloom. Which sort of really does sum it up if you think of all the aforementioned women in black dresses as being gloomy.
What rather, I think, throws the candelabra in the coffin of the Gothic, as seen on Instagram, Facebook and so forth, is that much of it seems to via away from the portentiously gloomy and into a kind of romanticism; pre-Raphaelite dark if you will. It’s an aesthetic which is as much about long curly hair and long victoriana dresses as it is about any sense of gloomy foreboding. Then, these days, you also get some overtones of it in Steampunk; when that alternative reality nineteenth century meets the supernatual, you can pretty much see the ‘Gothic’ in it.
Of course, and this is really the point towards which I was rambling, this whole gothic meets romantic meets PRB is actually a great combination visually.
It makes for great photos and paintings.