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Brabantine Gothic

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Brabantine Gothic

Brabantine Gothic, occasionally called Brabantian Gothic, is a significant variant of Gothic architecture that is typical for the Low Countries. It surfaced in the first half of the 14th century at Saint Rumbold's Cathedral in the City of Mechelen.


Reputed architects such as Jean d'Oisy, Jacob van Thienen, Everaert Spoorwater, Matheus de Layens, and the Keldermans and De Waghemakere families disseminated the style and techniques to cities and towns of the Duchy of Brabant and beyond. For churches and other major buildings, the tenor prevailed and lasted throughout the Renaissance.


Brabantine Gothic, in a Low Countries context also referred to as High Gothic, differs from the earlier introduced Scheldt Gothic, which typically had the main tower above the crossing of a church, maintained Romanesque horizontal lines, and applied blue-gray stone quarried from the vicinity of Tournai at the river Scheldt that allowed its transportation in particular in the old County of Flanders.

Mosan Gothic (Meuse Gothic) refers to the river Maas (or Meuse, borrowed from French), mainly in the south-eastern parts of the Low Countries: the modern provinces of Limburg in the Netherlands, Limburg in Flanders, and Liège in Wallonia. Though of a later origin than Scheldt Gothic, it also still showed more Romanesque features, including smaller windows. Marlstone was used, and around the capitals on limestone columns are sculptured leaves of irises.

Two centuries of Brabantine Gothic design

Surface conditions and available materials varied. Larger churches could take centuries of building during which expertise and fashions caused successive architects to evolve further from the original plans. Or, Romanesque churches became rebuilt in phases of dismantling and replacing, as (apart from its crypt) Saint Bavo's Cathedral in Ghent: the early 14th-century chancel is influenced by northern French and Scheldt Gothic, a century later a radiating chapel appeared, and between 1462 and 1538 the mature Brabantine Gothic west tower was erected; the nave was then still to be finished. Though few buildings are of an entirely consistent style, the ingenuity and craftsmanship of architects could realize a harmonious blend. The ultimate concepts were drawn centuries after the earliest designs. It follows that Brabantine Gothic style is neither homogeneous, nor strictly defined.


The Brabantine Gothic style originated with the advent of the Duchy of Brabant and spread across the Burgundian Netherlands. Besides minor influences by the High Cathedral of Saints Peter and Mary in Cologne, the architecture builds on the classic French Gothic style as practiced in the construction of cathedrals such as those in Amiens and Reims.

The structure of the church buildings in Brabant was largely the same: a large-scale cruciform floor plan with three-tier elevation along the nave and side aisles (pier arches, triforium, clerestory) and a choir backed by a half-round ambulatory. The slender tallness of the French naves however, was never surpassed, and the size tended to be slightly more modest.

It is characterized by using light-coloured sandstone or limestone, which allowed rich detailing but is erosion-prone. The churches typically have round columns with cabbage foliage sculpted capitals. From there half-pillar buttresses continue often without interruption into the vault ribs. The triforium and the windows of the clerestory generally continue into one another, with the windows taking the entire space of the pointed arch. An ambulatory with radiating chapels (chevet) is part of the design (though at the 15th-century choir in Breda added later on). Whereas the cathedrals in Brussels and Antwerp are notable exceptions, the main porch is straight under the single west tower, in French called clocher-porche.

An alternative type originated with the cathedral of Antwerp: instead of round columns with a capital impost, bundled pillars profiled in the columns continue without interruption through the ribs of vaults and arches – a style followed for churches in 's-Hertogenbosch and Leuven. In addition, the pier arches between nave and aisles are exceptionally wide, and the triforium is omitted. Instead, a transom of tracery is placed above the pier arches. This type was followed by other major churches in Antwerp city, St. Martin Church in Aalst, and St. Michael's Church in Ghent.

Demer Gothic in the Hageland and Campine Gothic are regional variants of Brabantine Gothic in the south-eastern part of the former duchy. Those styles can be distinguished merely by the use of local rust-brown bricks.

Brabantine Gothic city halls are built in the shape of gigantic box reliquaries with corner turrets and usually a belfry. The exterior is often profusely decorated.

Adaptations in Holland and of Zeeland

Many churches in the former Counties of Holland and of Zeeland are built in a style sometimes inaccurately separated as Hollandic and as Zeelandic Gothic. These are in fact Brabantine Gothic style buildings with concessions necessitated by local conditions. Thus (except for Dordrecht), because of the soggy ground, weight was saved by wooden barrel vaults instead of stone vaults and the flying buttresses required for those. In most cases, the walls were made of bricks but cut natural stone was not unusual.

Everaert Spoorwater played an important role in spreading Brabantine Gothic into Holland and Zeeland. He perfected a method by which the drawings for large constructions allowed ordering virtually all natural stone elements from quarries on later Belgian territory, then at the destination needing merely their cementing in place. This eliminated storage near the construction site, and the work could be done without the permanent presence of the architect.

Ecclesiastical buildings

In order of the year mentioned for their earliest Brabantine Gothic style characteristics
  • Saint Rumbold's Cathedral at Mechelen, early Gothic building started around 1200 and consecrated 1312, its first clearly Brabantine Gothic features: ambulatory and 7 radiant chapels from 1335, possibly by Jean d'Oisy
  • Church of Our Lady in Aarschot, from 1337 by Jacob Piccart
  • Saint Martin's Basilica in Halle, from 1341 possibly by Jean d'Oisy
  • Cathedral of Our Lady in Antwerp, from 1352
  • Church of Our Lady-at-the-Pool in Tienen, from 1358 by Jean d'Oisy
  • Saint John's Cathedral in 's-Hertogenbosch, from about 1370, considered the height of Brabantine Gothic in the present-day Netherlands
  • Saint Gummarus' Church in Lier, from 1378; the design of the choir is an imitation of that of St. Rumbold's at Mechelen.
  • Church of Our Lady-across-the-Dijle in Mechelen, from before 1400
  • Saint Peter's Church in Leuven, from about 1400
  • Saint Sulpicius and Saint Denis Collegiate Church (colloq. St. Sulpicius Church) in Diest, from before 1402 start for a radiating chapel by the Frenchman Pierre de Savoye - Demer Gothic
  • Saint Bavo's Cathedral in Ghent, from early 15th century
  • The Large Church or Church of Our Lady in Breda, from 1410, considered the most pure and elegant Brabantine Gothic in the present-day Netherlands
  • Saint Michael's and Saint Gudula's Cathedral in Brussels
  • Our Blessed Lady of Zavel Church in Brussels
  • Saint Martin's Church in Aalst
  • The Grote Kerk in Dordrecht, the present form dates from 1470.
  • Secular buildings

  • Brussels City Hall
  • Leuven City Hall
  • Round Table (or Tafelrond) in Leuven, 1479 by Matheus de Layens, guildhall built 1480-1487 internally comprising 3 houses, demolished 1817, reconstructed following original plans 1921
  • Margraves' Palace (Markiezenhof in Dutch) in Bergen op Zoom
  • Mechelen City Hall, north wing (in 1526 designed and partially built, 1900-1911 partially rebuilt and fully completed)
  • Former Town Hall (or Raadhuis) in Oirschot (Brick building that also housed the Vierschaar, in a minor town: characteristic shrine shape but extremely sober)
  • Ecclesiastical buildings

  • The Large Church or Church of Our Lady in Dordrecht (Holland)
  • The Large Church or Saint Lawrence's Church in Alkmaar (Holland)
  • The Large Church or Saint Lawrence's Church in Rotterdam (Holland)
  • The Large Church or Saint Bavo's Church in Haarlem (Holland)
  • Highland Church or Saint-Pancras' Church in Leiden (Holland)
  • The Old Church, formerly Saint Nicolas' Church, in Amsterdam (largest medieval wooden barrel vault in Europe; wooden spire)
  • Saint Livinus' Monster Tower (or St.-Lievensmonstertoren, in Dutch) in Zierikzee (Zeeland) (separated by a gap from the meanwhile demolished church building)
  • Secular buildings

  • Gouda City Hall (Holland)
  • Middelburg City Hall (Zeeland)
  • Ecclesiastical buildings

  • Saint Martin's Cathedral in Ypres, in the former County of Flanders
  • Saint Michael's Church in Ghent, in the former County of Flanders
  • Saint Willibrord's Basilica in Hulst, in Zeelandic Flanders: until 1648 in the County of Flanders, currently in the Province of Zeeland in the Netherlands
  • Saint Waltrude's Collegiate Church in Mons, in the former County of Hainaut (built with a hard sandstone and blue limestone)
  • Saint Lambert's Church in Nederweert, until 1703 in the Prince-bishopric of Liège (though during a part of the 16th century County of Horn), currently in the Province of Limburg in the Netherlands
  • Saint Martin's Cathedral or Domkerk in Utrecht, between Counties of Brabant and of Holland, and Duchy of Guelders in the Netherlands (Gothic church on an island in the Rhine, possibly directly inspired by the cathedral in Cologne, though it has a single west tower. This tower became a regional model referred to as Utrecht & Sticht Gothic).
  • Secular buildings

  • Damme City Hall, in the former County of Flanders
  • Oudenaarde City Hall, in the former County of Flanders
  • References

    Brabantine Gothic Wikipedia