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Friday, April 25, 2014

Book Review: The Gothic Revival by Kenneth Clark

Book Review:
 The Gothic Revival
by Kenneth Clark
published 1928, this edition published 1970

  This book is critical both as a source for information on the Gothic Revival of the 18th and 19th century AND as a seminal book of criticism about the relationship of culture, art and fashion.  The Gothic Revival has value both in terms of its description of the Gothic Revival, it's criticism of the Revivalists and its method for analyzing the subject.

  The idea of a cultural "revival" is something that is a common phenomenon of the early 21st century (as well as the mid to late 20th century.)  Revivals occur when a cultural subject that has had a peak and valley of Audience interest receives a second peak of interest.  Revivals can occur and reoccur or they can be a one time phenomenon.  While the description of "new" revivals is a staple of cultural criticism today, attention to the similar structures of revivals across art forms and audiences receives less attention.

 The fact is that the revival as a staple of the changes in culture that happen over time is itself indelibly linked to The Gothic Revival of the early 19th century.  This was a phenomenon that was largely specific to England and Scotland, though English/Scottish authors drew on examples from outside the British Isles, and The Gothic Revival spread to other territories, specifically North America, where an American Gothic Revival coincided with the later portion of the English Gothic Revival.

  Clark elegantly traces the roots of the Gothic Revival to the Romantic movement of the 18th century.  A major question for Clark is whether the Gothic Revival of Architecture can or should be linked to the earlier Gothic trend in literature, which preceded the Architectural revival. Clark's position is that the two are obviously linked, but that the literature did not serve as a direct inspiration for the Architecture.

 Rather, the Gothic Revival in Architecture sprang from an increase in the number of people who were building "country homes" in rural England and needed design tips for those homes.  This preference "trickled up" to public buildings, where a taste for Gothic influenced designs for Churches and Government buildings. 

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