The ABCs of Decorative Arts: Gothic


An Abbey Interior, Possibly Fonthill 
Mackinnon Fine Furniture Archive

We are now over a quarter of the way through our alphabetic tour of the decorative arts, focusing today on the Gothic.  The Gothic style in England became a pervasive trend  toward the end of the eighteenth century with a renewed interest in medieval motifs drawn from English churches and architecture.  Batty Langley’s Ancient Architecture Restored and Improved, published in 1741-42 articulated the Gothic as a style of design.


Richard Bernard Godfrey after William Marlow, North Front of Strawberry Hill
Yale Center for British Art Collection

Horace Walpole’s Strawberry Hill was one of the first iterations of the Gothic revival with its towers and battlements on the exterior and interiors that evoke the ‘gloomth’ to display Walpole’s antiquarian collection.  Another pioneering example of the Gothic revival style was William Beckford’s Fonthill Abbey.  The Abbey was quite spectacular–one journalist called it the ‘Disneyland of its day.’  A watercolour of the Abbey’s interior is shown at the top of the post.  Unfortunately the building has not survived and the contents were sold, so our only records of it are drawings and watercolours.


Detail of the George III mahogany breakfront bookcase in the manner of Thomas Chippendale 
Mackinnon Fine Furniture Collection 

In addition to architecture, furniture also incorporated Gothic trends with astragals, clustered columns, pointed spires, and the quintessential ogival, or pointed arch.  Our George III mahogany breakfront bookcase features Gothic astragals with its pointed arches.

pair of chairs

A pair of George III mahogany side chairs with fretwork and Gothic decoration 
Mackinnon Fine Furniture Archives

The above pair of chairs features fretwork (discussed in our last post on the ABC’s) and Gothic tracery on the legs.  It is common to see Gothic elements incorporated alongside other decorative styles, including rococo and chinoiserie motifs.

To learn more about the Gothic and Gothic revival, it is worth visiting Strawberry HillStrawberry Hill, which is just a short trip outside London.  The newly refurbished interiors are a magnificent example of the Gothic splendour as envisioned by Horace Walpole himself.


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