Gothic and Gothic Revival furniture, although from distinct historical periods, encapsulate many similar design features, as the latter was inspired by the former. Loosely speaking, the term Gothic covers 12-16th century European design, although the term itself wasn't used to describe the style until the latter part of the Renaissance period. Gothic design initially evolved from Romanesque architecture.
In terms of architecture, Gothic buildings employed a variety of new techniques. Walls were pierced with larger windows and loftier spaces were created. In sculpture and the other figurative arts, the style combined the detailed observation of nature with an expressive elegance. Gothic quickly spread throughout Europe, and versions of the style were still in use as late as the 1550s.
Gothic Revival was one of the most influential design styles of the 19th century, and is also known by the terms Victorian Gothic and Neo Gothic. Designs were based on the original forms and patterns used during the 13th and 14th centuries, such as open carving, painted furniture and the incorporation of Heraldic motifs.
A 19th century obsession with mediaevalism, its mythos and notions of chivalry, inspired Gothic Revival designs.
During the Gothic period, style had a religious basis. Pointed arches and stained glass in complex trefoil and rose designs were prevalent, exposed wooden beams, hulking stone fire places, and candle-lighting all added to a somewhat ecclesiastical atmosphere.
A strong “vertical influence”, supported by high arches and peaks, pervades.
Furniture tended to be large, fashioned from oak and elaborately carved with Gothic motifs. Cabinets, chairs and bed frames from the period featured arches, spiral turned legs and rich, dark coloured upholstery. Some furniture was actually inspired by that which was found in churches during the peiod, such as pews, trestle tables and carved benches.
Purples, reds, blacks, dark greens and gold prevail in terms of colour.
Furniture was often painted.
Trompe- l’oeil (or tick of the eye) features were popular architecturally.
Stained glass was a common design motif.
The Gothic artists of the early period made figures overcome with tender feeling and strong emotion as it was thought that viewers were more likely to associate with religious stories if their characters exhibited human emotions. When this theory was applied to sacred images, it was thought that these figures could inspire religious devotion. Images of Jesus and the Virgin Mary from these period generally emphasise the close relationship between mother and child.
Gothic design was most heavily influenced by religion and the church. Roman and medieval designs, featuring carved wood, Heraldic emblems and open tracery were re-emerged in Gothic designs.
Get the look
Gothic furniture is large, wooden (oak is prevalent) and elaborately carved. Open carvings, spiral turned legs and brass accessories are typical of the period.
Dark colours are favoured, with rich, ecclesiastical colours such as reds, purples, blacks and very dark greens the most prominent in Gothic design.
Arches, Heraldic symbols and medieval designs were popular and common.
Fire places tended towards the enormous and were generally made from pale stone.
Antique rugs and embroidery and tapestries add depth and warmth.
Gothic furniture is generally designed “on the vertical”, in order to give it a vaulting sense of elevation.
Four poster beds with spiral turned posters are typically Gothic.
Gothic Revival pieces are natually much cheaper than original Gothic pieces, however, well made Gothic Revival pieces can also command large sums at auction and regularly sell for four/five figures.
- Cathedral of Notre-Dame, Paris
- York Minster
- The Palace of Westminster
- St Pancras Station
All Saints Church, Margaret Street, London
Augustus Pugin – architecture
- Herbert Minton
- William Burges
- Abbot Suger
A Flemish Renaissance tapestry sold for £325,250 at Sotheby’s in July 2012.
A Gothic revival carved oak chair sold for $46,875 at Sotheby’s in January 2013.
A Gothic revival table with a marble top sold for $31,250 at Sotheby’s in January 2013.
General price guide
A 19th century Gothic Revival rosewood chair sold for $125 at Time and Again Auction Gallery in June 2007.
A Gothic Revival walnut writing desk sold for $1100 at Estate Galleries and Auctioneers in March 2006.
A Gothic Revival carved arm chair sold for £160 at Jim Railton in November 2005.
A mixed lot of Gothic furniture and metal wares, including several brass candle sticks, sold for £620 at Bonhams in May 2005.
A Gothic Revival mahogany grandfather clock sold for $9200 at Great American Auction in December 2006.