The true Gothic style is the Middle Ages tour-de-force of soaring spires, tracery windows, vaulted ceilings and flying buttresses that made up the great cathedrals of Europe. The incomprehensible majesty of the great cathedrals inspired awe, respect, power, and spirituality for the people who lived in modest, low, poorly lit homes at the time.
The Gothic Revival style of the mid to late 19th century was a looking back at the grandeur of the past; it was also a way to claim the history and the recognition of the greatness that the cathedrals had originally inspired.
Other architectural styles also harked back to earlier precedents. The Mansard style that became popular in the 1800’s in France was used as a way of connecting the reign of Emperor Napoleon III and Empress Eugenie of France with the historic greatness of France in the 1600’s. The style symbolized the continuity of Napoleon’s political dynasty to the people of France.
The Gothic Revival style was more of an English phenomenon. The English architect Sir Charles Barry – who was designing the Houses of Parliament in the 1840’s and 1850’s – along with Augustus Welby Pugin (who was designing the lavish Gothic Revival interiors) – used the symbolism of the Gothic Revival style to emphasize the connection between God, the English monarch, the Church of England and the very social hierarchy that made up the political framework of Great Britain in the 19th century. The Law Courts in the Strand were also designed in the Gothic Revival style – connecting power, God and the establishment – all that was considered “good” at the time. Another spectacular example of the style is Manchester’s Town Hall, a mammoth stone building built in an artistic combination of Gothic Revival with unexpected Queen Anne/Aesthetic decorative elements. The ornate and atmospheric corridors of the building often stand in for the Houses of Parliament in film sets.