Saturday, November 22, 2014


click photo to enlarge
I was introduced to the word "rectilinear", as many are, in school mathematics. I came across it later when I was studying the history of art. The third definition of the word in my copy of the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) best describes what I usually mean by the word: "Of a figure or angle: bounded or formed by straight lines". Often these meet at right-angles. It was also the history of art (actually, architecture) that introduced me to the word, "curvilinear". Looking up this word in the OED I find the first definition, for my purposes,could not be bettered. It says: "Consisting of, or contained by, a curved line or lines; having the form of a curved line. (Opposed to rectilinear, and in Gothic Archit. to perpendicular, as applied to window tracery."

Today's photograph is a detail of the fourteenth century curvilinear (often called "flowing") Gothic tracery of the main south transept window of the church of St Andrew at Heckington, Lincolnshire. You can see all of the window, in its setting, here. This style of tracery, and variations on it, was the fashion in churches and other buildings of substance, for most of the 1300s in England. I've often imagined what it must have been like to be  the designer of such windows. They seem to have been motivated by a desire to achieve forms that embrace utility (admitting light whilst offering structural support to the arch), beauty and novelty. However, looking at the tracery of many churches within a given locality you do wonder to what extent inter-parish rivalry figured in the production of these elaborate designs.

Architectural historians call it the Decorated style and it replaced Early English, a style of narrow, pointed (lancet) windows that later had tracery of geometrically correct circles and cusps. The real characteristic of the Decorated, Curvilinear or Flowing style is the "ogee", the elongated, serpentine, "s" shaped line that is everywhere in this window. Here you can see it in the main ribs that curve upwards from the capitals of the mullions, in the top cusp at the head of each light, and in the top and bottom cusps of the mouchettes. This style was followed, in the fifteenth century, by one known as Perpendicular. This, the OED rightly notes, is essentially rectilinear in overall form, and has sometimes been identified by that name.

photograph and text © Tony Boughen

Camera: Nikon D5300
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 80mm (120mm - 35mm equiv.)
F No: f7.1
Shutter Speed: 1/320 sec
Exposure Compensation: -0.33 EV
Image Stabilisation: On