Gothic Tracery

Definition

Tracery is a form of architectural decoration in which a frame (often a window, railing, or blind arch) is filled with interlacing bands of material. (A "blind arch" is an arch-shaped depression in a wall; tracery that spans a blind arch is known as "blind tracery".) Tracery of exceptional refinement is found in Islamic architecture (see Islamic Art) and Gothic architecture.

Pointed Arches and Foils

The two principal motifs of Gothic tracery are the pointed arch and foil. A "foil" is a clover-like shape that features three or more "leaves"; the most common types are the trefoil (three-leaf) and quatrefoil (four-leaf), though Gothic architects freely added any number of additional foils.

A typical Gothic window can be divided into two sections. The lower section features two or more adjacent pointed arches, which may themselves be subdivided. The remaining space in the upper section of the window is often filled with a foil enclosed in a circle, or some variation thereof.

Gothic Windows
Gothic Window
Gothic Window
Gothic Windows

A partial foil nestled under the point of an arch results in a foil arch. The tips of foil leaves may also be embellished in this manner.

Gothic Window with Foil Arches
Rose Window Tracery

Other Shapes

Petals, another common motif in Gothic tracery, are a standard feature of the rose window, a great circular window found above the main entrance of many cathedrals.

Rose Window

One often encounters a spade-like shape in Gothic tracery; this occurs when the leaf of a foil stretches into a corner.

Gothic Tracery
Gothic Tracery
Gothic Tracery

One subtype of Gothic tracery is flame tracery, which features an abundance of sharp curves and points. Flame tracery was a development of the Late Gothic period, during which architects pushed Gothic elaboration to incredible extremes.

Flame Tracery