A fan vault is a form of vault used in the Gothic style, in which the ribs are all of the same curve and spaced equidistantly, in a manner resembling a fan. The initiation and propagation of this design element is strongly associated with England.
The earliest example, dating from about the year 1351, may be seen in the cloisters of Gloucester Cathedral. The largest fan vault in the world can be found in the chapel of King's College, Cambridge.
The fan vault is peculiar to England. The lierne vault of the cathedral of Barbastro in Spain closely resembles a fan vault, but it does not form a perfect conoid. Harvey (1978) suggests Catherine of Aragon as a possible source of English influence in Aragon.
Birth of the fan vault
The fan vault is attributed to development in Gloucester between 1351 and 1377, with the earliest known surviving example being the east cloister walk of Gloucester Cathedral. Harvey (1978) hypothesises that the east cloister at Gloucester was finished under Thomas de Cambridge (Thomas de Cantebrugge) from Cambridge, Gloucestershire, who left in 1364 to work on the chapter house at Hereford Cathedral (also thought to have been fan vaulted on the basis of a drawing by William Stukeley). The other three parts of the cloister at Gloucester were begun in 1381, possibly under Robert Lesyngham.
Other examples of early fan vaults exist around Gloucester, implying the activity of several 14th century master masons in this region, who really created the fan vault and experimented with forms of its early use.
The ribs of a fan vault are of equal curvature and rotated at equal distances around a central (vertical) axis, forming the conoid shape which gives rise to the name. In between sequences of conoids, flat central spandrels fill the space. According to Leedy (1980), the fan vault was developed in England (as opposed to France and other centres of gothic architecture) due to the manner in which English rib vaults were normally constructed. In an English rib vault, the courses are laid perpendicular to the rib while in France they are laid perpendicular to the wall.
List of buildings with fan vaulting
- Gloucester Cathedral, cloisters (Thomas de Cambridge)
- King's College Chapel, Cambridge, the world's largest fan vaulted structure (by William Vertue)
- Henry VII's Lady Chapel, Westminster Abbey, London, England, 1503-1509 (with pendants, by William Vertue)
- Bath Abbey, Somerset, England, nave and chancel (1860s restoration; originally by William Vertue)
- St Stephen's cloister at the Palace of Westminster (1529)
- Christ Church, Oxford, staircase to the great hall
- Convocation House, Oxford
- University Church of St Mary the Virgin, Oxford, porch
- St. George's Chapel, Windsor, crossing, Urswick chantry chapel
- Peterborough Cathedral, Cambridgeshire, retrochoir
- Eton College Chapel (the vault dates from 1958)
- Sherborne Abbey, nave (by William Smyth)
- Milton Abbey, crossing (by William Smyth)
- Canterbury Cathedral, crossing tower (by John Wastell), Henry VI's chantry chapel
- Winchester Cathedral, Beaufort and Waynflete chantry chapels
- St Davids Cathedral, Trinity Chapel
- Tewkesbury Abbey, cloister (only 1 bay remains)
- Hampton Court Palace, Great Gate and oriel window in the Great Hall
- Church of St. John the Baptist, Cirencester, porch and north chapel
- St Andrew's Church, Cullompton, south aisle
- St Mary's Church, Ottery St Mary, aisle
- Dean's Chapel, Collegiate Church of St Mary, Warwick
- Ely Cathedral, Bishop Alcock's Chantry Chapel
- Red Mount Chapel, King's Lynn
- Manchester Cathedral, under the tower
- Wells Cathedral, crossing (by William Smyth)
- Church of St Andrew, Mells, porch
- Church of St John the Baptist, Axbridge, crossing
- St Mary's Church, North Leigh, Wilcote chantry chapel
- Church of St Peter and St Paul, Muchelney, under the tower
- St Bartholomew's Church, Tong, Shropshire, chantry chapel
- St Mary Aldermary, London (by Christopher Wren)
- Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, main gateway
- Brasenose College, Oxford, Chapel ceiling - a spectacular example of plaster pendant fan vaulting
Gothic revival buildings with fan vaulting
- Wills Memorial Building, University of Bristol
- Middlesex Guildhall, Westminster
- Committee staircase, House of Lords lobbies in the Palace of Westminster
- Saint Patrick's Church, New Orleans, Louisiana, USA (apsidal fan vault)
- Harkness Tower, Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut, USA
- Centre Block, Parliament of Canada, Ottawa
- Strawberry Hill, London
- Balcony in John Rylands Library, Manchester
- Grand Theatre, Leeds
- St John's, Edinburgh
- Unitarian Church in Charleston, South Carolina, USA
- Washington National Cathedral, Washington, DC, USA (Children's Chapel)
- St Mary's Church, Wellingborough
- Drawing room, Eastnor Castle
- Basilica Minore de San Sebastián; Manila, Philippines
- Brittania: Architecture of Gloucester Cathedral
- Pevsner Architectural Guides fan vault design
- Harvey, John (1978). The Perpendicular Style. London: Batsford.
- David Verey, Gloucestershire, Yale University Press, New Haven, Connecticut, USA (1976)
- Aylmer, Gerald (2000). Hereford Cathedral : A History. The Hambledon Press. p. 62.
- Leedy, Walter (1980). Fan Vaulting: A Study of Form, Technology and Meaning. Arts+Architecture.
- Art and Architecture fan vault example from Henry VII Lady Chapel
- Westminster Palace - English Heritage images
- Harkness Tower Memorial Hall
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