Dictionary of French Architecture from the 11th to 16th Century/Volume 5/Floret
Vegetable "épanouissement" which finish certain elements of Gothic architecture, such as pinnacles, pinions, platform, cusps, etc. The floret appears in architecture only to the 12th century, i.e. at the moment when the public school will seek the ornamentation of its buildings in the flora of the campaigns. As of Greek antiquity, one deadened the roofs of certain buildings by means of a vegetable decoration, as one can recognize it by examining the monument choragic of Lysicrates in Athens. Although, in this case, damping was probably intended to carry the tripod which pointed out the victory of Lysicrates over its rivals, it is not less one crowning borrowed from the vegetable kingdom. The famous pine cone out of bronze which is seen in the gardens of the Vatican is a true floret finishing a large ancient monument. The idea is thus not new, and, in that as in much of other things, the Gothic architects followed an extremely old tradition which had been transmitted to them by the Romance schoolmasters.
But what is new, which belongs to these Gothic architects, it is the particular character that they knew to give to this depreciation, it is their frankly vegetable aspect. One sees appearing the florets characterized well at the tops of the pinnacles and attic windows of the old bell-tower of the cathedral of Chartres (medium of the 12th century); at least they are oldest which remained to us. Though deteriorated by time, these florets let see their primitive form. They leave abruptly the end of the edges of angles of these pinnacles, without intermediate rings; they present (1) a meeting of young sheets, buds, finished by human heads. The sculpture is broad, fatty, as it is appropriate for a similar rise. All the ornament is taken in only one stone of more than 1 m,00 height.
However, the study of the plants leads soon the architects to seek in the various members of the plants those which lend themselves best to this form of crowning; they observe that the pistils of the flowers, for example, often give a regular ornament, perfectly clean to finish a top; they see that these pistils are usually accompanied by a collet and appendices. They thus interpret, without too much seeking to imitate servilely nature, these vegetable forms; they seize the character powerful, long-lived, and compose of it of the florets like this one (2), which dates from the last years of the 12th century and comes from the lower gâbles from the buttresses from the cathedral from Paris (northern side).
This simple form does not appear to them to present cut out an enough silhouette, these artists still resort to nature, and they more open the leaflets which accompany the pistil (3)1, so as to obtain a blooming; or even, a little later (about 1220), they seek the imitation of the buds (4) 2; they dissect them, they remove certain parts of them, as indicates it this crown A of cut petioles, to release the principal stem B; then they start to mingle with this vegetation
geometrical forms, profiles C of architecture without the imitated ring of a fruit. While studying carefully the plants, the sculptors of the beginning of the 13th century do not copy them servilely; they subject them to the monumental provisions, on the scale of architecture. Imitation of the pistil of the flowers, seeds, buds, they arrive soon at the imitation of the developed sheet, but by always subjecting this imitation to the decorative data which are appropriate for the sculpture on stone (5)3. They can combine the weighting of the masses to the freedom of the plant.
The stems of the florets present, from the beginning of the 13th century, the square or octogonal sections; these stems are always divided into four members of foliages on only one floor, with higher button, or on two floors. In this last case, the sheets of the second rank alternate with those of the first, so as to oppose the creepage distances produced by the prospect, to give more movement and more effect to this decorative depreciation, as fig. 6 indicates, and to rectify by the appositlon shades and lights the vertical line. Often bloomings of the florets are other thing only hooks, as those which accompany crawling them by the gables or the pinnacles (7)4.
It is about the middle of the 13th century that the florets, of a great dimension, carry two rows of sheets. All the members of architecture tending to rise, to make dominate the vertical line, it was necessary to give an importance more and more considérahle to these crownings of the acute parts of the buildings. The imitation of the plants became more scrupulous, finer, but also less monumental. This vegetation did not hold with the stone, it was like a superposition; it was not any more the stone itself which opened out, but many foliages surrounding a core of a geometrical form (8)5. What one would not know
too much to admire in this depreciation of gables, of pinnacles, it is their right proportion compared to the members of the architecture which they crown. There is an ease, a grace, a smoothness of contour, a firmness in these terminations, quite difficult to reproduce for us, accustomed that we are with the dry and banal ornamentation modern times. Or, in consequence of a false interpretation of the ancient sculpture, we lean towards the ornamentation of convention, symmetrical, died, fossil, copied from copies; or we launch out in the field of the whim, of imagination, because one century ago of the artists having more liveliness than of taste opened this dangerous way to us. As much imagination is tempting sometimes, when it naturally arrives, that it is a joke of the spirit, as much it tires if it is sought. The ornaments which this article provides us (ornaments of singular importance, since they are used as termination with the dominant parts of the buildings) are not the result of a whim, but well of the attentive and fine study of the plants. There is a Gothic flora which has its laws, its harmony, its reason to exist so to speak, like the natural flora; one finds it in the stringcourses, in the capitals, and especially in these florets of crownings, if visible, being often detached on the sky, whose contour, modelled, the pace, can spoil a monument or give him an attractive aspect. The variety of the florets of the XIII E century is infinite, because, although our buildings of this time are covered with it, one does not know two of them which were carved on the same model. Also can about it we present at our readers only one very-small number, by choosing those which are characterized by particular provisions or a great perfection of execution.
In the buildings of Isle-de-France and Champagne, these florets incomparably more beautiful and are varied that in the other provinces; they are proportioned also better, more largely composed and carried out. Those, in great number, which one still sees around the cathedral of Paris, those of the tomb of Dagobert in Saint-Denis, those of the church of Poissy (9) which finish propping up them of the chorus, those of the cathedral of Rheims (we speak about old), are, the majority, of a good style and carried out hand of Master.
Around the higher balustrades of Our-injury of Paris, one can see florets, at square base, finishing the pilasters, which are of a width of incomparable style (see: Balustrade, fig. 10). Those of the balustrade external of the gallery of the chorus, of which we collected remains, had a character of power and energy which one does not find expressed with the same degree in any other monument of this time (beginning of the XIII E century) [ 10 ].
Towards the end of the 13th century, these ornaments become refouillés, imitate the flora servilely, then they all adopt particular forms borrowed from the outgrowths of the sheet of oak (nut gall), with the water sheets. This transition is sensitive in the church of Saint-Urbain de Troyes, high during the last years of the XIII E century. The large florets with three rows of sheets which finish the gâbles windows are carved with a boldness, an ease which reaches the exaggeration (11).
During the 14th century, the florets are composed, usually, only of the meeting of four or eight hooks, according to the forms given then to this ornament. Decoration, at that time, becomes monotonous like the lines of architecture. However these florets are carved with a remarkable liveliness and a spirit (12). One sees rather beautiful florets with the cathedral of Amiens, around that from Paris, in Saint-Ouen from Rouen, Saint-Etienne of Auxerre, the cathedral of Clermont, Saint-Just of Narbonne and Saint-Nazaire of Carcassonne; but the great defect of the sculpture of the XIV E century, it is the lack of variety, and this defect is particularly shocking when they are crownings which see all about under the same conditions.
To the 15th century, the florets which finish the pinnacles or the gâbles are often stripped foliages, they are simple depreciation of geometrical forms in the kind in fig. 13. However if the building is very richly carved, like, for example, the turn of the chorus of the abbey church of Have, this depreciation is covered sheets of water or rather of an ornament which resembles enough marine algas (14). About 1500, the florets are other thing only the meeting of the hooks of crawling of gâbles or pinnacles, and finish by a long prismatic stem (see: counter-curve, fig. 2; crocket, window, fig. 42; gabel, pinnacle).
One gives also the name of florets to bloomings of sheets which finish cusps (see. cusps).
That the florets of crowning belong to the 13th or the 15th century, they are always well planted, proudly bent, in perfect reports/ratios of proportion with the parts of the architecture which they overcome. The Gothic architects could crown their buildings. Our attention must all the more go on these qualities, that today the majority of our modern monuments sin obviously by the contrary defect. The traditional era, which finishes, looked at crownings like a superfluity of bad taste. The Greeks and the Romans however did not fail to finish the higher parts of their buildings by metal or marble, stone ornaments, which cut out on the sky; but the examples not existing more places from there, it was agreed that ancient architecture occurred from these accessories. It was a means of eluding the difficulty. Little by little however the archaeological studies, the inspection of scattered fragments, of medals, made recognize that the old ones were far from being deprived of these decorative resources; one thus sought timidly and a little randomly to break the dry and cold lines our palates, our public buildings: however, when they are silhouettes, which it is necessary, they are bold layouts, a sure glance, the experiment of the perspective effect, the observation of the play of the shades. This experiment, it is necessary for us to acquire it, because absolutely lost it to us.
1 : Gables of buttresses of the towers of the cathedral of Paris – «Des gâbles de contre-forts des tours de la cathédrale de Paris».
2 : Façade of the abbey church of Vézelay – «De la façade de l'église abbatiale de Vézelay».
3 : Cathedral of Troyes (approximately 1225). – «De la cathédrale de Troyes (1225 environ)».
4 : Cathedral of Amiens; façade (circa 1230). – «De la cathédrale d'Amiens; façade (1230 environ)».
5 : North gate of the cathedral of Paris (1260). – «Du portail du nord de la cathédrale de Paris (1260)».
Source document 
- Dictionnaire raisonné de l'architecture française du XIe au XVIe siècle (French language)