The chapel's pinnacles and turrets are a grand sight. From this perspective the chapel is stately with more than a touch of confident swagger.
So what's my cavil with King's? Why do I chastise the chapel? (And why do I belabour the alliteration?) Let's begin with the exterior.
As I say, a view from the ordinal compass points is very fine. However, I'm not so sure that the chapel is particularly satisfying when seen from the cardinal directions.
|Bath Abbey, from Wikipedia, photo by Luxborealis (Terry A. McDonald)|
The other major problem with the west front (shared with that of Bath) is that the main feature, the large window, is standard Perpendicular and thus very dull. Perpendicular tracery provides an excellent framework for stained glass, but has few other merits. Endlessly repeated grid patterns are more anaesthetic than aesthetic. This problem is even more acute when the chapel is seen from the south (or north).
Tell you what, let's play a game of Spot the Difference with the windows; let's start with the one at the west and see how it differs from the one next to it. Take your time. What's that you say? You can't see any difference? Okay, move on to the next one. There's bound to be a difference there. No? Still no difference? How about the next? Or the next? Oh . . .
Twelve large identical (and nine identical small) windows, all equally regimented and uninteresting, do not constitute a satisfying facade. Apart from a door near the west end, too small to have much visual impact, there’s nothing on which to focus attention, no central feature to relieve the monotony. The scale is formidable, but this has been achieved by simply restating the same ideas (and they’re notably uninteresting ideas) over and over again. Repetition certainly has a role in architecture, but there comes a point when the eye cries out for variety. King’s Chapel goes well beyond this point, and the result is tedium. (King's is far from being the only building to suffer this defect, of course. It was endemic to the Perpendicular style - and by no means unknown in other styles of architecture, though at least other styles sometimes repeat beautiful motifs.)
Here's the second bay from the west on the north side. And hurrah! there are some differences to be spotted, most obviously that this bay contains a door. The lower tier of blank tracery is different; in particular the cusping is more elaborate. The poses of the dragon and greyhound are slightly different, and on the left there's a fleur de lys instead of a portcullis.
The third bay is the first to have a side chapel, so the blank tracery is now open. The dragon is slightly different. And that's just about it. Not very pointworthy at all. Never mind, better luck with the next bay.
Once again a fleur de lys has replaced a portcullis and the rampant animals are in slightly different poses. The tracery is glazed. Apart from that, identical to the others. What's that? No, I won't give you a point for noticing that there's a woman painting in this one.
Ooh! Ooh! I've got one! The plinth rises on the right. Otherwise, just the same as before. The repetition is relentless. Yes, we get the idea - the Tudors were the best thing since sliced heads.