Dictionary of Art
- Part 1,
- Part 1,
- Part 1,
- Part 1,
450. West facade,
Chartres Cathedral (north spire is 16th century).
451. Chartres Cathedral
452. Portals, north transept,
the bishop of Chartres, who befriended Abbot Suger and
shared his ideas, began to rebuild his cathedral in the new style. Fifty years
later, all but the west facade, which provided the main entrance to the
church, and the east crypt were destroyed by a fire (for sculpture of
the west portals, see figs. 485
A second rebuilding was begun in 1194
and as the result of a huge campaign was largely
accomplished within the astonishingly brief span of
26 years. The basic design is so
unified that it must have been planned by a single master builder.
However, because the construction proceeded in several stages and was
never entirely finished, the church incorporates an evolutionary, rather
than a systematic, harmony. For example, the two west towers, though
similar, are by no means identical. Moreover, their spires are radically
different: the north spire on the left dates from the early sixteenth
century, nearly 300 years
later than the other.
The church was erected on the highest point in town and the spires
can be seen for miles in the surrounding farmland (fig.
451). Had the
seven other spires been completed as originally planned, Chartres would
convey a less insistent directionality. Both arms of the transept have
three deeply recessed portals lavishly embellished with sculpture and
surmounted by an immense rose window over five smaller lancets (fig.
452). Perhaps the most
striking feature of the flanks is the flying buttresses, whose massing
lends a powerfully organic presence to the semicircular apse at the east
end, with its seven subsidiary chapels (figs.
Transverse section of Chartres
Cathedral (after Acland)
454. Nave and choir, Chartres
The impressive west facade, divided into units of two and three, is a
model of lucidity. Its soaring verticality and punctuated surface are
important in shaping our expectations about the interior. The shape of
the doors tells us that we will first be ushered into a low chamber. As
soon as we enter the narthex (the covered anteroom) we have left the
temporal world completely behind. It takes some time for our eyes to
adjust to the darkness of the interior. The noise of daily life has been
shut out as well; at first, sounds are eerily muffled, as if swallowed
up with light by the void. Once we recover from the disorienting effect of this cavernous realm, we become aware of a glimmering
light, which guides us into the full height of the church. Conceived one
generation after the nave of Notre-Dame in Paris, the rebuilt nave (fig.
454) represents the first
masterpiece of the mature, or High Gothic, style.
The openings of the
pointed nave arcade are taller and narrower (see fig.
446). They are joined to a
clerestory of the same height by a short triforium screening the
galleries, which have now been reduced to a narrow wall. Responds have
been added to the columnar supports, so as to stress the continuity of
the vertical lines and guide our eye upward to the quadripartite vaults,
which seem like diaphanous webs stretched across the slender ribs.
Because there are so few walls, the vast interior space of Chartres
Cathedral initially seems indeterminate. It is made to seem even larger
by the sense of disembodied sound. The effect is so striking that it
would seem to have been thought of from the beginning with music in
mind, both antiphonal choirs and large pipe organs, which had already
been in use for more than two centuries in some parts of Europe.
The alternating sequence of round and octagonal piers that demark
each bay marches down the nave toward the apse, where the liturgy is
performed. Beneath the apse is the crypt, which houses Chartres' most
important possession: remnants of the robe said to have been worn by the
Virgin Mary, to whom the cathedral is dedicated. The venerable relic,
which miraculously survived the great fire of
1194, drew pilgrims from all over Europe. In
order to accommodate large numbers of visitors without disturbing
worshipers, the church incorporates a wide aisle running the length of
the nave and around the transept; it is joined at the choir by a second aisle, forming an ambulatory that
connects the apsidal chapels (see plan, fig.
Plan. Chartres Cathedral
456. Triforium wall of the nave,
Alone among all major Gothic cathedrals, Chartres still retains most
of its more than 180
original stained-glass windows (see fig.
The magic of the colored light streaming down
from the clerestory through the large windows is unforgettable to anyone
who has experienced their intense, jewellike hues (fig.
456). The windows admit far less
light than one might expect. They act mainly as multicolored diffusing
filters that change the quality of ordinary daylight, endowing
it with the poetic and symbolic values—the
highly praised by Abbot Suger. The sensation of ethereal light, which
dissolves the physical solidity of the church and, hence, the
distinction between the temporal and the divine realms, creates the
intensely mystical experience that lies at the heart of Gothic
spirituality. The aisles, however, are considerably darker because the
stained-glass windows on the outer walls, though relatively large, are
nevertheless smaller and located at ground level, where they let in less
light than at the clerestory level.
North porch of Chartres Cathedral
Chartres Cathedral. The west facade (Portail Royale)
Chartres Cathedral, South Portal, Redeemed souls represented as
Notre-Dame de la Belle Verrière, Stained glass window in the
choir of Chartres cathedral. The lower part depics the Temptation of
Christ. The two following parts relate the Marriage at Cana. 12th
century (parts with the red background) and 13th century.
Northern rose window of Chartres cathedral. The rose depicts
the Glorification of the Virgin Mary, surrounded by angels, twelve kings
of Juda (David, Solomon, Abijam, Jehoshaphat, Uzziah, Ahaz, Manasseh,
Hezechiah, Jehoiakim, Jehoram, Asa et Rehoboam) and the twelve lesser
prophets (Hosea, Amos, Jonah, Nahum, Zephaniah, Zechariah, Malachi,
Haggai, Habakkuk, Micah, Obadiah and Joel). Below, the arms of France
and Castile (the window was offered by Blanche of Castile). The five
lancets represent Saint anne, mother of the Virgin, surrounded by the
kings Melchizedek, David, Solomon and by Aaron, treading the sinner and
idolatrous kings: Nebuchadnezzar, Saul, Jeroboam and Pharaoh.
Window of the Vendome Chapel, c.1415
Chartres Cathedral, also called Notre-Dame d’Chartres or the
Cathedral of Notre-Dame, Gothic cathedral located in the
town of Chartres, northwestern France. Generally ranked as
one of the three chief examples of Gothic French
architecture (along with Amiens Cathedral and Reims
Cathedral), it is noted not only for its architectural
innovations but also for its numerous sculptures and its
much-celebrated stained glass. The cathedral’s association
with the Virgin Mary (the supposed veil of the Virgin is
kept in the cathedral treasury) made it the destination of
pilgrims in the Middle Ages.
The oldest parts of the
cathedral are its crypt and the west portal, or Royal
Portal, which are remnants of a Romanesque church that was
mostly destroyed by fire in 1194. The present cathedral was
constructed on the foundations of the earlier church and
consecrated in 1260. It is built of limestone and stands
some 112 feet (34 metres) high and is 427 feet (130 metres)
long. In many ways, the cathedral’s design resembles those
of its contemporaries, especially Laon Cathedral, but it
displays innovations with its tall arcades, unusually narrow
triforium, and huge clerestory—the massive weight of which
required using flying buttresses in an unprecedented manner.
The cathedral contains an
immense amount of sculpture, particularly figure sculpture,
ranging from large column statues to miniatures. As the
purpose of the sculptures was to preach and instruct, they
mainly depict scenes and figures from the Old and New
Chartres Cathedral contains
176 stained-glass windows, the feature for which it may be
best known. Like the sculpture, the stained glass was
intended to be educational. The five windows of the choir
hemicycle (a semicircular arrangement) relate in various
ways to the Virgin Mary. The rose window in the north
transept portrays figures from the Old Testament. The south
transept, which is representative of the New Testament, has
a rose window depicting the Apocalypse.
Several alterations have
been made to the cathedral. The northwest tower’s
distinctive spire, for example, was added in the early
1500s. Chartres emerged with relatively little damage from
the political and religious upheavals of the 16th century
and sustained less damage than most cathedrals during the
French Revolution (1787–99). After a fire damaged the roof
in 1836, a series of restorations were carried out during
the 19th century. In 1979 Chartres Cathedral was designated
a UNESCO World Heritage site. During the late 20th century
preservation efforts concentrated on protecting the
cathedral’s stained glass from air pollution damage.