Chartres Cathedral Stained Glass

Welcome to Chartres Cathedral, probably the finest example of French Gothic architecture and said by some to be the most beautiful cathedral in France.

With the exception of the Romanesque lancets of the west façade and the window of Notre-Dame de la Belle Verrière reset in the south choir, most of the glazing of the 176 windows was accomplished between around 1200 and 1235.

Restorations have been carried out continuously since the 14th century, with important campaigns in the 19th and 20th centuries, including that undertaken by Nicolas Coffetier, with the assistance of Louis-Charles-Auguste Steinheil, from 1868.

The windows of the choir hemicycle, the west façade and the transepts display coherent iconographic programmes.

The five windows of the hemicycle are united by a Marian theme, appropriate to the dedication of the cathedral, and comprise the Annunciation, the Visitation and the Virgin and Child flanked by the prophets who foretold the Virgin Birth.

The glass programmes of the west façade and transepts echo the sculptural iconography of their respective portals.

On the façade are the 12th-century lancets of the Tree of Jesse, the Nativity and the Passion and above them the west rose with the Last Judgement.

In the north transept rose the Old Testament is represented by the 12 kings of Judah and 12 prophets. In the central lancet below, St Anne is depicted carrying the infant Mary, with Solomon and Aaron, and to the left a similar regal and sacerdotal pairing, David and Melchizedek.

The south transept glazing is on a New Testament theme. In the rose window is a representation of the Apocalypse; Evangelists and prophets, and the Virgin holding the Christ Child, occupy the lancets below.

Thus the Old Testament is portrayed as the support of the New; the four Evangelists ride on the shoulders of the four Major Prophets: Jeremiah, Isaiah, Ezekiel and Daniel.

The north rose was donated by the royal house, whose coats of arms (the fleur-de-lis of Louis IX, and the castles of his mother, Blanche of Castile), are prominently displayed in the mosaic grounds. Pierre Mauclerc, Comte de Dreux, donated the south rose where his coats of arms appear in the tracery.

The series of hagiographical windows in the nave, choir and ambulatory may have been financed by a less exalted class of donors, many of them guilds, or they may depict the trades as a strategy of clerical control. Depicted in the windows on the south side of the nave are St John the Evangelist, St Mary Magdalene, the Good Samaritan and the Death of the Virgin. Their counterparts on the north side, Noah (carpenters), St Lubin (inn keepers), St Eustace (furriers), St Joseph (money changers) and St Nicholas (apothecaries), show variety in format and style, as well as in iconography. They may date from 1200–15 and presumably demonstrate different workshop traditions from a variety of regions.

Grodecki linked the Lubin, Nicholas and Noah windows to the same workshop, which specialized in vigorous well-modelled figures and expressive compositions. He also identified the classicizing work of the artist of the St Eustace window with windows in the church at Saint-Quentin (Aisne) and Laon Cathedral. Caviness has linked the Joseph window, with its sophisticated medallion design and ornament, to a workshop producing glass at the cathedrals of Sens and Canterbury.

Chartres Cathedral, ambulatory apse, Charlemagne window (detail), showing scenes from…The windows of the choir aisles and ambulatory (c. 1215–35), which include scenes from the lives of Charlemagne, St Thomas Becket, St Thomas the Apostle, St Stephen, St Andrew, St James, St Martin, St Silvester, St Nicholas and St Germaine, are, by contrast, relatively homogeneous. The glass painters appear to have cooperated closely on site, which resulted in a ‘Chartrain style’: a clear, predictable language that is less a regional product than an amalgam of traditions welded together by the unifying exigencies of corporate patronage.

The single exception concerns a group that Delaporte associated with the workshop of the St Chéron Master in the ambulatory windows of SS Catherine and Margaret, St Remigius, SS Simon and Jude, St Pantaleon and St Germaine. Grodecki later redefined this dry, linear approach to art as one of the progressive tendencies of the 1230s, destined to emerge as the dominant Parisian style of the mid-13th century.