Meet us on:
Entire Site
    Try our fun game

    Dueling book covers…may the best design win!

    Random Quote
    "My problem lies in reconciling my gross habits with my net income."

    Subscribe to Our Newsletter

    Follow us on Twitter

    Never miss a good book again! Follow Read Print on Twitter

    Ch. 8 - The Twelfth Century Glass

    • Rate it:
    Launch Reading Mode Next Chapter
    Chapter 8
    Previous Chapter
    At last we are face to face with the crowning glory of Chartres.
    Other churches have glass,--quantities of it, and very fine,--but we
    have been trying to catch a glimpse of the glory which stands behind
    the glass of Chartres, and gives it quality and feeling of its own.
    For once the architect is useless and his explanations are pitiable;
    the painter helps still less; and the decorator, unless he works in
    glass, is the poorest guide of all, while, if he works in glass, he
    is sure to lead wrong; and all of them may toil until Pierre
    Mauclerc's stone Christ comes to life, and condemns them among the
    unpardonable sinners on the southern portal, but neither they nor
    any other artist will ever create another Chartres. You had better
    stop here, once for all, unless you are willing to feel that
    Chartres was made what it is, not by artist, but by the Virgin.

    If this imperial presence is stamped on the architecture and the
    sculpture with an energy not to be mistaken, it radiates through the
    glass with a light and colour that actually blind the true servant
    of Mary. One becomes, sometimes, a little incoherent in talking
    about it; one is ashamed to be as extravagant as one wants to be;
    one has no business to labour painfully to explain and prove to
    one's self what is as clear as the sun in the sky; one loses temper
    in reasoning about what can only be felt, and what ought to be felt
    instantly, as it was in the twelfth century, even by the truie qui
    file and the ane qui vielle. Any one should feel it that wishes; any
    one who does not wish to feel it can let it alone. Still, it may be
    that not one tourist in a hundred--perhaps not one in a thousand of
    the English-speaking race--does feel it, or can feel it even when
    explained to him, for we have lost many senses.

    Therefore, let us plod on, laboriously proving God, although, even
    to Saint Bernard and Pascal, God was incapable of proof; and using
    such material as the books furnish for help. It is not much. The
    French have been shockingly negligent of their greatest artistic
    glory. One knows not even where to seek. One must go to the National
    Library and beg as a special favour permission to look at the
    monumental work of M. Lasteyrie, if one wishes to make even a
    beginning of the study of French glass. Fortunately there exists a
    fragment of a great work which the Government began, but never
    completed, upon Chartres; and another, quite indispensable, but not
    official, upon Bourges; while Viollet-le-Duc's article "Vitrail"
    serves as guide to the whole. Ottin's book "Le Vitrail" is
    convenient. Male's volume "L'Art Religieux" is essential. In
    English, Westlake's "History of Design" is helpful. Perhaps, after
    reading all that is readable, the best hope will be to provide the
    best glasses with the largest possible field; and, choosing an hour
    when the church is empty, take seat about halfway up the nave,
    facing toward the western entrance with a morning light, so that the
    glass of the western windows shall not stand in direct sun.

    The glass of the three lancets is the oldest in the cathedral. If
    the portal beneath it, with the sculpture, was built in the twenty
    or thirty years before 1150, the glass could not be much later. It
    goes with the Abbe Suger's glass at Saint-Denis, which was surely
    made as early as 1140-50, since the Abbe was a long time at work on
    it, before he died in 1152. Their perfection proves, what his
    biographer asserted, that the Abbe Suger spent many years as well as
    much money on his windows at Saint-Denis, and the specialists affirm
    that the three lancets at Chartres are quite as good as what remains
    of Suger's work. Viollet-le-Duc and M. Paul Durand, the Government
    expert, are positive that this glass is the finest ever made, as far
    as record exists; and that the northern lancet representing the Tree
    of Jesse stands at the head of all glasswork whatever. The windows
    claim, therefore, to be the most splendid colour decoration the
    world ever saw, since no other material, neither silk nor gold, and
    no opaque colour laid on with a brush, can compare with translucent
    glass, and even the Ravenna mosaics or Chinese porcelains are
    darkness beside them.

    The claim may not be modest, but it is none of ours. Viollet-le-Duc
    must answer for his own sins, and he chose the lancet window of the
    Tree of Jesse for the subject of his lecture on glass in general, as
    the most complete and perfect example of this greatest decorative
    art. Once more, in following him, one is dragged, in spite of one's
    self, into technique, and, what is worse, into a colour world whose
    technique was forgotten five hundred years ago. Viollet-le-Duc tried
    to recover it. "After studying our best French windows," he
    cautiously suggests that "one might maintain," as their secret of
    harmony, that "the first condition for an artist in glass is to know
    how to manage blue. The blue is the light in windows, and light has
    value only by opposition." The radiating power of blue is,
    therefore, the starting-point, and on this matter Viollet-le-Duc has
    much to say which a student would need to master; but a tourist
    never should study, or he ceases to be a tourist; and it is enough
    for us if we know that, to get the value they wanted, the artists
    hatched their blues with lines, covered their surface with figures
    as though with screens, and tied their blue within its own field
    with narrow circlets of white or yellow, which, in their turn, were
    beaded to fasten the blue still more firmly in its place. We have
    chiefly to remember the law that blue is light:--

    But also it is that luminous colour which gives value to all others.
    If you compose a window in which there shall be no blue, you will
    get a dirty or dull (blafard) or crude surface which the eye will
    instantly avoid; but if you put a few touches of blue among all
    these tones, you will immediately get striking effects if not
    skilfully conceived harmony. So the composition of blue glass
    singularly preoccupied the glassworkers of the twelfth and
    thirteenth centuries. If there is only one red, two yellows, two or
    three purples, and two or three greens at the most, there are
    infinite shades of blue, ... and these blues are placed with a very
    delicate observation of the effects they should produce on other
    tones, and other tones on them.

    Viollet-le-Duc took the window of the Tree of Jesse as his first
    illustration of the rule, for the reason that its blue ground is one
    continuous strip from top to bottom, with the subordinate red on
    either side, and a border uniting the whole so plainly that no one
    can fail to see its object or its method.

    The blue tone of the principal subject [that is to say, the ground
    of the Tree of Jesse] has commanded the tonality of all the rest.
    This medium was necessary to enable the luminous splendour to
    display its energy. This primary condition had dictated the red
    ground for the prophets, and the return to the blue on reaching the
    outside semicircular band. To give full value both to the vigour of
    the red, and to the radiating transparency of the blue, the ground
    of the corners is put in emerald green; but then, in the corners
    themselves, the blue is recalled and is given an additional solidity
    of value by the delicate ornamentation of the squares.

    This translation is very free, but one who wants to know these
    windows must read the whole article, and read it here in the church,
    the Dictionary in one hand, and binocle in the other, for the
    binocle is more important than the Dictionary when it reaches the
    complicated border which repeats in detail the colour-scheme of the

    The border repeats all the tones allotted to the principal subjects,
    but by small fragments, so that this border, with an effect both
    solid and powerful, shall not enter into rivalry with the large
    arrangements of the central parts.

    One would think this simple enough; easily tested on any illuminated
    manuscript, Arab, Persian, or Byzantine; verified by any Oriental
    rug, old or new; freely illustrated by any Chinese pattern on a Ming
    jar, or cloisonne vase; and offering a kind of alphabet for the
    shop-window of a Paris modiste. A strong red; a strong and a weak
    yellow; a strong and a weak purple; a strong and a weak green, are
    all to be tied together, given their values, and held in their
    places by blue. The thing seems simpler still when it appears that
    perspective is forbidden, and that these glass windows of the
    twelfth and thirteenth centuries, like Oriental rugs, imply a flat
    surface, a wall which must not be treated as open. The twelfth-
    century glassworker would sooner have worn a landscape on his back
    than have costumed his church with it; he would as soon have
    decorated his floors with painted holes as his walls. He wanted to
    keep the coloured window flat, like a rug hung on the wall.

    The radiation of translucent colours in windows cannot be modified
    by the artist; all his talent consists in profiting by it, according
    to a given harmonic scheme on a single plane, like a rug, but not
    according to an effect of aerial perspective. Do what you like, a
    glass window never does and never can represent anything but a plane
    surface; its real virtues even exist only on that condition. Every
    attempt to present several planes to the eye is fatal to the harmony
    of colour, without producing any illusion in the spectator ...
    Translucid painting can propose as its object only a design
    supporting as energetically as possible a harmony of colours.

    Whether this law is absolute you can tell best by looking at modern
    glass which is mostly perspective; but, whether you like it or not,
    the matter of perspective does not enter into a twelfth-century
    window more than into a Japanese picture, and may be ignored. The
    decoration of the twelfth century, as far as concerns us, was
    intended only for one plane, and a window was another form of rug or
    embroidery or mosaic, hung on the wall for colour,--simple
    decoration to be seen as a whole. If the Tree of Jesse teaches
    anything at all, it is that the artist thought first of controlling
    his light, but he wanted to do it not in order to dim the colours;
    on the contrary, he toiled, like a jeweller setting diamonds and
    rubies, to increase their splendour. If his use of blue teaches this
    lesson, his use of green proves it. The outside border of the Tree
    of Jesse is a sort of sample which our schoolmaster Viollet-le-Duc
    sets, from which he requires us to study out the scheme, beginning
    with the treatment of light, and ending with the value of the
    emerald green ground in the corners.

    Complicated as the border of the Tree of Jesse is, it has its mates
    in the borders of the two other twelfth-century windows, and a few
    of the thirteenth-century in the side aisles; but the southern of
    the three lancets shows how the artists dealt with a difficulty that
    upset their rule. The border of the southern window does not count
    as it should; something is wrong with it and a little study shows
    that the builder, and not the glassworker, was to blame. Owing to
    his miscalculation--if it was really a miscalculation--in the width
    of the southern tower, the builder economized six or eight inches in
    the southern door and lancet, which was enough to destroy the
    balance between the colour-values, as masses, of the south and north
    windows. The artist was obliged to choose whether he would sacrifice
    the centre or the border of his southern window, and decided that
    the windows could not be made to balance if he narrowed the centre,
    but that he must balance them by enriching the centre, and
    sacrificing the border. He has filled the centre with medallions as
    rich as he could make them, and these he has surrounded with
    borders, which are also enriched to the utmost; but these medallions
    with their borders spread across the whole window, and when you
    search with the binocle for the outside border, you see its pattern
    clearly only at the top and bottom. On the sides, at intervals of
    about two feet, the medallions cover and interrupt it; but this is
    partly corrected by making the border, where it is seen, so rich as
    to surpass any other in the cathedral, even that of the Tree of
    Jesse. Whether the artist has succeeded or not is a question for
    other artists--or for you, if you please--to decide; but apparently
    he did succeed, since no one has ever noticed the difficulty or the

    The southern lancet represents the Passion of Christ. Granting to
    Viollet-le-Duc that the unbroken vertical colour-scheme of the Tree
    of Jesse made the more effective window, one might still ask whether
    the medallion-scheme is not the more interesting. Once past the
    workshop, there can be no question about it; the Tree of Jesse has
    the least interest of all the three windows. A genealogical tree has
    little value, artistic or other, except to those who belong in its
    branches, and the Tree of Jesse was put there, not to please us, but
    to please the Virgin. The Passion window was also put there to
    please her, but it tells a story, and does it in a way that has more
    novelty than the subject. The draughtsman who chalked out the design
    on the whitened table that served for his sketch-board was either a
    Greek, or had before him a Byzantine missal, or enamel or ivory. The
    first medallion on these legendary windows is the lower left-hand
    one, which begins the story or legend; here it represents Christ
    after the manner of the Greek Church. In the next medallion is the
    Last Supper; the fish on the dish is Greek. In the middle of the
    window, with the help of the binocle, you will see a Crucifixion, or
    even two, for on the left is Christ on the Cross, and on the right a
    Descent from the Cross; in this is the figure of man pulling out
    with pincers the nails which fasten Christ's feet; a figure unknown
    to Western religious art. The Noli Me Tangere, on the right, near
    the top, has a sort of Greek character. All the critics, especially
    M. Paul Durand, have noticed this Byzantine look, which is even more
    marked in the Suger window at Saint-Denis, so as to suggest that
    both are by the same hand, and that the hand of a Greek. If the
    artist was really a Greek, he has done work more beautiful than any
    left at Byzantium, and very far finer than anything in the beautiful
    work at Cairo, but although the figures and subjects are more or
    less Greek, like the sculptures on the portal, the art seems to be

    Look at the central window! Naturally, there sits the Virgin, with
    her genealogical tree on her left, and her Son's testimony on her
    right to prove her double divinity. She is seated in the long halo;
    as, on the western portal, directly beneath her, her Son is
    represented in stone, Her crown and head, as well as that of the
    Child, are fourteenth-century restorations more or less like the
    original; but her cushioned throne and her robes of imperial state,
    as well as the flowered sceptre in either hand, are as old as the
    sculpture of the portal, and redolent of the first crusade. On
    either side of her, the Sun and the Moon offer praise; her two
    Archangels, Michael and Gabriel, with resplendent wings, offer not
    incense as in later times, but the two sceptres of spiritual and
    temporal power; while the Child in her lap repeats His Mother's
    action and even her features and expression. At first sight, one
    would take for granted that all this was pure Byzantium, and perhaps
    it is; but it has rather the look of Byzantium gallicized, and
    carried up to a poetic French ideal. At Saint-Denis the little
    figure of the Abbe Suger at the feet of the Virgin has a very
    Oriental look, and in the twin medallion the Virgin resembles
    greatly the Virgin of Chartres, yet, for us, until some specialist
    shows us the Byzantine original, the work is as thoroughly French as
    the fleches of the churches.

    Byzantine art is altogether another chapter, and, if we could but
    take a season to study it in Byzantium, we might get great
    amusement; but the art of Chartres, even in 1100, was French and
    perfectly French, as the architecture shows, and the glass is even
    more French than the architecture, as you can detect in many other
    ways. Perhaps the surest evidence is the glass itself. The men who
    made it were not professionals but amateurs, who may have had some
    knowledge of enamelling, but who worked like jewellers, unused to
    glass, and with the refinement that a reliquary or a crozier
    required. The cost of these windows must have been extravagant; one
    is almost surprised that they are not set in gold rather than in
    lead. The Abbe Suger shirked neither trouble nor expense, and the
    only serious piece of evidence that this artist was a Greek is given
    by his biographer who unconsciously shows that the artist cheated
    him: "He sought carefully for makers of windows and workmen in glass
    of exquisite quality, especially in that made of sapphires in great
    abundance that were pulverized and melted up in the glass to give it
    the blue colour which he delighted to admire." The "materia
    saphirorum" was evidently something precious,--as precious as crude
    sapphires would have been,--and the words imply beyond question that
    the artist asked for sapphires and that Suger paid for them; yet all
    specialists agree that the stone known as sapphire, if ground, could
    not produce translucent colour at all. The blue which Suger loved,
    and which is probably the same as that of these Chartres windows,
    cannot be made out of sapphires. Probably the "materia saphirorum"
    means cobalt only, but whatever it was, the glassmakers seem to
    agree that this glass of 1140-50 is the best ever made. M. Paul
    Durand in his official report of 1881 said that these windows, both
    artistically and mechanically, were of the highest class: "I will
    also call attention to the fact that the glass and the execution of
    the painting are, materially speaking, of a quality much superior to
    windows of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. Having passed
    several months in contact with these precious works when I copied
    them, I was able to convince myself of their superiority in every
    particular, especially in the upper parts of the three windows." He
    said that they were perfect and irreproachable. The true enthusiast
    in glass would in the depths of his heart like to say outright that
    these three windows are worth more than all that the French have
    since done in colour, from that day to this; but the matter concerns
    us chiefly because it shows how French the experiment was, and how
    Suger's taste and wealth made it possible.

    Certain it is, too, that the southern window--the Passion--was made
    on the spot, or near by, and fitted for the particular space with
    care proportionate to its cost. All are marked by the hand of the
    Chartres Virgin. They are executed not merely for her, but by her.
    At Saint-Denis the Abbe Suger appeared,--it is true that he was
    prostrate at her feet, but still he appeared. At Chartres no one--no
    suggestion of a human agency--was allowed to appear; the Virgin
    permitted no one to approach her, even to adore. She is enthroned
    above, as Queen and Empress and Mother, with the symbols of
    exclusive and universal power. Below her, she permitted the world to
    see the glories of her earthly life;--the Annunciation, Visitation,
    and Nativity; the Magi; King Herod; the Journey to Egypt; and the
    single medallion, which shows the gods of Egypt falling from their
    pedestals at her coming, is more entertaining than a whole picture-
    gallery of oil paintings.

    In all France there exist barely a dozen good specimens of twelfth-
    century glass. Besides these windows at Chartres and the fragments
    at Saint-Denis, there are windows at Le Mans and Angers and bits at
    Vendome, Chalons, Poitiers, Rheims, and Bourges; here and there one
    happens on other pieces, but the earliest is the best, because the
    glass-makers were new at the work and spent on it an infinite amount
    of trouble and money which they found to be unnecessary as they
    gained experience. Even in 1200 the value of these windows was so
    well understood, relatively to new ones, that they were preserved
    with the greatest care. The effort to make such windows was never
    repeated. Their jewelled perfection did not suit the scale of the
    vast churches of the thirteenth century. By turning your head toward
    the windows of the side aisles, you can see the criticism which the
    later artists passed on the old work. They found it too refined, too
    brilliant, too jewel-like for the size of the new cathedral; the
    play of light and colour allowed the eye too little repose; indeed,
    the eye could not see their whole beauty, and half their value was
    thrown away in this huge stone setting. At best they must have
    seemed astray on the bleak, cold, windy plain of Beauce,--homesick
    for Palestine or Cairo,--yearning for Monreale or Venice,--but this
    is not our affair, and, under the protection of the Empress Virgin,
    Saint Bernard himself could have afforded to sin even to drunkenness
    of colour. With trifling expense of imagination one can still catch
    a glimpse of the crusades in the glory of the glass. The longer one
    looks into it, the more overpowering it becomes, until one begins
    almost to feel an echo of what our two hundred and fifty million
    arithmetical ancestors, drunk with the passion of youth and the
    splendour of the Virgin, have been calling to us from Mont-Saint-
    Michel and Chartres. No words and no wine could revive their
    emotions so vividly as they glow in the purity of the colours; the
    limpidity of the blues; the depth of the red; the intensity of the
    green; the complicated harmonies; the sparkle and splendour of the
    light; and the quiet and certain strength of the mass.

    With too strong direct sun the windows are said to suffer, and
    become a cluster of jewels--a delirium of coloured light. The lines,
    too, have different degrees of merit. These criticisms seldom strike
    a chance traveller, but he invariably makes the discovery that the
    designs within the medallions are childish. He may easily correct
    them, if he likes, and see what would happen to the window; but
    although this is the alphabet of art, and we are past spelling words
    of one syllable, the criticism teaches at least one lesson.
    Primitive man seems to have had a natural colour-sense, instinctive
    like the scent of a dog. Society has no right to feel it as a moral
    reproach to be told that it has reached an age when it can no longer
    depend, as in childhood, on its taste, or smell, or sight, or
    hearing, or memory; the fact seems likely enough, and in no way
    sinful; yet society always denies it, and is invariably angry about
    it; and, therefore, one had better not say it. On the other hand, we
    can leave Delacroix and his school to fight out the battle they
    began against Ingres and his school, in French art, nearly a hundred
    years ago, which turned in substance on the same point. Ingres held
    that the first motive in colour-decoration was line, and that a
    picture which was well drawn was well enough coloured. Society
    seemed, on the whole, to agree with him. Society in the twelfth
    century agreed with Delacroix. The French held then that the first
    point in colour-decoration was colour, and they never hesitated to
    put their colour where they wanted it, or cared whether a green
    camel or a pink lion looked like a dog or a donkey provided they got
    their harmony or value. Everything except colour was sacrificed to
    line in the large sense, but details of drawing were conventional
    and subordinate. So we laugh to see a knight with a blue face, on a
    green horse, that looks as though drawn by a four-year-old child,
    and probably the artist laughed, too; but he was a colourist, and
    never sacrificed his colour for a laugh.

    We tourists assume commonly that he knew no better. In our simple
    faith in ourselves, great hope abides, for it shows an earnestness
    hardly less than that of the crusaders; but in the matter of colour
    one is perhaps less convinced, or more open to curiosity. No school
    of colour exists in our world to-day, while the Middle Ages had a
    dozen; but it is certainly true that these twelfth-century windows
    break the French tradition. They had no antecedent, and no fit
    succession. All the authorities dwell on their exceptional
    character. One is sorely tempted to suspect that they were in some
    way an accident; that such an art could not have sprung, in such
    perfection, out of nothing, had it been really French; that it must
    have had its home elsewhere--on the Rhine--in Italy--in Byzantium--
    or in Bagdad.

    The same controversy has raged for near two hundred years over the
    Gothic arch, and everything else mediaeval, down to the philosophy
    of the schools. The generation that lived during the first and
    second crusades tried a number of original experiments, besides
    capturing Jerusalem. Among other things, it produced the western
    portal of Chartres, with its statuary, its glass, and its fleche, as
    a by-play; as it produced Abelard, Saint Bernard, and Christian of
    Troyes, whose acquaintance we have still to make. It took ideas
    wherever it found them;--from Germany, Italy, Spain, Constantinople,
    Palestine, or from the source which has always attracted the French
    mind like a magnet--from ancient Greece. That it actually did take
    the ideas, no one disputes, except perhaps patriots who hold that
    even the ideas were original; but to most students the ideas need to
    be accounted for less than the taste with which they were handled,
    and the quickness with which they were developed. That the taste was
    French, you can see in the architecture, or you will see if ever you
    meet the Gothic elsewhere; that it seized and developed an idea
    quickly, you have seen in the arch, the fleche, the porch, and the
    windows, as well as in the glass; but what we do not comprehend, and
    never shall, is the appetite behind all this; the greed for novelty:
    the fun of life. Every one who has lived since the sixteenth century
    has felt deep distrust of every one who lived before it, and of
    every one who believed in the Middle Ages. True it is that the last
    thirteenth-century artist died a long time before our planet began
    its present rate of revolution; it had to come to rest, and begin
    again; but this does not prevent astonishment that the twelfth-
    century planet revolved so fast. The pointed arch not only came as
    an idea into France, but it was developed into a system of
    architecture and covered the country with buildings on a scale of
    height never before attempted except by the dome, with an
    expenditure of wealth that would make a railway system look cheap,
    all in a space of about fifty years; the glass came with it, and
    went with it, at least as far as concerns us; but, if you need other
    evidence, you can consult Renan, who is the highest authority: "One
    of the most singular phenomena of the literary history of the Middle
    Ages," says Renan of Averroes, "is the activity of the intellectual
    commerce, and the rapidity with which books were spread from one end
    of Europe to the other. The philosophy of Abelard during his
    lifetime (1100-42) had penetrated to the ends of Italy. The French
    poetry of the trouveres counted within less than a century
    translations into German, Swedish, Norwegian, Icelandic, Flemish,
    Dutch, Bohemian, Italian, Spanish"; and he might have added that
    England needed no translation, but helped to compose the poetry, not
    being at that time so insular as she afterwards became. "Such or
    such a work, composed in Morocco or in Cairo, was known at Paris and
    at Cologne in less time than it would need in our days for a German
    book of capital importance to pass the Rhine"; and Renan wrote this
    in 1852 when German books of capital importance were revolutionizing
    the literary world.

    One is apt to forget the smallness of Europe, and how quickly it
    could always be crossed. In summer weather, with fair winds, one can
    sail from Alexandria or from Syria, to Sicily, or even to Spain and
    France, in perfect safety and with ample room for freight, as easily
    now as one could do it then, without the aid of steam; but one does
    not now carry freight of philosophy, poetry, or art. The world still
    struggles for unity, but by different methods, weapons, and thought.
    The mercantile exchanges which surprised Renan, and which have
    puzzled historians, were in ideas. The twelfth century was as greedy
    for them in one shape as the nineteenth century in another. France
    paid for them dearly, and repented for centuries; but what creates
    surprise to the point of incredulity is her hunger for them, the
    youthful gluttony with which she devoured them, the infallible taste
    with which she dressed them out. The restless appetite that snatched
    at the pointed arch, the stone fleche, the coloured glass, the
    illuminated missal, the chanson and roman and pastorelle, the
    fragments of Aristotle, the glosses of Avicenne, was nothing
    compared with the genius which instantly gave form and flower to
    them all.

    This episode merely means that the French twelfth-century artist may
    be supposed to have known his business, and if he produced a
    grotesque, or a green-faced Saint, or a blue castle, or a syllogism,
    or a song, that he did it with a notion of the effect he had in
    mind. The glass window was to him a whole,--a mass,--and its details
    were his amusement; for the twelfth-century Frenchman enjoyed his
    fun, though it was sometimes rather heavy for modern French taste,
    and less refined than the Church liked. These three twelfth-century
    windows, like their contemporary portal outside, and the fleche that
    goes with them, are the ideals of enthusiasts of mediaeval art; they
    are above the level of all known art, in religious form; they are
    inspired; they are divine! This is the claim of Chartres and its
    Virgin. Actually, the French artist, whether architect, sculptor, or
    painter in glass, did rise here above his usual level. He knew it
    when he did it, and probably he attributed it, as we do, to the
    Virgin; for these works of his were hardly fifty years old when the
    rest of the old church was burned; and already the artist felt the
    virtue gone out of him. He could not do so well in 1200 as he did in
    1150; and the Virgin was not so near.

    The proof of it--or, if you prefer to think so, the proof against
    it--is before our eyes on the wall above the lancet windows. When
    Villard de Honnecourt came to Chartres, he seized at once on the
    western rose as his study, although the two other roses were
    probably there, in all their beauty and lightness. He saw in the
    western rose some quality of construction which interested him; and,
    in fact, the western rose is one of the flowers of architecture
    which reveals its beauties slowly without end; but its chief beauty
    is the feeling which unites it with the portal, the lancets, and the
    fleche. The glassworker here in the interior had the same task to
    perform. The glass of the lancets was fifty years old when the glass
    for the rose was planned; perhaps it was seventy, for the exact
    dates are unknown, but it does not matter, for the greater the
    interval, the more interesting is the treatment. Whatever the date,
    the glass of the western rose cannot be much earlier or much later
    than that of the other roses, or that of the choir, and yet you see
    at a glance that it is quite differently treated. On such matters
    one must, of course, submit to the opinion of artists, which one
    does the more readily because they always disagree; but until the
    artists tell us better, we may please ourselves by fancying that the
    glass of the rose was intended to harmonize with that of the
    lancets, and unite it with the thirteenth-century glass of the nave
    and transepts. Among all the thirteenth-century windows the western
    rose alone seems to affect a rivalry in brilliancy with the lancets,
    and carries it so far that the separate medallions and pictures are
    quite lost,--especially in direct sunshine,--blending in a confused
    effect of opals, in a delirium of colour and light, with a result
    like a cluster of stones in jewelry. Assuming as one must, in want
    of the artist's instruction, that he knew what he wanted to do, and
    did it, one must take for granted that he treated the rose as a
    whole, and aimed at giving it harmony with the three precious
    windows beneath. The effect is that of a single large ornament; a
    round breastpin, or what is now called a sunburst, of jewels, with
    three large pendants beneath.

    We are ignorant tourists, liable to much error in trying to seek
    motives in artists who worked seven hundred years ago for a society
    which thought and felt in forms quite unlike ours, but the medieval
    pilgrim was more ignorant than we, and much simpler in mind; if the
    idea of an ornament occurs to us, it certainly occurred to him, and
    still more to the glassworker whose business was to excite his
    illusions. An artist, if good for anything, foresees what his public
    will see; and what his public will see is what he ought to have
    intended--the measure of his genius. If the public sees more than he
    himself did, this is his credit; if less, this is his fault. No
    matter how simple or ignorant we are, we ought to feel a discord or
    a harmony where the artist meant us to feel it, and when we see a
    motive, we conclude that other people have seen it before us, and
    that it must, therefore, have been intended. Neither of the transept
    roses is treated like this one; neither has the effect of a personal
    ornament; neither is treated as a jewel. No one knew so well as the
    artist that such treatment must give the effect of a jewel. The
    Roses of France and of Dreux bear indelibly and flagrantly the
    character of France and Dreux; on the western rose is stamped with
    greater refinement but equal decision the character of a much
    greater power than either of them.

    No artist would have ventured to put up, before the eyes of Mary in
    Majesty, above the windows so dear to her, any object that she had
    not herself commanded. Whether a miracle was necessary, or whether
    genius was enough, is a point of casuistry which you can settle with
    Albertus Magnus or Saint Bernard, and which you will understand as
    little when settled as before; but for us, beyond the futilities of
    unnecessary doubt, the Virgin designed this rose; not perhaps in
    quite the same perfect spirit in which she designed the lancets, but
    still wholly for her own pleasure and as her own idea. She placed
    upon the breast of her Church--which symbolized herself--a jewel so
    gorgeous that no earthly majesty could bear comparison with it, and
    which no other heavenly majesty has rivalled. As one watches the
    light play on it, one is still overcome by the glories of the
    jewelled rose and its three gemmed pendants; one feels a little of
    the effect she meant it to produce even on infidels, Moors, and
    heretics, but infinitely more on the men who feared and the women
    who adored her;--not to dwell too long upon it, one admits that hers
    is the only Church. One would admit anything that she should
    require. If you had only the soul of a shrimp, you would crawl, like
    the Abbe Suger, to kiss her feet.

    Unfortunately she is gone, or comes here now so very rarely that we
    never shall see her; but her genius remains as individual here as
    the genius of Blanche of Castile and Pierre de Dreux in the
    transepts. That the three lancets were her own taste, as distinctly
    as the Trianon was the taste of Louis XIV, is self-evident. They
    represent all that was dearest to her; her Son's glory on her right;
    her own beautiful life in the middle; her royal ancestry on her
    left: the story of her divine right, thrice-told. The pictures are
    all personal, like family portraits. Above them the man who worked
    in 1200 to carry out the harmony, and to satisfy the Virgin's
    wishes, has filled his rose with a dozen or two little compositions
    in glass, which reveal their subjects only to the best powers of a
    binocle. Looking carefully, one discovers at last that this gorgeous
    combination of all the hues of Paradise contains or hides a Last
    Judgment--the one subject carefully excluded from the old work, and
    probably not existing on the south portal for another twenty years.
    If the scheme of the western rose dates from 1200, as is reasonable
    to suppose, this Last Judgment is the oldest in the church, and
    makes a link between the theology of the first crusade, beneath, and
    the theology of Pierre Mauclerc in the south porch. The churchman is
    the only true and final judge on his own doctrine, and we neither
    know nor care to know the facts; but we are as good judges as he of
    the feeling, and we are at full liberty to feel that such a Last
    Judgment as this was never seen before or since by churchman or
    heretic, unless by virtue of the heresy which held that the true
    Christian must be happy in being damned since such is the will of
    God. That this blaze of heavenly light was intended, either by the
    Virgin or by her workmen, to convey ideas of terror or pain, is a
    notion which the Church might possibly preach, but which we sinners
    knew to be false in the thirteenth century as well as we know it
    now. Never in all these seven hundred years has one of us looked up
    at this rose without feeling it to be Our Lady's promise of

    Here as everywhere else throughout the church, one feels the
    Virgin's presence, with no other thought than her majesty and grace.
    To the Virgin and to her suppliants, as to us, who though outcasts
    in other churches can still hope in hers, the Last Judgment was not
    a symbol of God's justice or man's corruption, but of her own
    infinite mercy. The Trinity judged, through Christ;--Christ loved
    and pardoned, through her. She wielded the last and highest power on
    earth and in hell. In the glow and beauty of her nature, the light
    of her Son's infinite love shone as the sunlight through the glass,
    turning the Last Judgment itself into the highest proof of her
    divine and supreme authority. The rudest ruffian of the Middle Ages,
    when he looked at this Last Judgment, laughed; for what was the Last
    Judgment to her! An ornament, a plaything, a pleasure! a jewelled
    decoration which she wore on her breast! Her chief joy was to
    pardon; her eternal instinct was to love; her deepest passion was
    pity! On her imperial heart the flames of hell showed only the
    opaline colours of heaven. Christ the Trinity might judge as much as
    He pleased, but Christ the Mother would rescue; and her servants
    could look boldly into the flames.

    If you, or even our friends the priests who still serve Mary's
    shrine, suspect that there is some exaggeration in this language, it
    will only oblige you to admit presently that there is none; but for
    the moment we are busy with glass rather than with faith, and there
    is a world of glass here still to study. Technically, we are done
    with it. The technique of the thirteenth century comes naturally and
    only too easily out of that of the twelfth. Artistically, the motive
    remains the same, since it is always the Virgin; but although the
    Virgin of Chartres is always the Virgin of Majesty, there are
    degrees in the assertion of her majesty even here, which affect the
    art, and qualify its feeling. Before stepping down to the thirteenth
    century, one should look at these changes of the Virgin's royal

    First and most important as record is the stone Virgin on the south
    door of the western portal, which we studied, with her Byzantine
    Court; and the second, also in stone, is of the same period, on one
    of the carved capitals of the portal, representing the Adoration of
    the Magi. The third is the glass Virgin at the top of the central
    lancet. All three are undoubted twelfth-century work; and you can
    see another at Paris, on the same door of Notre Dame, and still more
    on Abbe Suger's window at Saint-Denis, and, later, within a
    beautiful grisaille at Auxerre; but all represent the same figure; a
    Queen, enthroned, crowned, with the symbols of royal power, holding
    in her lap the infant King whose guardian she is. Without pretending
    to know what special crown she bears, we can assume, till corrected,
    that it is the Carlovingian imperial, not the Byzantine. The Trinity
    nowhere appears except as implied in the Christ. At the utmost, a
    mystic hand may symbolize the Father. The Virgin as represented by
    the artists of the twelfth century in the Ile de France and at
    Chartres seems to be wholly French in spite of the Greek atmosphere
    of her workmanship. One might almost insist that she is blonde, full
    in face, large in figure, dazzlingly beautiful, and not more than
    thirty years of age. The Child never seems to be more than five.

    You are equally free to see a Southern or Eastern type in her face,
    and perhaps the glass suggests a dark type, but the face of the
    Virgin on the central lancet is a fourteenth-century restoration
    which may or may not reproduce the original, while all the other
    Virgins represented in glass, except one, belong to the thirteenth
    century. The possible exception is a well-known figure called Notre-
    Dame-de-la-Belle-Verriere in the choir next the south transept. A
    strange, almost uncanny feeling seems to haunt this window,
    heightened by the veneration in which it was long held as a shrine,
    though it is now deserted for Notre-Dame-du-Pilier on the opposite
    side of the choir. The charm is partly due to the beauty of the
    scheme of the angels, supporting, saluting, and incensing the Virgin
    and Child with singular grace and exquisite feeling, but rather that
    of the thirteenth than of the twelfth century. Here, too, the face
    of the Virgin is not ancient. Apparently the original glass was
    injured by time or accident, and the colours were covered or renewed
    by a simple drawing in oil. Elsewhere the colour is thought to be
    particularly good, and the window is a favourite mine of motives for
    artists to exploit, but to us its chief interest is its singular
    depth of feeling. The Empress Mother sits full-face, on a rich
    throne and dais, with the Child on her lap, repeating her attitude
    except that her hands support His shoulders. She wears her crown;
    her feet rest on a stool, and both stool, rug, robe, and throne are
    as rich as colour and decoration can make them. At last a dove
    appears, with the rays of the Holy Ghost. Imperial as the Virgin is,
    it is no longer quite the unlimited empire of the western lancet.
    The aureole encircles her head only; she holds no sceptre; the Holy
    Ghost seems to give her support which she did not need before, while
    Saint Gabriel and Saint Michael, her archangels, with their symbols
    of power, have disappeared. Exquisite as the angels are who surround
    and bear up her throne, they assert no authority. The window itself
    is not a single composition; the panels below seem inserted later
    merely to fill up the space; six represent the Marriage of Cana, and
    the three at the bottom show a grotesque little demon tempting
    Christ in the Desert. The effect of the whole, in this angle which
    is almost always dark or filled with shadow, is deep and sad, as
    though the Empress felt her authority fail, and had come down from
    the western portal to reproach us for neglect. The face is haunting.
    Perhaps its force may be due to nearness, for this is the only
    instance in glass of her descending so low that we can almost touch
    her, and see what the twelfth century instinctively felt in the
    features which, even in their beatitude, were serious and almost sad
    under the austere responsibilities of infinite pity and power.

    No doubt the window is very old, or perhaps an imitation or
    reproduction of one which was much older, but to the pilgrim its
    interest lies mostly in its personality, and there it stands alone.
    Although the Virgin reappears again and again in the lower windows,-
    -as in those on either side of the Belle-Verriere; in the remnant of
    window representing her miracles at Chartres, in the south aisle
    next the transept; in the fifteenth-century window of the chapel of
    Vendome which follows; and in the third window which follows that of
    Vendome and represents her coronation,--she does not show herself
    again in all her majesty till we look up to the high windows above.
    There we shall find her in her splendour on her throne, above the
    high altar, and still more conspicuously in the Rose of France in
    the north transept. Still again she is enthroned in the first window
    of the choir next the north transept. Elsewhere we can see her
    standing, but never does she come down to us in the full splendour
    of her presence. Yet wherever we find her at Chartres, and of
    whatever period, she is always Queen. Her expression and attitude
    are always calm and commanding. She never calls for sympathy by
    hysterical appeals to our feelings; she does not even altogether
    command, but rather accepts the voluntary, unquestioning,
    unhesitating, instinctive faith, love, and devotion of mankind. She
    will accept ours, and we have not the heart to refuse it; we have
    not even the right, for we are her guests.
    Next Chapter
    Chapter 8
    Previous Chapter
    If you're writing a Henry Adams essay and need some advice, post your Henry Adams essay question on our Facebook page where fellow bookworms are always glad to help!

    Top 5 Authors

    Top 5 Books

    Book Status
    Want to read

    Are you sure you want to leave this group?