The Romanesque stained-glass windows

Chartres Cathedral’s most famous piece of stained-glass is the Romanesque Virgin that forms part of a window in the south ambulatory. Painted in the mid-12th century, it was placed there after the fire of 1194. Its current position, near the sanctuary, was no doubt carefully considered and justified by the spirituality that makes the Virgin the ‘Gate of Heaven’. In 1906, the glass artist Gaudin restored the drapery of the Virgin’s robe and replaced her head, tilting it to the side to give it a gentleness untypical of Romanesque art, which tends to feature figures of majesty in a strictly hieratic pose. For this monumental Virgin, which took up the motif of the reliquary statue that Fulbert had had carved, the Romanesque artists chose a very pale blue glass, lightened by numerous air bubbles, to give her a celestial luminosity.

The three other Romanesque windows are in the western façade. Despite the restorations they have undergone, they are one of the most important examples of Romanesque stained-glass art in France, featuring elements characteristic of mid-12th-century aesthetic convention: windows made up of orthogonal panels, wide ornamental borders, paint applied using firm brush strokes, expression simplified into codified gestures, hieratic poses, thick glass, etc. They feature depictions of Christ, converging at the top of the central window towards a Majesty of the Virgin in another reference to Fulbert’s Virgin. Blue is the predominant colour in the Tree of Jesse, which is paler in colour as if attempting to express the distant promise of the advent of Christ. In contrast, the Passion is brought vividly to life by warm, deep colours, while in the centre the bold colour balance of the Life of Christ window counterbalances the different chromatic emphasis on each side. In the evening, the warm light of the sunset brings this play of colours to life, infusing them with a spiritual quality.