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Stained Glass from the Cathedral of Tours: The Impact of the Sainte-Chapelle in the 1240s

Stained Glass from the Cathedral of Tours: The Impact of the Sainte-Chapelle in the 1240s

Papanicolaou, Linda Morey.

Metropolitan Museum Journal, Vol. 15 (1980)

Introduction: In 1239 St. Louis (Louis IX, 1226-70) purchased the Crown of Thorns from his cousin Baldwin II, the Latin emperor of Constantinople. An account of the solemn translation of the relic to Paris was written by Gauthier Cornut, archbishop of Sens and a participant in the ceremonies. The relic was met at Villeneuve l’Archeveque by St. Louis and his brother, Robert d’Artois.

Following its reception in the cathedral of Sens, it was borne to Paris, where it was displayed by Gauthier to the people before being placed in the palace chapel. In 1241 more relics of the Passion were acquired and within the next seven years St. Louis built a new, sumptuously decorated chapel in the palace, the Ste.-Chapelle,to house them. The chapel was consecrated on April 26, the first Sunday after Easter, in 1248. Four months later, St. Louis, his prestige as rex christianissimus at its apogee,departed on his ill-fated crusade to the Holy Land.

The Ste.-Chapelle has long been recognized as the critical monument in the wide dissemination of the Parisian Court Style of stained glass in the mid-thirteenth century. The chapel was conceived as a monumental reliquary, its stonework painted and gilt like metalwork. Its upper chapel, where the relics were housed, glitters with the reds, golds, and blues of a vast ensemble of stained-glass windows, illustrating the history of mankind from the Creation through the Redemption in multiple registers of historiated medallions. Modern history is represented in the final bay of the narrative sequence, which depicts the history of the relics of the Passion, from the Finding of the True Cross through the Translation of the Crown of Thorns, the chapel’s chief relic, to Paris.

Almost immediately, the Ste.-Chapelle began to set new architectural and artistic fashions in Paris and in the surrounding regions. Stained glass resembling that of the Ste.-Chapelle survives at Soissons, Troyes, Auxerre, and St.-Julien-du-Sault. Virginia Raguin has attributed the Court-Style windows of the last two of these churches, both in Burgundy, to the Isaiah Master of the Ste.-Chapelle and has proposed a date as early as 1247 for them. She credits the commission of artists from the royal chapel to the respective patrons of the churches, who wished to express their close associations with the crown. St.-Julien-du-Sault belonged to the archbishops of Sens. The patron and builder of the church was none other than Gauthier Cornut, author of the account of the translation of the Crown of Thorns to Paris. Gauthier died in 1241, and was succeeded as archbishop by his brother, Gilon Cornut, who participated in the dedication of the Ste.-Chapelle in 1248.

Click here to read this article from Metropolitan Museum Journal


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