The Charlemagne Window at Chartres Cathedral: New Considerations on Text and Image

History of Charlemagne Window - Chartres CathedralThe Charlemagne Window at Chartres Cathedral: New Considerations on Text and Image

Clark Maines

Speculum: Vol. 52, No. 4 (Oct., 1977), pp. 801-823


HE Charlemagne Window, justly considered one of the most beautiful of the history windows of Chartres Cathedral, is located in the northeastern intermediate radial chapel and can probably be dated to about 1225. window exists today, scenes from three separate literary sources are disposed in additive sequential fashion, beginning above the semicircular “signature” panel at the bottom (fig. 1).2 The first cycle, comprising six panels (nos. 2-7), draws upon the probably late eleventh-century Descriptio qualiter Karolus Magnus clavum et coronam Domini a Constantinopoli Aquisgrani de- tulerit, a chronicle of Charlemagne’s legendary Jerusalem crusade. The major part of the window, comprising the next fourteen panels (nos. 8-21),illustrates Charlemagne’s Spanish crusade. Its scenes are based upon the mid-twelfth-century Historia Karoli Magni et Rotholandi. This narrative was purportedly written in the ninth century by the Remois archbishop, Turpin, and is better known as the Pseudo-Turpin Chronicle. Finally, the panel which is today uppermost (no. 22), is taken from the third literary source, the eleventh-century Vita sancti Aegidii.

Although the window has often been commented upon and several of its panels subjected to scrutiny, a detailed text-image analysis has never been systematically undertaken panel by panel. Such an analysis is requisite for an understanding of the window as an ensemble and must be undertaken first. It will provide a clarification of certain iconographic details, such as the previously unidentified figures of Roland in panels 5 and 7 of the Jerusalem crusade, and the reidentification of four scenes in the Spanish crusade cycle. Individually, these corrections and modifications alter our impressions of an only generally understood iconography. Collectively, they have a major impact on our understanding of the logical and typological order of the ensemble.

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