Plan

Elevation

History

Chronology

Sculptural Program

The west façade of Chartres Cathedral has a program of three sculpted portals. The south portal displays the Incarnation Cycle and the Sedes Sapientiae. The lowest lintel depicts, from left to right, the Annunciation, Visitation, Nativity, and the Annunciation to the Shepherds. The second register shows the Presentation in the Temple. The tympanum is an image of the Sedes Sapientiae, or Throne of Wisdom, showing the Virgin and Child enthroned in majesty flanked by two angels. The two bands of voussoirs show the personifications of the Liberal Arts (females), their exponents (male), and angels.

The north portal's theme has been highly debated. Some scholars believe it refers to the Ascension of Christ, however Margot Fassler has recently and convincingly argued that the portal deals with Christ in his pre-Incarnation form. The lowest register of the lintels depicts ten seated figures under an architectural canopy. The figures carry books, scrolls, and writing implements. These can be read as prophets, waiting to hear of the coming of Christ. The second register shows four angels gesturing at the prophets below. The tympanum depicts Christ in a swirl of clouds, arms thrown open, flanked by two angels. According to Margot Fassler, he is the representation of Christ before time, pre-incarnation, and the angels below gesture to the prophets to attempt to inform them of his impending arrival. The prophets hear of, but cannot yet fully see, the coming of Christ. The voussoirs on this portal depict the labors of the month and the signs of the zodiac in two bands.

The central portal shows the Second Coming of Christ. The lintel shows apostles seated under an architectural canopy. The tympanum depicts the fearsome Christ seated in judgment at the end of time, surrounded by the figures of the tetramorph, the lion, the bull, the eagle, and the angel. The voussoirs show the elders of the apocalypse in three bands.

All three portals are united by a band of jamb sculptures and a historiated capital frieze that stretches the full length of the façade. The capital frieze depicts scenes from the life of the Virgin Mary and from the Passion of Christ. The jamb sculptures represent Old Testament kings, queens, and prophets. Their elongated, upright posture creates an intimate connection with the architecture; they are true column figures. Their clothing was of a type worn by noble and royal people of the region in the twelfth century, and would have thus been a recognizable indication of power and authority to contemporary viewers.

The west façade of Chartres Cathedral shows the hand of the School of Chartres in its arrangement and iconography. Probably put in place around 1145-1150, it is the earliest program of its kind to attempt to convey complex, multivalent theological messages through its images. The program focuses on Christ in three stages of his presence, pre-Incarnation, his Incarnation which prefigures his sacrifice and reign in heaven, and his Second Coming at the end of time. The three together show the myriad ways Christ has appeared and will continue to appear to the people of the earth, a sort of imagining of time and chronology of the Christian Church.

Stylistically, the west façade of Chartres represents a significant exploration of stylized, classicizing elements. Four artists' hands are commonly detected in the carving. The so-called hauptmeister was responsible for the central portal as well as the inner jamb figures of the side doorways, and was perhaps trained in Burgundy, at Vézelay or Autun. The second workshop was responsible for the outer jamb figures of the south portal. Their hand is similar to engravings of the jamb figures at Saint Denis. The third workshop executed the outer jamb figures of the north portal, and is very closely linked with the portal at Etampes. The fourth sculptor was responsible for the voussoir figures, and seems to have been trained in the south-west, perhaps at Moissac.

The popularity of the sculpture on the Royal Portal at Chartres is attested to by the numerous later buildings that adopted pieces of its program. Le Mans, Saint-Loup-de-Naud, the Portail Saint Anne at Notre Dame in Paris, and Bourges cathedral were some early adapters of a Chartres-esque portal style.

The south transept porch at Chartres also has a complex program of three sculpted portals. The east portal shows scenes from the life of St. Martin and St. Nicholas, and is known as the Confessor's Portal. The lower register of lintels depicts, on the left, St. Martin on horseback tearing his cloak in two to share with the beggar. The right side depicts St. Nicholas giving gold to a dying man and his family. The upper register, below a trefoil canopy, displays, on the left, the Dream of Saint Martin, where the beggar to whom he gave his cloak reveals himself to be Christ. The right shows the tomb of St. Nicholas topped with his tomb effigy, surrounded by pilgrims waiting for the favor of the saint's relics to be bestowed upon them. The tympanum shows Christ in Heaven flanked by two angels. The lowest orders of voussoirs shows the deeds of a third confessor, St. Giles, while the rest of the five bands show seated Old Testament figures. The outer jambs on either side of the portal were added later, and show St. Laudomarus and St. Avitus. The inner jambs, from left to right, probably show Pope Leo the Great, St. Ambrose, St. Nicholas, St. Martin, St. Jerome, and St. Gregory the Great.

The west portal of the south transept is known as the Martyrs portal, and shows scenes from the life of St. Stephen. The lintel shows Stephen's martyrdom, while the tympanum shows a standing Christ flanked by two kneeling angels. The five bands of voussoirs show other seated martyrs. The jambs also show famous martyrs. The outer two figures, added later, are the military saints Eustace and George. The inner jambs are, from left to right, Stephen, Clement, Laurence, Vincent, Dionysius, and Piatus.

The central portal of the south transept shows a typically rendered Last Judgment scene. The lintel shows the saved to the viewer's left, and the damned to the viewer's right being ushered into the mouth of Hell. The two sides are divided by a larger figure of the Archangel Michael holding scales and weighing souls. The tympanum shows Christ in Majesty flanked by the Virgin Mary and St. John, surrounded by angels bearing the instruments of the Passion. The lower orders of the voussoirs continue the theme of the saved and the damned, while the rest of the five bands depict angels, kings, and prophets. The jambs contain images of the twelve apostles trampling their oppressors. The trumeau is an image of Christ as the Beau Dieu, trampling the basilisk and the asp. There are two registers of figures carved below Christ on the trumeau who remain unidentified, though it has been suggested that the upper figure who is kneeling and passing out loaves of bread is Louis of Blois, an important donor to the Cathedral.

The sculpted transepts were added after the fire that destroyed most of the cathedral in 1194. Both north and south were probably finished by 1220. The elegant, elongated bearing of the jamb figures and the dramatic pull and deep folds of their drapery is similar to the figures found at Laon Cathedral, which also provided the prototype for the porches, added after 1224. The Confessor's portal has also been linked with workshops at Sens.

The arrangement of the three portals sends a clear, accessible message. It follows a preaching framework, showing a terrible scene of judgment in the center, and flanking it with two different paths to salvation, through the martyrs and the confessors of the Church. The message of the portals would have resonated with the laity, which is not surprising given that this entrance faced a public thoroughfare.

The north transept also has three sculpted portals. The east portal of the north transept shows scenes from the Incarnation. The lintel shows the Nativity and the Annunciation to the Shepherds, while the tympanum shows the Adoration of the Magi. Four bands of voussoirs show angels, wise and foolish virgins, and crowned figures of women. Unusual to the telling of the Incarnation in the portal is the fact that the jamb sculptures begin the story, with the Annunciation on the left and the Visitation on the right, flanked by prophets Daniel and Isaiah.

The west portal centers, unusually, around the story of Job in the tympanum, and the Judgment of Solomon in the lintel. Solomon is seated on the left of the lintel, directing the two women to cut the baby in two, while a crowd gathers to watch. The second register shows Job on the dung heap being tormented by the devil, while his wife and three onlookers observe. The tympanum shows Christ flanked by angels. The voussoirs show scenes from the Old Testament stories of Samson, Gideon, Esther, and Judith. The jambs also show Old Testament figures, from left Balaam, the Queen of Sheba, Solomon, and unidentified figure, Judith, and Joseph. In this instance, Job represents the suffering of the Church in the face of non-believers and heretics, while Solomon represents the wisdom of the Church which allows it to triumph over such sufferings, as shown by the figure of Christ in Majesty in the tympanum.

The central portal is devoted to the Coronation of the Virgin. The lintel shows the Virgin's Dormition and Assumption, while the tympanum shows her enthroned side-by-side with Christ and flanked by angels. The outer voussoirs show the Tree of Jesse, while the inner show angels and prophets. The jamb figures are from both the Old and New Testament, and the trumeau statue shows St. Anne holding the Virgin Mary as an infant. This statue was probably put in place soon after Chartres acquired important relics of St. Anne in 1204. The iconography of this portal was popularized in the late twelfth century by programs such as Senlis, based on the growing popularity of the cult of the Virgin, particularly in her guise as Bride of Christ as described in the Song of Songs.

The central portal was most likely the first to be completed and installed, around 1210, by sculptors who appear to have come from Laon, though the drapery of the figures at Chartres have much more volume. The side portals were probably completed between 1210 and 1220 under the direction of Peter of Roissy, the chancellor of the School of Chartres from 1208 to 1213. The jambs of this façade are beginning to emancipate themselves from the column, to occupy their given spaces in more unique and personal ways. This is especially noticeable in the figures of the Annunciation and Visitation in the east portal, and in the figure of Abraham in the central portal. The program as a whole, with its equations between the Virgin, the Church, Christ, and the wisdom of Old and New Testaments, is far more complex than the south transept, which is fitting given that this entrance faces the bishop's palace, and would have been reserved for members of the clergy.

Significance

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