Sculptural Program

The jamb figures from the double portal on the south arm of the transept were destroyed in 1793; however, a seventeenth-century engraving by Isaac Brunn, which is reproduced in the chapter on Strasbourg in Rowe's recent publication, represents the portals as they appeared prior to their dismantling following the French Revolution. This engraving demonstrates that twelve apostles initially adorned the jambs of both doorways, with six at each entrance (three of these heads are still extant in a local museum). The doorways feature Virgin imagery. On the left is the Dormition of the Virgin, with all twelve apostles surrounding her deathbed, Christ transporting her soul, and a female figure (perhaps Mary Magdalene) kneeling in grief in front of the bed. In the tympanum of the right-hand doorway is the Coronation of the Virgin, with both Christ and the Virgin enthroned and Christ, already crowned, placing the crown on the Virgin's head. Williamson perceived a stark disconnect between these tympana -- seeing the left as an affecting and theatrical rendering of this scene, and the Coronation as relatively staid -- but one could just as easily account for this contrast on iconographic grounds instead of stylistic ones. In both tympana we see deep, damp trough folds, emblematic of the Muldenfaltenstil.

The south transept façade is punctuated by three figures: Solomon sits enthroned in the center, with the allegorical Ecclesia and Synagoga to the right and left, respectively. Much ink has been spilled on the pairing of the latter two motifs, sometimes considered in concert with the former, and Rowe's work has broadened the scope of their significance, particularly in relation to the cathedral's diverse audience.

The north portal of the western frontispiece centers around the Infancy of Christ, with Virtues triumphing over Vices in the jambs. Two of the Virtues are nineteenth-century copies, with the originals in a local museum. The theme of the central portal is the Passion, and prophets and a nineteenth-century Virgin and Child are found in the jambs. To the south is a Last Judgment portal, with Wise and Foolish Virgins in the jambs. Four Wise and two Foolish Virgins are nineteenth-century copies, with the originals in a nearby museum. A whimsical hallmark of this portal is the soft-featured prince, his back crawling with snakes, lizards, and toads, who offers an apple to one of the Foolish Virgins in the adjacent niche. The style of the western frontispiece portals is closely related to the sculpture of the transepts at the cathedral of Paris, but Williamson has argued that they retain a healthy dose of local flavor, as opposed to slavishly copying the work of the Ile-de-France.

Williamson is concerned with the source for the jamb figures on the later doorways of the western frontispiece. He has interpreted the role of the Wise and Foolish Virgins can as "symbols of the Blessed and the Damned, as vital living elements of the Last Judgment iconography."

The early thirteenth-century sculpture is confined mainly to the south transept, but also includes the "Angels' Pillar" of the interior. Specifically, the south transept sculpture dates to c. 1225-1230; the Angels' Pillar to c. 1230; Ecclesia and Synagoga to c. 1230-1235; and the three doorways of the western frontispiece to c. 1280-1300.



N. Rowe, The Jew, the Cathedral and the Medieval City: Synagoga and Ecclesia in the Thirteenth Century, Cambridge, 2011, pp. 191-237.

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