Notre Dame of Chartres, Interior

Well then, they’ve been doing a bit of interior decorating on the inside of Chartres Cathedral, and generating quite a bit of controversy in the process. Needless to say, the newly cleaned and painted walls are a dramatic change to what to what generations of particularly older art historians were accustomed.

Of course, it has not been returned back to a frozen moment in time back when the cathedral was completed in 1230; a Baroque depiction of the Assumption of the Virgin remains. Perhaps I conceitedly would have liked to have seen the “original” filthy version for my own reference before the “restoration.” A similar occurrence happened in Rome in the last decade; one of my favorite sites, the old Carcer or Tullianum, which had been turned into a small chapel and which I visited in 1998 and 2009 had been completely gutted by archeologists by the time I visited in 2018. Hey, no problem for me, I thought, because I got to see the exciting new discoveries revealed. But for my travel companions, they had no frame of reference, and had forever missed out on seeing what had been there before for centuries.

Regardless, I think some of the “originalists” need to have some perspective, particularly when they write these absurdities; take this passage from one article lambasting the renovations:

“I was quite unprepared for the visceral impact of its dark, soaring interior, especially the famous stained glass windows that glowed like precious gems set into the intricately carved stone walls. I began to understand how this overwhelming creation could be perceived as heaven on earth.”

Right, buddy, because when I think of the Christian Heaven, I think of a dark, stony interior. Art history, despite being populated by politically liberal people, is notoriously old fashioned and stodgy, and it can no better be illustrated in the hyperventilating over this issue.

It’s no different than how shocking ancient Greek and Roman sculpture is when it’s painted with the correct color palette. It’s weird because we’re used to it being bare, worn down white. I have to admit it’s a little shocking to see such pale white walls, but if the science shows that this is what the walls were originally painted as, then I can’t argue against it. Now if the science is wrong, then that’s another thing.

And another thing, why does the opinion of some guy who admitted visiting only every thirty years matter more over the people who actually use the cathedral on a regular basis?

The truth is that the stained glass windows still glow, and they still provide the unearthly experience that their builders and fabricators intended.

Now, the day after Chartres was completed, it did begin to age, and I think that it will look better once a bit of patina develops on the most recent set of renovations.

Really, does the scene below look historically accurate, whatever that is? There’s patina, and then there’s just filth.

Do the beautiful stained glass windows look better framed by the dirt of centuries, or the freshly restored (not conserved) compound pillars in the foreground. You be the judge.

The pulpit is clearly Seventeenth Century, as well, and has the influence of Bernini written all over it, so even after the recent restoration the cathedral has been not taken back to 1230, but mixed with 1650.

The transepts have not been restored yet, so you get the true “Kenneth Clark Civilisation” effect.

One bummer was that the iconic labyrinth was covered up with chairs. I have no idea why they had so many chairs set up because even for Sunday morning mass they only had about fifty people who all comfortably fit in the choir for services.

One highlight was the amazing sculpture cycle of Christ’s Nativity and Passion in the ambulatory around the choir, which featured Late Gothic work. Honestly, it was probably painted originally, too.

Not sure if the first fully visible register is the meeting of St. Anne and St. Joachim or St. Joseph and St. Mary.

But as you can see, there is more of a natural transition from Gothic to Renaissance sculpture, not some shocking shift, as some would have you believe.

Below from left to right is the Marriage of the Virgin, the Annunciation and then what looks to be the Visitation.

The Massacre of the Innocents finishes the Nativity Cycle, and then I guess there is some of Christ’s ministry, with first up the Baptism of Christ by St. John the Baptist.

Below then is clearly into Christ’s Passion, with his Entry into Jerusalem.

And in one of my favorite passages, the Ascension, with just Christ’s legs and feet still visible and he rockets up into Heaven.

As was typical, there are many chapels and altars for pilgrims to visit.

Chartres has long been a pilgrimage church due to its ownership of the Virgin’s shirt.

After getting back on the train, I observed the beauty of the French countryside that flew by on my way back to Paris.

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