Though likely originally intended in the 12th century to be enclosed in a narthex, that structure was not built and these sculptures remained outdoors.
These three doors of the West Royal Portal which open directly onto the nave are an important part of what remains of the original mid12th century church, the rest of which was destroyed in a blaze in 1194. The portal displays a rigorous sculpture program taken from the Bible and Christian apocryphal writings. The precise identity of the column statues on either side of the doors is not certain. The photograph’s column statues are on the right side of the West Portal’s central door.
The 12th century artist’s ambition was to concentrate the life of these statues in their faces. While Chartres cathedral’s flying buttresses and its stained glass are rightly world famous, some art historians believe that it is the statuary that is the cathedral’s most interesting aspect. The statuary certainly represents 12th century art at its zenith.
While art historians have made attempts to identify the portal column statues, it remains speculative. It appears that these column statues represent Old Testament figures – in this photograph, possibly King Solomon at right holding a scroll and the Queen of Sheba next to him. What is important is the inexpressible joy that these faces of stone from almost 1000 years ago convey.
Most of the church was rebuilt following a devastating fire in 1194 which destroyed much of the extant church and city. Notable exceptions were this mid12th-century west front with its royal doors and two contrasting towers. The rest of the church that is seen today – including, with a few exceptions, its magnificent stained glass windows – was rebuilt and crafted between 1195 and 1220.
SOURCES: Chartres: Guide of the Cathedral, Étienne Houvet, revised Malcolm B. Miller, Editions Houvet-la Crypte, n.d.