FEATURE image: “Chartres, North Porch, Central Portal, LeftJamb” by profzucker is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0. The North Porch was constructed at the start of the 13th century. The North Porch, like the North Rose Window (below) crafted in the same time, depicts the glories of the Virgin Mary along with Old Testament figures.
Chartres Cathedral in France is famous perhaps mostly for its stained glass. From the 12th and early 13th centuries, the shimmering beauty of its intact colorful windows is unparalleled. Almost all the windows are “read” from left to right starting at the base and ascending to the top.
Most of the church was rebuilt following a devastating fire in 1194 which destroyed much of the extant church and city. Notable exceptions were the mid12th-century west front with its royal doors and two contrasting towers. The rest of the church that is visited today – including, with a few exceptions, its magnificent stained glass windows – was rebuilt and crafted between 1195 and 1220.
These three doors of the West Royal Portal open directly onto the nave. They are an important part of what remains of the original mid12th century church since the rest of it was destroyed in the 1194 blaze. 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 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.
SOURCES: Chartres: Guide of the Cathedral, Étienne Houvet, revised Malcolm B. Miller, Editions Houvet-la Crypte, n.d.