Gothic: the Belle-Verrière Window

Stained Glasses' beauty

Today we are going to discover another beautiful feature of Gothic thanks to the Belle-Verrière Window of Chartres Cathedral

the Belle-Verrière Window of Chartres Gothic Cathedral
ARTIST Unknown
NAME The Belle-Verrière Window
LOCATION Chartres Cathedral, France
YEAR ca. 1150 (with additions in 1225)
TYPE Stained glass
Hi Art lovers!

In the previous posts and videos we discovered so much about Gothic Art and I said many times (I know I can be annoying sometimes) how one of the main goals of Gothic Architecture was to create cathedrals filled with light.

The new architecture in fact allowed to have more space for the windows (see how in this post) that are perfect to let the light come inside, but also efficient communication “pages”.

Wisely, the builders were using the stained glass technique to decorate the windows and one of the most beautiful and oldest examples are inside the Chartres Cathedral in France, about 80 km (50 miles) southwest of Paris.

Chartres Cathedral_gothic church
Chartres Cathedral

The “Window”

Inside the Church there are 167 windows of any size and shape, so sit down and let’s start. JK 😉 I picked one that is considered one of the finest works of art: Notre-Dame de la Belle-Verrière or The Blue Virgin.

This window is located on the south side of the Cathedral. Precisely at the entrance to the choir. And it depicts the Virgin Mary wearing a bright blue robe and sitting in a frontal pose on a throne with the Christ Child seated on her lap raising his hand in blessing. This composition, known as the Sedes sapientiae (“Throne of Wisdom”) is one of the many devotional representations of Mary and Jesus.

Here we have already an important difference with other works of art. Most windows are made up of around 25 to 30 individual panels showing distinct episodes (usually religious). The Blue Virgin instead includes a larger image made up of 5 panels surrounded by adoring angels and just in the lower part there are some episodes with a total of 24 panels (26 if we consider the small top 2 closing the pointed arch).

the Belle-Verrière Window of Chartres Cathedral, light division
the Belle-Verrière Window of Chartres Gothic Cathedral

Mosaic…? …Composite…?

The reason is that the window is actually a composite. Scholars found out that the lower episodes, 9 panels depicting “The Temptations of Christ” (first 3 scenes on the bottom) and “The Miracle at Cana” (divided in 6 scenes) were added in a second moment around 1225.

That choice was made because in 1194 a fire destroyed Chartres’ earlier Cathedral and of the twelfth-century windows that survived, The Blue Virgin and the large windows at the west end were the only ones deemed worth reusing by the thirteenth century glazier master.

So actually this window is a composite. The upper part with the Virgin dated back from around 1180 and, probably, positioned at the centre of the apse in the earlier building. The second half added in 1225 with episodes of Christ’s life.

I want to focus on the “heart” of the work of art to show you how the glaziers were really masters. Remember that the stained glass technique, at least back to Gothic, was not a “simple” glass mosaic, but required to paint many details to render the figures more “clear and definite”. And in the Virgin Mary we can see many of these details. In particular if we look at the decorations and folds of the garment. The glazier wanted to give a “natural” effect on the bright blue dress adding many folds like in real life trying to give also volume adding suggestions of perspective on the throne and footstool. (click on the image to enlarge it)

the Belle-Verrière Window of Chartres Gothic Cathedral, detail older section
Notre-Dame de la Belle-Verrière, detail


Another important detail, that give us the idea of the abilities of the master, is Mary’s veil. The painted lines and gradients were wisely combined to create the idea of a material with transparency! We can find this technique also on Jesus’s and angels’ garments.

Even the book’s pages that Jesus is showing are filled with a Latin prophecy: Omnis vallis implebitur (“Every valley shall be filled”).

If we look carefully, we can see how every single window’s section is filled and decorated. That is an evidence of how the stained glasses were important in the Gothic cathedrals. The windows were the new communication style that replaced the Romanesque frescos. We need to remember in fact that every single window’s section has a meaning as well as every fresco: a clear meaning to make it understandable to the illiterate mass.


A last fun fact: in 1906 the glazier Gaudin restored Mary's head. Can you see anything weird in the interactive image below?

I hope you enjoyed this post, leave your comments and remember to watch the video to enjoy the graphic effects. Ciao!

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Discover more about Gothic: the Belle-Verrière Window with cool graphic effects

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