- Photographs by Stuart Whatling

Poitiers Cathedral - the Medieval Stained Glass

Grisaille window Bay 111a - Joseph (part 2) Bay 111b - Joseph (part 1) Bay 100 - Crucifixion (12th Century) Bay 117a - Joshua (part 2) Bay 117b - Joshua (part 1) Bay 118a -Moses (Book of Numbers)) Bay 118b - Balaam Bay 112b - The Prodigal Son Bay 112a - The Parable of Dives and Lazarus Bay 113b - Mixed Panels from Exodus and from a Life of St Blaise Bay 113a - Fragmentary panels from Exodus Bay 105b - Lot / Abraham Bay 105 - Isaac Bay 101 - St Laurence Bay 102 - Saints Peter and Paul Bay 114a - Parable of the Steward (Luke 16:1-12) Bay 114b - The Parable of the Overseer (Mat 20:1-16)

Choir windows
100 - Crucifixion (12th Century)
101 - St Laurence (12th Century)
102 - Saints Peter and Paul (12th Century)

105b - Lot / Abraham
105b - Isaac

106a - Infancy of Christ (not photographed)
106b - Passion (not photographed)

North transept windows
111a - Joseph (part 2)
111b - Joseph (part 1)
113a - Fragmentary panels from Exodus
113b - Exodus and Life of St Blaise (mixed)

South transept windows
112a - Parable of Dives and Lazarus
112b - Parable of the Prodigal Son
114a - Parable of the Steward (Luke 16:1-12)
114b - Parable of the Overseer (Mat 20:1-16)
Nave windows
117a - Joshua (part 2)
117b - Joshua (part 1)

118a - Moses (Book of Numbers)
118b - Balaam

120 - Grisaille glass

I first photographed Poitiers Cathedral in September 2006 when I was still very new to the art of stained glass photography and lacked the necessary long lenses. Those initial results, shot on a Hasselblad with a 250mm Sonnar lens, were very disappointing and played a major part in my decision to switch to digital. I returned to Poitiers in March 2009, now armed with a Nikon D2X, a 170-500mm lens and (most importantly) a bit more experience. Lighting conditions were considerably brighter than I would have liked, and the poor condition of the glass at Poitiers means that photography here will always be difficult. Nevertheless, results this time were considerably better and these are the images I am uploading here.

Poitiers suffered particularly badly during the French Religious Wars. In 1562 the town fell to the Huguenots, who exacted a bloody revenge, not just on the the local populace but even more so, on their churches. Iconoclastic mobs smashed stained glass and defaced paintings wherever they could reach them. This violence, coupled with general neglect in the lean years that followed, left the great early 13th century windows of Poitiers Cathedral as a sad shadow of their original brilliance. Clumsy restorers patched up the missing pieces of early Gothic windows using any stop-gap that would fit; which means one often encounters an incongruous fragment of late medieval silver-stained microarchitecture in a space once occupied by a section of pot-metal drapery. Several panels were lost entirely, some were dispersed to other bays without rhyme or reason, while others were so badly repaired that their contents were rendered illegible. No window escaped unscathed, though some, like the second Joseph window survived sufficiently intact to give a clear impression of the remarkable narrative technique of the Poitevin glaziers. Several missing or damaged panels were replaced in the 20th century by completely new glass painted in a particularly ghastly Art Deco style (done by F Chigot of Limoges in the 'restoration' of 1938-42. Sadly no detailed photographic records were taken before this rather heavy-handed intervention.) Needless to say, I did not photograph any of the modern panels, which are marked in the plans by a darker shade of grey.

Grodecki linked some of the the Poitiers windows with those of one of the three ateliers whose hands he identified at Bourges - the so-called Good Samaritan Workshop. Although Grodecki made this association on the basis of a careful study if traditional connoiseurial criteria such as drapery style and facial types, my own observations of narrative technique and framing (see chapter 9 of my PhD thesis) strongly support his main conclusions. The hypothesis that emerges is that work on the glazing programme at Poitiers began a little before that at Bourges and that at least one of the two or three distinct masters at Poitiers adopted a design approach where the boundaries between panels were treated not as inviolable barriers but as part of the image - a way of linking scenes together or of telling a visually richer story. When work fell behind schedule at Bourges, either this master's atelier, or else another master who had embraced his framing style, traveled from Poitiers to help expedite the project, contributing those bays identified by Grodecki as the work of the Good Samaritan Master. The absence of windows elsewhere in France showing a comparable treatment of framing suggests either that Bourges was his last project - or that subsequent patrons required a more conventional approach. Clever tricks with narrative frames continue to appear in other media, as they had done for centuries beforehand - but in stained glass we find them only at Poitiers and Bourges. Whether it was a local Poitevin tradition shared between multiple workshops and exported thence to Bourges, or the narratological signature of a single glass artist, we may never know.