MedievalArt.org.uk - Photographs by Stuart Whatling

Bourges Cathedral - Medieval Stained Glass


Background

This section of the website contains a complete set of photographs of every panel in the 22 early 13th century stained glass windows from the ambulatory of Bourges Cathedral (480 separate panels in total).

I have now also photographed the triforium & clerestory windows, as well as photographing the outsides of several of the ambulatory windows - mainly those on the south side (the northeastern corner of the building is not accessible to the public). Whilst these latter are not very exciting photographs, they are a great help in determining which pieces of glass are original. I will add these images in due course.

My aim has been to get all of the images on-line as soon as possible so that other researchers would have access to them. I will go back and add detailed descriptions, notes on exegetical and narratological aspects, references, etc, when time, and the demands of my PhD, allow.

Navigation

At the top level there are two index options - the annotated floor-plan and a summary list of windows with small preview images. Either of these index pages will allow access to keys for the inividual windows. From there on, each window has it's own index page, containing a photograph of the whole window, a line-drawing of the armature design with each panel numbered, and a numbered list of captions corresponding to each of those panels. Clicking either on the caption or on the relevant panel within either the photograph or line-drawing will switch to a detailed view of just that panel.

The only exceptions to the one-panel/one-page model are the Magdalen (bay 17) and St Nicholas (bay 19) windows, where the complex interrelationships between frames make it necessary to treat each row in-toto. In each of these two cases, clicking a panel on the detail-view page will load a larger jpeg into a new window (though you may need to switch off the auto-resize option in your browser to see the full size images.)

If at any point you get lost, clicking the "Bourges Cathedral the ambulatory glass" logo in the top-right of each page will bring you back here.

The site is designed for use on high-resolution monitors (ideally 1280x1024) and high-speed broadband connections - users with more limited equipment will just have to be patient. I would recommend maximising all the windows.

The Bourges Windows

Although scholars still disagree about the exact chronology, the ambulatory at Bourges was probably glazed in the years around 1215. It therefore overlaps with the glazing programme at Chartres. 22 of the original 25 windows survive at least in part, those of the axial chapel (bays 0, 1 & 2) having been completely destroyed. The 10 larger windows on the ambulatory wall are mainly original and generally in excellent condition. By contrast, the 12 narrower windows in the chapels were victims of changes to the altars in the 17th century which resulted in the loss of the lower 3-4 registers of each window. The mid-19th century restorations by Thevenot, Coffetier and Steinheil were done to a very high standard and in many cases it is hard to tell new glass from old. Nevertheless, whether considering the artistic or narrative aspects of the windows, it is vital to remember that in most cases the restorers had no information about the original desings and the details these replacements are pure 19th century invention.

The Bourges glass is still poorly documented by comparison to Chartres and other sites. Currently the key works are;

  • Charles Cahier & Arthur Martin, "Monographie de la Cathedral de Bourges, Vitraux du XIIIe century", Paris 1841-44 (a gargantuan and physically unweildy 2-volume work, illustrated with watercoloured plates but the best record of the state pre-restoration)
  • S. Clement & A. Guitard, "Vitraux du Bourges", Bourges 1900 (slim pocket sized volume based on the preceding)
  • Francois Quievreux, "Les vitraux du deambulatoire de la cathedrale de Bourges" in Mem. Soc. Ant. Centre, XLIII (1938-41), pp.33-39.
  • Louis Grodecki "A stained glass atelier of the 13th century", JWCI, vol 2 (1948), pp. 87-111.