- The Gothic Stained Glass of Reims Cathedral by Meredith Parsons Lillich
Meredith Parsons Lillich provides us with a much-needed survey of the thirteenth-century glazing programme at the cathedral of Reims: it will be a fundamental tool for future researchers in the field. Larger than your average academic volume, the book’s dimensions allow superior quality and quantity in the author’s photographic illustrations. The lavish publication of colour plates is commendable, as without these the reader could not fully appreciate the gemlike quality of the late medieval glass and its restoration.
In the interests of providing a fully functional reference tool, Lillich adopts the same system used by the Corpus Vitearum to number the windows. She begins her study by outlining the source material and history of the monumental stained glass programme at Reims. Her discussion follows the east–west axis of the coronation cathedral, moving progressively through time in the analysis of its various glazing campaigns, concluding with the glass on the western façade and emphasizing the unique quality of the glazing. Lillich also provides the reader with eight appendices, adding to the related topics of heresy, patronage, specific iconography and its sources, and attributions of glass now housed in foreign collections. Her notes further enhance the text [End Page 254 ] and there is a comprehensive index, but surely a volume of such groundbreaking material merits a full rather than selected bibliography.
Although at Reims the great rose in the south transept was lost in 1580 and no trace remains of the original aisle bay windows, careful documentation and restoration of the stained glass permitted extensive restoration after World War I. Necessary reconstruction of much of the glass determined Lillich’s decision to privilege iconographic analysis of the glazing, rather than dwelling on questions of style. At the eastern end of the cathedral, the rosaces of the 1230s are subject to detailed examination and are successfully linked to the programme of paired lancet windows below. The narrative cycle of these windows is the first known example of a complete set of lives of apostles in French monumental art. Lillich notes its appearance in the history of western art is second only to the earlier mosaic cycle of apostles at San Marco in Venice.
Antagonistic themes of Hope, Charity, Heresy, and Avarice are apparent in this early programme, and the author links these to political events occurring at Reims during and directly after the chaotic reign of Archbishop Henri de Braine (r. 1227–40). Lillich’s astute identification of scenes in rosace 101 with the Spanish iconography of Saint James Major is but one of her contributions to our understanding of the Gothic glazing programme. She also suggests that certain iconographic motifs can be connected to manuscripts owned by Henri de Braine’s uncle and mentor, Philippe De Dreux (Bishop of Beauvais, r. 1180–1217).
Directly below the programme of apostles, the lancets of the chevet portray Henri de Braine in an unprecedented representation of the archbishop surrounded by his suffragan bishops and their cathedrals. The programme’s horizontal axis illustrates the cumulative power of the archdiocese of Reims, while apostolic succession is stressed along its vertical axis. Increasing pressure to weed out heretical tendencies caused popular unrest in the 1230s and the canons’ immediate efforts to reinstall peace after the death of the archbishop is reflected in the glazing programme.
Where the eastern end of the cathedral represented the Ecclesia Remensis and was initiated by the archbishop, the later transept roses were the sophisticated result of its chapter. With Genesis stories in the north transept glazing and a Last Judgement cycle originally in the south rose, the transept programme illustrates ‘God’s creation and the establishment of the Church’. The author’s argument that the use of the north rose at the cathedral of Châlons reflects the original iconographic programme in the south rose of Reims, is well thought out and interesting. As is her suggestion that...