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February 23, 2010
Christine Hediger, ed. La Sainte-Chapelle de Paris: Royaume de France ou Jérusalem céleste? Culture et Société Médiévales Turnhout, Belgium: Brepols, 2008. 414 pp.; 43 b/w ills. Paper €65.00 (9782503525778)

An intriguing concept lies behind this anthology: in 1999, a group of graduate students under the direction of Yves Christe in Geneva began the systematic comparison of the iconography of the Bibles moralisées and the stained glass of the Sainte-Chapelle in Paris. In 2001, their results were presented along with other scholarship on the Sainte-Chapelle at an international colloquium organized by Christe and Peter Kurmann at the Collège de France. Four contributors from the Geneva project (Christe, as well as Christine Hediger, who also edited the volume and wrote its preface, Stanislas Anthonioz, and Maya Grossenbacher) are joined in this volume based on the colloquium by fourteen other distinguished scholars. The contributions, in French and in German, hail from different disciplines and treat the royal persona, the liturgy of the Sainte-Chapelle, its architecture, state of preservation, sculpture, stained glass, and manuscripts associated with the monument.

Several scholars return to ideas that have long been part of the literature and open these up productively. Analysis of the studies contributed by Willibald Sauerländer, John Lowden, and Éric Palazzo will allow us both to indicate the range of scholarship on the Sainte-Chapelle included and to highlight the interest of their work here. Sauerländer turns to the statement made by Robert Branner that the Sainte-Chapelle was “literally construed as a reliquary, an enormous mock-metal shrine complete with imitation repoussé Apostles along the sides . . . the whole turned outside in.”1 Sauerländer contends that only by getting away from Branner’s reliquary comparison to consider the actual staging within the chapel can one understand the conceptual coherence of the program of the Sainte-Chapelle as a spatial setting for the display of the relics. Central to his analyses is the placement within the upper chapel of the large reliquary or “Grande Châsse,” which was destroyed in 1791 after being compromised in the fire of 1630. To evoke how this was positioned, Sauerländer is indebted to later evidence such as his figure 5, the engraving of the eastern elevation of the upper chapel by Ransonette published in 1790 (which corresponds largely to a seventeenth-century watercolor made for Roger de Gaignières).2 Because the materials that allow us to probe the original disposition of the upper chapel’s interior date from the fifteenth to eighteenth centuries, they do not lend themselves to any firm conclusions. Nonetheless, in Sauerländer’s bold vision, the elevation of the huge “châsse-armoire” over the heads of the apostle statues and silhouetted against the stained glass would have made the presentation of the relics not only more central but more visually spectacular, a quality further enhanced by the luminosity of the rock crystal used in the containers for relics within. It is a stimulating reimagining, yet there is a fundamental difference in Branner’s and Sauerländer’s envisioning of the upper chapel that is important to emphasize: Branner argued that the tribunes elevating the Grande Châsse were a later addition (an issue also raised by Annette Weber in this volume, 380–383), and that they essentially cut the apse off from the rest of the chapel, hiding the Châsse from the gaze of the apostle statues located behind it to the east, and that thus elevated, the reliquary impeded the view of the scenes in the Passion window directly behind it.3 If Branner wanted to see the interior as an intimate and unified space on the reliquary model, Sauerländer conceives of it as a dramatic liturgical environment. Although Branner’s comparison of the royal chapel and a reliquary has served as a very useful touchstone, Sauerländer shows how fruitful it can be to set aside a familiar trope and speculate anew.

Lowden turns to affinities between scenes in the window walls of the Sainte-Chapelle and illuminated images in the thirteenth-century Bibles moralisées. Unlike others in the volume who imagine that when the nineteenth-century restorers François de Guilhermy, Louis Charles Auguste Steinheil, and Antoine Lusson consulted the pictorial imagery of these bibles “they walked directly in the footsteps of the medieval glass painters” (Anthonioz, 231–232), Lowden emphasizes the differences between the books and glazing, citing the different ends of their iconographic programs, as attested by the presence of texts and moralizations in the bibles. Moreover, because each of the four extant thirteenth-century Bible moralisées (some of them multi-volume) was a unique undertaking, he objects to any reductive thinking about “the” iconographic program. Lowden also contrasts the function of the bibles to the role of the stained glass windows; in sections subtitled, “Who saw the Bibles moralisées?” he argues persuasively that the royal patron must have puzzled over and studied the vast decorative bookish program in private consultation with a religious advisor.4 He concludes that workshop practices allowed for what he is careful to characterize as compositional similarities rather than the iconographic indebtedness of the glazing to the illuminations.

Palazzo reexamines another of Branner’s insights, namely that in thinking about the liturgical sphere of influence of French kings, it is important to distinguish between a chapel of the king (Capella Regis) and the Sainte-Chapelle in Paris. Palazzo tempers this distinction adroitly through his discussion of two very different kinds of royal manuscripts, the Ordo of the Sacre of Louis IX (Paris, BnF lat 1246) and the small fourteenth-century Ordinary probably used at one of the chapels in a royal chateau (Paris, BnF lat 1435). The former is a unique manuscript produced for the king ca. 1250 that articulated the ideological and political importance of the anointing of the king’s body and the liturgical ideal of the Christian sovereign, but it carried no directions for the ceremony itself and is without progeny.5 In contrast the Ordinary has a very specific content including the color of vestments, number of candles, feasts and processions, and, while it almost certainly was not used at the Sainte-Chapelle, it appears to reflect liturgical traditions established there. As such, the two manuscripts supersede Branner’s categories: the one was made for the king himself, but apparently not conceived as a model for practice in the Sainte-Chapelle or elsewhere; the other does not relate directly to Louis IX, but is a testament of the strength of the liturgy he established at the Sainte-Chapelle. After this elegant and focused demonstration, Palazzo’s conclusion expands outwards, emphasizing that the liturgy of the Sainte-Chapelle was designed to be exportable, “a mental and intellectual construction that transmitted the ideal of the French monarchy” into the later Middle Ages (111). By foregrounding the impact of the liturgy of the Sainte-Chapelle, Palazzo brings up an important methodological question: how much the subsequent diffusion of its forms and ideals sheds light on its original conception.

If the selections discussed so far reconsider traditional arguments profitably, the contribution by Alexis Charansonnet and Franco Morenzoni treads new ground by examining twelve sermon texts on the relics of the Passion dating between 1240–74 that are preserved in the second tome of a three-volume collection of nearly 2,400 sermons compiled by Robert de Sorbon and given to the library of the college he founded (BnF lat. 15951, f. 115r–129bis). The sermons are beautifully contextualized, dated, and analyzed by the authors. Although their basic working method is to determine when and where the sermons were given and whether or not the sermon was delivered in the presence of the relics, Charansonnet and Morezoni do note that sermons were regularly recycled and revised, that some of the material may be citations compiled for sermons, and that in at least one instance the sermon text bears an unknown relationship to the oral performance (67–70). Themes of the sermon texts, which were often quite complex exegetical exercises, are elaborated. As the authors summarize (95), the texts are varied in tone, not remarkably original, and have as their central theme the importance of the Passion and the necessity of penitence. The validity of their survey of these twelve particular sermon texts is underscored by comparison to anniversary sermons given in 1272–73 by Jean d’Orleans, chancellor of the university of Paris, who takes as his theme the notion that each individual can be the king and bishop of his (or her) own temple, and by contrast with sermons given in Vicenza between 1264–70, which unlike the Parisian sermons discuss the theme of French royalty in explicit terms, and the glorification of Louis IX personally. Charansonnet and Morezoni’s careful circumscribing of the themes of these contemporaneous texts is an important cross-check for those who, partly because of its later resonance, have become accustomed to unproblematically reading the glorification of French kingship into the Sainte-Chapelle.

The remarkable article by Hans-Joachim Schmidt, “La dévotion de Louis IX: Exception ou normalité?” considers kingship from a different perspective. His analyses deftly portray the personal and “unedited” (54) character of Louis’s devotions; they do so against the background of generalized notions of sacred kingship, in which, Schmidt argues, a rather functional notion of piety was understood to be part of the royal dignity.6 Louis’s acts and deportment would amount to nothing less than a revolution because henceforth kings could no longer expect that piety would be inherent in their position and manifest through prescribed rites. Like Charansonnet and Morezoni’s study, which demonstrated the terms on which kingship was and was not conceived in contemporaneous Parisian sermon texts, Schmidt achieves a similar feat in his examination of the ways that Louis IX’s rigorous personal efforts to become a devout individual altered notions of Christian kingship.

With all due appreciation of the many excellent scholarly contributions to be found in this anthology, only a few of which can be discussed here in any detail, it must be stated outright that this is a difficult volume to use. The work is very poorly edited, with figures that are key to the argument of contributions not cited within the chapter (Hervé Pinoteau, Jiři Kuthan, Françoise Perrot) and the figures of several different contributions mislabeled (Lowden, Weber, Hediger). In one instance (Pinoteau), a “forthcoming” work of 2003 is cited in this study of 2007 as offering complete analysis. An author writing in French (Sauerländer, 123) discredits the ideas subsequently discussed at length in a later German contribution (Weber, 363–92). It is perhaps necessary for several different authors to go over dating issues surrounding the Sainte-Chapelle in advancing the arguments of their respective chapters (Edina Bozoky, Palazzo, Charansonnet and Morenzoni, Stephan Gasser), although Bozoky’s very thorough documentation could have been usefully referenced in the later selections. However, three of the contributors from the Geneva group (Anthonioz, Christe, Grossenbacher) begin with the very same material about Guilhermy’s change of heart regarding non-interventionist restoration procedures on the chapel’s stained glass.

Another problem is the minimal and utilitarian preface in place of a substantial introduction, which offers neither conceptual nor bibliographical orientation. The preface briefly names the authors and the subjects of their contributions to the volume (2–3) without in any way attempting to frame larger issues and problems in the study of the monument. A mere handful of the works on the Sainte-Chapelle that lie behind issues pursued in the volume are mentioned (1–2): the volume by Jean-Michel Leniaud and Perrot of 1991 is credited with raising issues about the conservation and ideology of the monument; Alyce Jordan’s dissertation of 1994 and subsequent publication of 2002 are described as reconstituting the original program of the stained glass and demonstrating that it followed contemporaneous literary and rhetorical ideals; and Weber’s article of 1997 offering a hypothesis about the genesis of the apostle statues is said to raise issues about dating, preservation, and the significance of the statuary in the ideological program as a whole.7 All of these authors except for Jordan have new contributions in this volume, and their importance cannot be underestimated. But one would surely want to add to these three works some of the literature mentioned in the rich bibliographic annotations of the individual articles, citations that extend well beyond the date of the colloquium. A general bibliography culling together the many references within this volume would have made a lasting contribution to the study of the Sainte-Chapelle. Particularly strange is the omission of the scholarly catalogue edited by Jannic Durand and Marie-Pierre Lafitte, Le trésor de la Sainte-Chapelle, with its helpful bibliography (284–292), and characterized as a “gold mine” (113) by one of the contributors. Further, another author’s remark—that Durand and Lafitte’s otherwise excellent catalogue failed to make connections between the treasury objects and the monumental iconographic program of the royal chapel (197, n. 2)—might even have provided one of the ways that the importance of this volume could have been articulated.

For a volume that appeared six years after the conference when these communications were originally given, it is a shame not to see further editorial engagement with the material presented. One could imagine many interesting conversations among the scholars who contributed different studies, and some of these are hinted at through the sequencing of the articles within the volume; but without more cross-referencing among the contributions, or any inclusion of discussions from the colloquium, potential connections are left solely to the reader. With such a pool of scholarly talent participating, it is incumbent on the editors to make the most of the common themes and conversations among authors. For example, Gasser suggests that the affinities between the architectural forms of the Sainte-Chapelle and contemporaneous monuments in Paris, Saint-Denis, and Amiens are so extensive that it would be irresponsible to attribute the work to a particular architect (170). At least two other authors in the volume might have something useful to contribute on the matter: Leniaud, who has considered the question elsewhere (Leniaud and Perrot, La Sainte-Chapelle, 85–86), but in this volume only addresses the extent of the nineteenth-century restorations (about which more will be said later); and Kurmann, who is best known for his work in architecture, but here contributes an article on relations with sculpture at Amiens, leading to the question: might the sculptural affinities with Amiens incline him toward an architectural attribution from that region?

Most troublesome is the way that scholarly controversies about the Sainte-Chapelle are allowed to collide and fester without significant editorial guidance. In particular, the extent of restorations within the royal chapel is not dealt with in a completely forthright manner, although fully a third of the authors in the second half of the volume address the problem to some degree. The monument is characterized as a thirteenth-century structure (Gasser), a nineteenth-century work (Leniaud), “le remake monumental” (Christe, 255), and a “mosaic” of the work of different periods (Meredith Cohen). The general failure to address restorations at the outset of the volume and as a larger issue impacting the study of the monument as a whole also casts the work of the contributors in the first half of the book into some doubt. Methodologically speaking, understanding the nature and extent of nineteenth-century restorations is critical; it can also help de-familiarize a monument and lead the scholar to look at the thirteenth-century program more clearly, as was certainly the case with Jordan’s pioneering work, which painstakingly used nineteenth-century documentation to establish precisely what remained of the thirteenth-century program at the beginning of the major modern campaign of restoration in 1848. Moreover, the issue of restoration is not unrelated to the understanding of the iconographic program: Christe, for example, rightly points out that a number of the nineteenth-century “manipulations” to the original glazing program gave a new emphasis to Louis IX himself, over the more general thirteenth-century themes of Christian kingship (264–265).

Ultimately, however, the differences of opinion expressed on the nature and extent of the restorations turn out to be not quite the scholarly standoff they at first appear, once the broad-brush rhetoric gives way to analyses anchored in a particular medium. Despite emphasizing that the nineteenth-century recomposed, rather than restored, the glazing program (253), Christe’s real subject is the themes of the thirteenth-century glazing program, which he is able to address through the nineteenth-century documentation Jordan exploited. Although her focus is neither the thirteenth-century windows nor the nineteenth-century restorations, Perrot offers an interesting perspective on restoration with her argument that the feasibly still-present thirteenth-century western rose influenced the iconography and form of the new fifteenth-century rose positioned only ninety-one centimeters (or about three feet) further west of it. Nuanced analyses are also provided by Cohen who uses nineteenth-century restoration documents to demonstrate what was not modified in the sculptures of the spandrels in the interior arcade of the upper chapel. Even Leniaud, the most adamant on the subject of nineteenth-century interpolations, treats only the most egregious examples here, namely the new Flamboyant-style crossing tower and the interior painted decoration; and his main point is that by taking nineteenth-century restorers at their word we have been gullible in regarding the restoration of the Sainte-Chapelle as archeologically correct. In fact, Leniaud wrote extensively about the thirteenth-century program in one of the few works that is cited in the preface.8

This anthology might figure effectively at the center of a graduate seminar, where the fine scholarship within it could become the basis of lively interdisciplinary discussions. As it is, the question posed in the subtitle, “Kingdom of France or Celestial Jerusalem?” seems peculiarly at odds with the volume it graces, since the question is not addressed in any sustained way. If anything, the unfortunate question that emerges most vividly is about the nineteenth-century interventions. Without a larger framing of issues, without more reciprocity among the contributions, either in the form of an editorial armature offering bibliographic guidance and perspective or through the inclusion of discussions from the colloquium, it would require the rigorous and engaged setting of a seminar to tease out the work left undone in the compiling of this book.

Elizabeth Carson Pastan
Associate Professor, Art History Department, Emory University

1 Robert Branner, “Westminster Abbey and the French Court Style,” Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians 23 (1968): 16.
fn2. Sauerländer is able to rely on the analyses in Le trésor de la Sainte-Chapelle, ed., Jannic Durand and Marie-Pierre Laffitte, ex. cat., Paris: Louvre Museum, 2001, esp. 107–128, that document the interior arrangement closely and critically, and establish a consistency of reference going back to the second foundation text of 1249 and a visual tradition from the early fifteenth century.
fn3. Robert Branner, “The Grande Châsse of the Sainte-Chapelle,” Gazette des Beaux-Arts 77 (1971): 5–18 at 13–16. Also see the consideration of this question in Daniel H. Weiss, “Architectural Symbolism and the Decoration of the Ste.-Chapelle,” Art Bulletin 77 (1995): 308–20, esp. n. 16, 310–311.
fn4. Lowden’s focus on how the books functioned could be extended by related studies on stained glass, especially Madeline Caviness, “Biblical Stories in Windows: Were They Bibles for the Poor?” in The Bible in the Middle Ages: Its Influence on Literature and Art, ed. Bernard S. Levy, Binghamton: State University of New York Press, 1992, 103–147; and Wolfgang Kemp, The Narratives of Gothic Stained Glass, trans. Caroline Dobson Saltzwedel, Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1997, esp. 91–158.
fn5. Jacques Le Goff, Eric Palazzo, Jean-Claude Bonne, and Marie-Noël Colette, Le sacre royal à l’époque de saint Louis, Paris: Gallimard, 2001.
fn6. This selection is wholly complemented by William Chester Jordan, “Persona et Gesta: The Images and Deeds of the Thirteenth-Century Capetians—2, The Case of Saint Louis,” Viator 19 (1986): 209–217, which would make a valuable addition to its bibliography.
fn7. Jean-Michel Leniaud and Françoise Perrot, La Sainte-Chapelle, Paris: Editions Nathan, CNMHS, 1991; Alyce A. Jordan, “Narrative Design in the Stained Glass Windows of the Sainte-Chapelle in Paris,” PhD diss., Bryn Mawr College, 1994; Alyce A. Jordan, Visualizing Kingship in the Windows of Sainte-Chapelle, Turnhout: Brepols, 2002; and Annette Weber, “Les grandes et les petites statues d’apôtres de la Sainte-Chapelle de Paris,” Bulletin monumental 155 (1997): 81–101.
fn8. Leniaud’s contribution in this volume corresponds roughly to chapter 1 of his magisterial study with Perrot, La Sainte-Chapelle, 15–48, but his chapters 2 and 3 (49–112), where he contextualized the ideology, artistic forms, and cultic practices of the thirteenth-century monument, give a more complete picture of his work on it.