Judith in Sainte-Chapelle

28 Jun

Doesn’t the title sound lovely? Like April in Paris or Breakfast at Tiffany’s.  Ah, I would love to actually be in Sainte-Chapelle.  Or anywhere in the vicinity.

But back to reality and the windows of Sainte-Chapelle (no relation to Dave Chapelle – I don’t think?).   In Judeo-Christian culture, before books were widely available and common people were literate enough to read them, tales from the Bible were conveyed in sermons and in the artwork of cathedrals.  In the soaring glory of Sainte-Chapelle, the windows tell many Biblical stories.

Upper Chapel of Sainte-Chapelle (1248)

Exterior of Sainte-Chapelle (1248)

Located within the Palais de Justice complex on the Ile de la Cité in the center of Paris, Sainte-Chapelle was erected by King Louis IX to house relics of Christ from the Crusades – and to become a perfect example of the Rayonnant Style of Gothic architecture.  Rayonnant refers to the radiating stone spokes of the enormous rose windows of cathedrals and Rayonnant Style means the structure of church is basically a skeletal system to support expanses of traceried glass.

In the Upper Chapel between Ester and Jeremy is where you will find Judith and Job. Not sure why Judith and Job go together, but here they are – with 40 panels devoted to Judith, fifteen feet high.

Judith and Job in Sainte-Chapelle (1248)

The Story of Judith in Sainte-Chapelle (1248)

The Story of Judith in Sainte-Chapelle (1248)

Forty panels seems like a lot to me. I really didn’t think the story was that long. Makes me wonder if they embellished a bit – since it appears that embellishment was a central concept of cathedral building.

Which also makes me wonder: what would happen if they put all the good stained glass sections at the bottom where people could see them and then put the shoddy ones at the top, thinking “Who is going to climb 15 feet to verify that we put in the correct version of the story? Other than the window washers, who ever sees the stained glass at the top?”

There is one helpful aspect in the history of Sainte-Chapelle to address this question.  The cathedral suffered from fires in 1630 and 1777, a flood and exterior damage during the French Revolution.  During the First Empire in 1803, there was severe damage to the Upper Chapel when it was used as a warehouse and the stained glass windows were dismantled.  As a consequence, some of the stained glass rondels entered the art market and ended up in museums where they can be more closely studied than 15 feet away.

Holofernes crossing the Euphrates River (1248) Sainte-Chapelle

The Philadelphia Art Museum  (yo, Adrianne) is fortunate to have 3 rondels in its collection, all relating to Holofernes. The first rondel is a sophisticated asymmetrical composition with two conversing horsemen, one seen from the back, and a contrasting group of four mounted knights.  This depiction is appealing from a kindergarten POV because the horses are differing shades of pink, yellow and blue – plus the horse on the left is clearly showing his rear to the audience (cue for juvenile twittering).

Holofernes destroying orchards of Damascus (1248) Sainte-Chapelle

The second rondel depicts two soldiers hacking up an orchard of trees.  Not sure but I’m assuming apple trees because the fruit is red – but I don’t associate apples with Damascus so could be pomegranates?  Plums?  Dragon fruit?  But definitely not rhubarb.

Holofernes destroying vineyards of Damascus (1248) Sainte-Chapelle

The third rondel depicts three soldiers trashing the vineyards –  although I’m glad that was explained in the title.  I don’t think I could have figured it out on my own because I see zero grapes, the vines look like snakes, and these guys seem to be swinging those axes rather carelessly. Can’t imagine the destruction in the other 37 rondels if this is how they start out.


Locations: Sainte-Chapelle, Paris, France; Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, PA, USA

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Book of Judith, Chapter 6

1 AND when the tumult of men that were about the council was ceased, Holofernes the chief captain of the army of Assur said unto Achior and all the Moabites before all the company of other nations,
2 And who art thou, Achior, and the hirelings of Ephraim, that thou hast prophesied against us as to day, and hast said, that we should not make war with the people of Israel, because their God will defend them? and who is God but Nabuchodonosor?
3 He will send his power, and will destroy them from the face of the earth, and their God shall not deliver them: but we his servants will destroy them as one man; for they are not able to sustain the power of our horses.
4 For with them we will tread them under foot, and their mountains shall be drunken with their blood, and their fields shall be filled with their dead bodies, and their footsteps shall not be able to stand before us, for they shall utterly perish, saith king Nabuchodonosor, lord of all the earth: for he said, None of my words shall be in vain.
5 And thou, Achior, an hireling of Ammon, which hast spoken these words in the day of thine iniquity, shalt see my face no more from this day, until I take vengeance of this nation that came out of Egypt.
6 And then shall the sword of mine army, and the multitude of them that serve me, pass through thy sides, and thou shalt fall among their slain, when I return.
7 Now therefore my servants shall bring thee back into the hill country, and shall set thee in one of the cities of the passages:
8 And thou shalt not perish, till thou be destroyed with them.
9 And if thou persuade thyself in thy mind that they shall be taken, let not thy countenance fall: I have spoken it, and none of my words shall be in vain.
10 Then Holofernes commanded his servants, that waited in his tent, to take Achior, and bring him to Bethulia, and deliver him into the hands of the children of Israel.
11 So his servants took him, and brought him out of the camp into the plain, and they went from the midst of the plain into the hill country, and came unto the fountains that were under Bethulia.
12 And when the men of the city saw them, they took up their weapons, and went out of the city to the top of the hill: and every man that used a sling kept them from coming up by casting of stones against them.
13 Nevertheless having gotten privily under the hill, they bound Achior, and cast him down, and left him at the foot of the hill, and returned to their lord.
14 But the Israelites descended from their city, and came unto him, and loosed him, and brought him to Bethulia, and presented him to the governors of the city:
15 Which were in those days Ozias the son of Micha, of the tribe of Simeon, and Chabris the son of Gothoniel, and Charmis the son of Melchiel.
16 And they called together all the ancients of the city, and all their youth ran together, and their women, to the assembly, and they set Achior in the midst of all their people. Then Ozias asked him of that which was done.
17 And he answered and declared unto them the words of the council of Holofernes, and all the words that he had spoken in the midst of the princes of Assur, and whatsoever Holofernes had spoken proudly against the house of Israel.
18 Then the people fell down and worshipped God, and cried unto God. saying,
19 O Lord God of heaven, behold their pride, and pity the low estate of our nation, and look upon the face of those that are sanctified unto thee this day.
20 Then they comforted Achior, and praised him greatly.
21 And Ozias took him out of the assembly unto his house, and made a feast to the elders; and they called on the God of Israel all that night for help.

Leave a comment

Posted by on June 28, 2011 in Glory


Tags: , , , , ,

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: