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history of ugly stained glass: Auch, Bazas, Dreux

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  • analysis of a stained glass story window at Rouen
  • Dax and church iconography
  • Index
    history of art relating to stained glass
    abelard’s preferences
    lincoln imp
    the bishop's eye and the dean's eye

    end notes

    related pages:

    auch cathedral choir and stalls photo

    stained glass - development and techniques, also rose windows

    history of art relating to stained glass

    The ‘cleverer’ the artist became, the more they tried to flatter and appease the patrons with prettified portraits and brutalistic, emotional art vaunting ‘great deeds’. The ‘cleverer’ the artists became, the more they painted pictures on stained-glass windows instead of exuberantly exploiting the sheer crude colour and joy in the light.

    Not only did they become ‘cleverer’ with their perspective tricks/illusions, they even ‘improved’ their glass-production and handling techniques. The craftsmen learnt to make the glass smooth and to remove the bubbles, thus turning the sparkling, dancing light of early stained glass into a dead ‘artists’ palette. They learnt to draw their lines with silver nitrate and do away with the marvellous tracery and variations of much of the lead framing. Well, you might like it, many people rave over it, and certainly some of it is rather pretty-pretty.

    Rain, Steam and Speed - The Great Western Railway (1844) by J.M.W. Turner
    Rain, Steam and Speed - The Great Western Railway (1844) by J.M.W. Turner

    So somewhere, during the early fifteenth century [1400-1500], they lose me, just as the canvas and wall painters started to lose my attention after Uccello [1397 - 1475]. Uccello was one of the very earliest artists to experiment with mathematical ideas of perspective. He was a friend of Leon Battista Alberti [1404-1472], who wrote the first known account of linear perspective in 1435 - note the dates for Uccello’s windows below.

    Uccello had designed three of the eight intended oculus windows in the octagonal cupola, the Duomo of Florence cathedral. Two of the Uccello windows remain, the other (Annunciation) having been destroyed/dismantled in 1828.

    The Nativity by Paolo Uccello, 1443-1445. Resurrection, by Paolo Uccello, 1443-1445
    The Nativity by Paolo Uccello, 1443-1445 Resurrection, by Paolo Uccello, 1443-1445
    Image: Ben Rimmer

    It took the invention of the camera, from the time of Turner [1755 - 1871], to re-open options so that serious artists could return to serious experiment and to relearn their trade. Most of this relearning process has only happened in stained glass since around the 1950s.

    It is the unimaginative classes who tend to commission and thereby pay the artists, few of the patrons ever want to rock the boat. Such people have been carefully taught ‘good taste’, which of course means repeating yesterday’s work and god preserve us from anything unusual or ‘innovative’.

    The Starry Night by Vincent van Gogh, 1889
    The Starry Night by Vincent van Gogh, 1889

    Not for the insecure dignitaries, high up on the cathedral parapet, a fellow showing his arse to the bishop’s palace, let alone the priest enjoying himself with a donkey. You see, the medievals they knew how to live, how to get drunk, how to party. Market day would be held in Chartres cathedral, where the floor slopes so it can be swilled down easily when the market day is over. All those dull grey, ‘tasteful’ statues outside the front would be painted in a riot of technicolour. The pillars inside were often in beautiful geometric patterns. But gradually, the old world and the old religion is coming back. [see “Logic has made me hated among men”: Abelard of Le Pallet on theology]. The steady puritanical movements, from Bernard of Claiveaux to Martin Luther to Oliver Cromwell and the French Revolution, have destroyed much of this heritage, wherever they could, in much the manner of the Taliban.

    The cathedrals that rose from 1170 to 1270 were a combination of innovation and workman-like solidity. But once the basic plan was in place, all those smart-arses that followed could not help decorating and doodling over everything in sight. And then along came the critics and academicians who divided this gradual decadence and dilettantism into various ‘styles’ for you to learn on art appreciation courses and thence repeat back in exams.

    As the modern stained-glass artists recover the medium, specialist glass factories now produce coloured glasses an inch thick (complete with all the knowledge of modern chemistry to obtain a palette that even the medieval craftsmen could once again envy). These glasses are deliberately filled again with bubbles and the surfaces are crude and rough, to once more bring the light alive. The modern craftsman deliberately chip the glass and set it in concrete, and various resins to make the glass sing.


    abelard’s preferences

    While I shall be telling you about gothic cathedrals and stained glass from many points of view, and with varying detail, it is well that I start by introducing you to my prejudices. My prime interest is in twelfth and thirteenth century (1100-1299) stained glass. For me, from then on everything went downhill, until the camera was discovered. Only then, at last, did artists start to move away from attempting to make two-dimensional art imitate three-dimensional life. With the camera a great burden was lifted from artists, and they could once more start studying and using materials for their aesthetic qualities and for imaginative expression.

    The beautiful quiet and subdued light of the early, rich glass was steadily displaced by an increasing preference for decorative fiddling and flourish, along with the practical man’s demand for more light. This is explored on the modern stained glass page, as well as here below.


    Creation window by Arnaud de Moles
    Creation window by Arnaud de Moles

    The first six days of creation to the top of the window, with a wonderfully bearded God streching out his hands. The events includes the creation of Earth (with a big bang bullseye), the making Adam and drawing Eve from his rib.

    The main image is a gently pornographic depiction of Adam and Eve after they had eaten of the apple from the Tree of knowledge of good and evil, and so knew that previously they had been naked.

    “And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked ; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves aprons. ”
    [King James Bible, 1611,
    Genesis, ch. 3, v. 7]

    At the bottom of the of the window, Adam and Eve are chased from Eden; Adam has to work; Cain kills Abel.

    Later events from Genesis

    New translation, the Magna Carta


    The stained glass windows are from 1507 to 1513, the sixteenth century, by which time the artistic deterioration was well under way. There is an example here to the left.

    Auch is a quiet, civilised town, but not the most exciting place on Earth. It’s the capital of the Département of Gers, with a little, unprepossessing, Renaissance cathedral. This is the sort of cathedral that people may dodge into to see whether there is anything interesting, have quick look round, and just as quickly, leave. The cathedral has a whole series of painted glass windows, which some call stained glass. They are by Arnaud de Moles [1470-1520]. It’s the sort of series of windows on which some enthusiastic student of biblical art history might well be tempted to write a sophisticated PhD thesis. In all, there are 18 windows by Arnaud de Moles.

    But I’m only using the windows as an illustration of the decline of the craft. So this is sort of a good example of artistic degeneration. Unusually, the chapels are numbered from the north. Thus, the Adam and Eve window illustrated to the left is Window n°1. This window is also referred to as the Creation Window and its chapel is called the Purgatory Chapel.


    Above: the lower part of Window n°6 in the Chapel of Saint Anne.

    The three figures are Moses, the sibyl Libyca, and Enoch. The smaller images at the bottom show Moses and the Burning Bush (enlargement above right); the sibyl and the Emperor Augustus; Enoch assumed into heaven.


    Above: Moses looking at the Burning Bush, where God is installed. You might think Moses was a devil with a pair of horns, but this is a convention indicating the power the Holy Spirit entering into Moses. If you look below to the first image in the Dreux section, you will see the same convention without the unfortunate horns effect.

    There is also a long tradition that Moses had real horns. Should you wish to investigate further, look up, “horns of honour”. This tradition can be seen famously expressed in a Michelangelo statue of Moses (church of San Pietro in Vicoli, Rome - photo on the right). In this context, the horns are often interpreted as a status symbol.

    Moses by Michelangelo
    Moses [1513–1515]
    by Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni [1475–1564]
    Image: Prasenberg, wikicommons

    Arnaud de Moles completed the stained glass, including that of Moses, at Auch in 1513.

    But, but, before you rush on your way, this cathedral has a very impressive hidden art treasure in the choir. [See also Auch cathedral choir and stalls] There is a small door in the side of the choir and the fellow who mans it is often not at his post. You may not even notice the closed door. But you really must find him and pay him, or his assistant, two euros to let you enter the treasure house.

    The stalls were designed at the same time as the painted glass. As with the painted glass, the themes come from the Bible, nature, mythology, chivalry, and so on. Remember, in days of long ago, religion was part of life and not some po-faced Victorian puritanism. Some of the images are even rather rude.

    Some of the hundred and thirteen oaken stalls, Auch cathedral
    Some of the hundred and thirteen oaken choir stalls, Auch cathedral

    Inside you will find a hundred and thirteen oaken stalls, the wood blackened from being immersed in the Gers river for thirty or so years - some say one hundred years, but like the fish it tends to grow in size every time the tale is told.

    BanksCarvings in the Auch cathedral choir
    Carvings in Auch cathedral choir

    The monks stood here for their interminable services and while chanting their offices. A little half seat is provided in every stall as a concession to human frailty. Thus the monks could rest while still appearing to be standing as was required during prayers. These seats are called misericords. Under the seats, between the seats, in front of the seats, behind the seats and above the seats is a absolute marvel and variety of the carver’s art with somewhere around fifteen hundred carvings.

    A miserichord
    A miserichord


    For those appreciating church music and organ recitals, the cathedral has not one, but two church organs of some note. One is from the seventeenth century, while the other dates from the nineteenth century. Around these impressive machines, the city of Auch runs a grand summer music festival in June.

    Background facts
    AuchBlason of Auch

    Auch is in the département of Gers (32)

    approximate population : 21,700
    average altitude/elevation : 207 m

    cathedral dimensions
    nave length : 103 m
    nave width : 33 m
    vaults height : 27 m
    height of sides : 14 m
    height of towers : 44 m


    Bazas cathedral is glazed with typical nineteenth-century coloured windows. In England, it would be Victorian glass, the glass that despoils so many churches up and down the country.

    Bazas, though, is a cathedral that is fully glazed with a complete set of sixty-five windows, thus allowing you to see the complete effect. The glazing is more or less professional but, to any demanding eye, it is pretty damn awful.

    The glass does not raise the imagination to higher things, as was hoped for by Abbé Suger, nor can it even aspire to being a wonder of the world, as with Chartres. It can serve as a mundane teaching aid, and as an example of the end of the retreat to souless mediocrity before the growing renaissance of the twentieth century.

    You should notice the technical trick with the north windows being generally of lighter colours than the south windows. This is done in order to compensate for the difference between the weaker, cold north light untouched by the sun and the brighter, even harsher south light from the sun passing across the often cloudless sky - a common occurrence so far south in France. In the cold northern English light, the clergy may be forgiven a little bit for preferring the entry of more light.

    Common among Victorians was the fancy that the rose windows of a cathedral like Amiens somehow incorporated magical reference to the four ancient elements of earth, fire, air, and water - a bit strained when you have to cram the four elements into three rose windows. To skid around this inconvenience, the west window was deemed to incorporate both earth and air. The north window was more easily associated with with the transparency of water, while the south window could be associated with the darker reds and oranges of fire.

    The standard colours of the four elements were attributed as earth>green; air>yellow or perhaps grey, white, or blue; fire>red or orange; and water>blue. As you can see, there is a bit of a struggle with the colours of air, though the others are fairly conventional.

    Amiens cathedral west rose Amiens cathedral north rose Amiens cathedral south rose
    Amiens cathedral west rose Amiens cathedral north rose Amiens cathedral south rose

    By the nineteenth century, before electric lighting was established, the clerics were usually more interested in bringing light into the church, and instructing the working parishioners in diligence. This is the reason for so much white glass, instead of the glowing beauty of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. The product is also almost a factory product and, as such, is cheaper. Practicality before beauty and art. These windows at Bazas took only ten years to be put in place, whereas cathedrals often take hundreds of years to be built (1852 - 1862).

    Jesus the apprentice carpenter
    From the south side of the nave:
    Jesus the apprentice carpenter, at Nazareth
    From the north side of the nave:
    Note how much more white there is in the window on the right.

    The lower windows on the north side of the nave illustrate the Old Testament, while those on the south side depict scenes from the New Testament.

    At the bottom of the lower windows the shields often show the donors for that window. Those of the Old Testament have mainly single donors, or donations from a family, the coat of arms being of the person or family concerned. Sometimes their initials are shown.

    Initials and arms of a wealthy donor

    On the south side, the windows were often paid for by many people, listed in the shields.

     Names of donors

    High above in the clerestory, windows illustrate the saints, in total depicting fifty-two personages.

    Saint Mathias and Saint Philip
    Saint Mathias and Saint Philip
    Note the tendency to halate in and around the head of Mathias,
    and note the stubbiness of the figures. Looking from far below, maybe fifty feet below,
    the figures appear elongated, making them look normal.

    Background facts


    Bazas is in the département of Gironde (33)

    approximate population : 4,500
    average altitude/elevation : 55 m
    (ranging from 34 m to 123 m)

    cathedral dimensions
    nave length : 80 m
    height under vaults : 20 m


    British churches and cathedrals have been plastered with what is often called 'Arts and Crafts' glass, to replace that destroyed by Cromwell and his Protestant vandals. Several examples of this style much loved by middle-class British culture vultures can be found in Lincoln cathedral.

stained glass in medieval style, dated 1855
    stained glass in 19th century interpretation of medieval style, dated 1855

    Should this appeal to you, there is a well detailed book available, Stained Glass of Lincoln Cathedral by Bennett, Morgan, et al. This book is available from the Lincoln Cathedral bookshop, and is very good value. A good bet is to buy this book and study it before you visit Lincoln cathedral, and then take the book along with you for reference.

    At the other end of the price scale is is an extensive, two-volume study by Charles Winston. However, you may need to re-mortgage your house to buy an original 1847 copy.

    Medieval (Gothic), pictorial stained glass showed the world in two dimensions. From the Renaissance, depictions in paintings, including stained glass, showed the world in three dimensions. Victorian stained glass vaunted 'realistic' images in stained glass, with much glass being painted in order to replicate what was in Victorian paintings, as in those by members of the Arts and Crafts movement. Just below are examples of each type of stained glass at Lincoln cathedral.

    Medieval stained glass at Lincoln cathedral 19th stained glass at Lincoln cathedral
    "Their stolid poses and clear-cut contours are typical of the earliest figure glass at Lincoln. The head of the left-hand angel is a fifteenth century replacement."
    [Stained Glass of Lincoln Cathedral, p.19]

    "... detail from a north nave window by Ward and Hughes, 1869"
    [Stained Glass of Lincoln Cathedral, p.7]

    Notice how this image is made as two dimensions, in accordance with with the flat nature of stained glass.
    See also abelard's earlier comments.
    Notice that the tableau is painted to give the impression of three dimensions. The faces and clothing folds are painted onto the glass as figurative portraits, without any connection to the surrounding stained glass.

    Augustus Pugin, known for his detailing the interior of the British Houses of Parliament, admired medieval Gothic art, as do I. On the other hand, Charles Winston had a wild and self-serving theory which admired and praised Victorian and Arts and Crafts glasswork.

    To note, Lincoln cathedral does also contain excellent, much older stained glass.

    The Lincoln Imp

    High up on the north wall at the east end of the cathedral, amongst the foliage at the base of a spandrel, sits an imp. Be sure to acknowledge the imp - you wouldn't want to annoy him.

    The Lincoln Imp. Image credit: Lincoln cathedral
    The Lincoln Imp. Image credit: Lincoln cathedral

    "Folk stories say that the Lincoln Imp was a naughty creature that caused chaos across the Midlands.

    "Legend has it, when he arrived at the Cathedral he was so naughty that angels turned him to stone to make an example of him." [Lincoln cathedral]

    And the devil can be seen on the old bridge at Cahors. He sure does get about!

    the bishop's eye and the dean's eye

    In the north and south transepts are two great rose windows called the Dean's Eye and the Bishop's Eye.

    "Thus two candelabra make the upper reaches of the cathedral bright, with their vivid and various colours imitating the rainbow [...] The twin windows that offer a circular light are the two Eyes of the cathedral and rightly the greater of these is seen to be the bishop and the lesser the dean. For north represents the devil, and south the Holy Spirit and it is in these directions that the two Eyes look. The bishop faces south in order to invite in, and the dean the north, in order to avoid; the one takes care o be saved, the other not to perish. With these Eyes the cathedral's face is on the watch for the candelabra of heaven and the darkness of Lethe." [1]

    Eye of the bishop, south transept, Lincoln cathedral Eye of the dean, north transept, Lincoln cathedral
    Bishop's Eye, south transept, Lincoln cathedral
    The Bishop's Eye is composed of glass fragments, while re-arranged early 13th-century glass appear in the lancets below.
    Dean's Eye, north transept, Lincoln cathedral



    Background facts


    Liincoln coat of arms

    Lincoln is in the county of Lincolnshire, England.

    population (2019) : 756,920
    average altitude/elevation : 20 m

    Lincoln Cathedral is also called Lincoln Minster. Previously, the cathedral's name was the Cathedral Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Lincoln.

    cathedral dimensions

    length: 147 metres
    tower height : 83 m (spire height was 169 m)
    number of towers ; 3 (spires now lost)

    nave length : 80 m
    height to vault: 24 m
    choir: length 48 m, height (to vault) 23 m

    bells : 13 for change ringing, 20 in total
    Lincoln cathedral holds one of the four remaining copies of the original Magna Carta, now displayed in nearby Lincoln Castle.


    You think we can’t sink lower, don’t you believe it.

    Being a stained glass enthusiast, or even a bore, I often have the opportunity of being told about wonderful stained glass that I should really go and see, and where possible, I do just that.

    One place that regularly comes up in conversation is “that wonderful chapel at Dreux”. Otherwise, the Saint Louis Chapel at Dreux, is a necropolis where the remains of the Bourbon-Orléan family form a bizarre collection, all enhanced by the very worst of decadent, Victorian artistry.

    But no way am I going to advise you to sully your mind with the ghastly contents of this place, more suited to a cross between Dracula and Salvador Dali, with added kitsch.

    Part of the glass in the cupola, designed by Larivière
    image: Didi Massoud

    The so-called stained glass here could only be given that epithet by a particularly indecent cartoonist. It is, in fact, enamelled glass, produced with the assistance of the Sèvres porcelain factory - oh how I wish they’d stuck to porcelain.

    However, it is apparent that some people actually like this stuff, but then vampire films and books are also big sellers. Maybe if you have some vampire genes, you’ll ‘appreciate’ it a little more than I do! If you do visit, you will be charged about 8€ [2011] to enter.

    These are some of the people to blame for these picture glass abominations: Ingres, Eugene Delacroix, Horace Vernet, Hippolyte, Flandrin and Larivière; and these others claim authorship of the garden statuary living frozen on the various sarcophaguses: A. Millet, Barre, Barrias, Lenoir, Lemaire, Franceschi, Dubois, Campagne, Loison, Ch. Walbain, Pradier and Mercié.

    The twelve saints in the transepts are designed by Ingres:

    Saints designed by Ingres. Image: Philippe guillard
    Saints designed by Ingres. Image: Philippe Guillard

    while many other stained glass images, such as those in the nave, are designed by Larivière:

    Sainte Adelaide queen of Lombardy
    Sainte Adelaide queen of Lombardy, designed by Larivière
    image: Didi Massoud

    Background facts
    DreuxBlason of Dreux

    Dreux is in the département of Eure-et-Loire (28)

    approximate population : 31,200
    average altitude/elevation : 135 m

    Chapelle royale dimensions
    rotunda height : 80 ft
    dome diameter : 43 ft



    Stained Glass of Lincoln Cathedral by Bennett, Morgan, et al

    stained glass of Lincoln Cathedral

    Scala Publishers Ltd, pbk,

    ISBN-13: 978-1 85759 774 5

    $42.00 [amazon.com] {advert}
    £12.00 [amazon.co.uk] {advert}


    An Inquiry into the difference of style observable in ancient glass paintings, especially in England
    by Charles Winston

    Inquiry by Winton

    1847, hbk
    J.H. Parker

    ASIN: B000MXAW7Q


    pbk reprint, Franklin Classics, 2018

    ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 0342312642
    ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-0342312641

    $34.95 [amazon.com] {advert} amazon.co.uk {advert}

    hbk reprint, Legare Street Press, 2022

    ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1015931545
    ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1015926561

    $23.95 {amazon.com] {advert}

    An Inquiry into the difference of style observable in ancient glass paintings

    The metrical life of Saint Hugh of Lincoln, believed to be by Henry of Avranches,
    The Latin text with introduction, translation, and notes
    Inquiry by Winton  

    translated from Latin by C. Garton Honywood Press, Lincoln, 1986


    ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎  9780950508382,
    ISBN-10 ‏ :‎  0950508381

    £124.81 [amazon.co.uk] {advert}



    end notes

    1. The metrical life of Saint Hugh of Lincoln, believed to be by Henry of Avranches,
      pp. 57-59

    return to the index

    marker cathedrals – introduction: reading stained glass
    marker gothic cathedral and church construction
    marker cathedrals, an illustrated glossary
    marker Chartres - wonder of the world
    marker Notre Dame de Paris, Paris
    marker lantern towers of Normandy and elsewhere
    marker history of ugly stained glass: Auch, Bazas, Dreux
    marker Auch cathedral choir and stalls
    marker Rouen and Monet
    marker at France pages Dax and church iconography marker photographs, Dax
    marker Bazas - iconography and architectural styles
    marker Poitiers, neglected masterpiece marker photographs, Poitiers / photos 2
    marker Angers, heart of the Angevin Empire marker photographs, Angers
    marker Laon, the midst of the gothic transition, with added oxen marker photographs, Laon
    marker Saint-Jean-Baptiste de Lyon
    marker Notre Dame of Lausanne
    marker Senlis - how a typical cathedral changes through the ages
    marker Saint-Bertrand-de-Comminges - the cathedral of the Pyrenees
    marker Cathedrale Saint-Gatien at Tours

    marker Le Mans and Bourges cathedrals - medieval space technology
    marker Lausanne rose window - photo-analysis
    marker cathedrals in Lorraine - the Three Bishoprics
    marker cathedral giants - Amiens and Beauvais
    marker Clermont-Ferrand and Agde - from volcanoes to cathedrals

    marker Germans in France - Arras cathedral
    marker Germans in France - Reims cathedral
    marker Germans in France - St. Quentin cathedral
    marker Germans in France - Noyon cathedral
    marker Germans in France - Cambrai cathedral
    marker Germans in France - Soissons cathedral

    marker cathedral plans, and facts
    marker stone in church and cathedral construction
    marker using metal in gothic cathedral construction
    marker cathedral labyrinths and mazes in France
    marker cathedrals and cloisters of Franceby Elise Whitlock Rose
    marker the perpendicular or English style of cathedral
    marker Romanesque churches and cathedrals in south-west France

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