Sources and Meaning of the Marian Hemicycle Windows at ÉVreux: Mosaics, Sculpture, and Royal Patronage in Fifteenth-Century France*

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Valois Patronage and the Lady Chapel at Évreux

At the Cathedral of Notre Dame, Évreux, the stained glass gracing the Lady Chapel represents the culmination of a century of Valois artistic patronage manifested at the ancient See of the Norman Eure. Erected and glazed with funds provided by King Louis XI (1423-83), the chapel and its decoration remain in the twenty-first century a unique religious and political ensemble of fifteenth-c. French art. What becomes notable is that the glazing campaign presents king, dynasty, Church, and piety in a visual expression of contemporary religious mentality within the emerging national monarchy of later medieval France (fig. 1).' During the biennium of 1467-69, four ateliers of glaziers worked at Évreux under the direction of Jean Balue, the royal bishop, who had been appointed by the king through Gallican privilege, par droit régal. Stained-glass artists glazed the nine Gothic bays of the Lady Chapel in order to commemorate the Coronation of Louis XI held on Assumption Day, 15 August 1461, at Rheims. The event was symbolized in a dazzling fifteenth-c. scene of coronation, portraying king, peers, and heraldry within the fleur-de-lis tympana of the four sanctuary bays of the Chapel. Beneath this brilliant apparatus stand thirty-two devotional images representing the Public Life of Christ: King Louis XI had become Christ's earthly image in the Sacre, which concluded with the great acclamation of Laudes regiae.2

The five windows of the Marian hémicycle contain narrative series of St. Anne and the Virgin depicted in late-medieval fashion and including the Infancy and Childhood of Christ stories from the gospel. A majestic Tree of Jesse shown in the axial window of the Chapel's hémicycle apse intensifies the royalist vision of religion and personal devotion made manifest through the glazing program, for the Évreux Tree recalls the famous Capetian prototypes seen in miniatures and stained glass, above all, the Jesse windows of St. Denis and Chartres, monuments of a public form of art that were (for medieval viewers) unmistakable evocations of the sanctity conferred upon the king of France.3 In the Marian hemicycle, the religious and dynastic themes merge: Old Testament prophecies of Christ, New Testament gospel narratives, Marian apocryphal legends, and the cults of popular and royal saints invoke the protection of Christ, the Virgin, and Saints for the benefit of the king, the Valois House, and France. Thus, the Lady Chapel glass appeals to the religious as well as political sensibilities of its viewers; the contemporary glazing of the Chapel points to, and involves the viewer in, the emerging Valois renovatio (imperil Romani) of the fifteenth-c. Church, state, and society.4

Sources of the Devotional Images

The Évreux ateliers drew from late-medieval forms of devotional pictures: research has uncovered the often mimetic dependence of the Évreux glaziers on the workshop images of (earlier) northern European manuscript painting.5 The glaziers carried cutting-edge visual formulae in pattern books of devotional images, but unfortunately there are no such books currendy in existence. In a few cases, however, the apparent prototypes of Évreux images of devotion have been published. One example is the likeness of St. Luke as the Painter of the Virgin in the "Triumph of the Virgin" window; its prototype appears in fifteenth-c. books of hours, produced for the monarchy and nobility. The Évreux image bears a mimetic association to the Luke portrayed in the Book of Hours of Admiral Coétiuy, now in London, but produced in Paris between 1439 and 1450.6

Panel painting also provided the Évreux glaziers with visual formulae. The Virgin of Mercy in the "Triumph of the Virgin Window" is placed near King Louis XI and Pope Paul Ð; decades before, this Virgin had been presented as protectress of the Valois dynasty and the French crown in an early French panel painting, now at Le Puy, a work connected with the end of the Great Schism (1378-1417), dated 1417. …