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Picturing the Celestial City The Medieval Stained Glass of Beauvais Cathedral by Michael W. Cothren

Picturing the Celestial City The Medieval Stained Glass of Beauvais Cathedral


Picturing the Celestial City The Medieval Stained Glass of Beauvais Cathedral by Michael W. Cothren

The cathedral of Saint-Pierre in Beauvais, France, is most famous as a failure--its choir vaults came crashing down in 1284--and only secondarily for its soaring beauty. This lavishly illustrated and elegantly written book represents the first serious look at the stunning collection of Gothic stained glass windows that has always dominated the experience of those who enter Beauvais Cathedral. Chapter by chapter, Michael Cothren traces the glazing through four successive campaigns that bridged the century between the 1240s and the 1340s. The reader is transported back in history, gaining fascinating insight into what the glazing of Beauvais actually would have looked like as well as what it would have communicated to those who frequented the cathedral. Contrary to the widespread assumption that these windows are heavily restored, Cothren shows that they are in fact surprisingly well preserved, especially in light of the cathedral's infamous history of architectural disaster. More importantly, Cothren goes far to dismantle a long-held misconception about medieval painted windows, and indeed monumental medieval pictorial art in general: the notion that it was conceived and produced as a substitute text for ignorant, illiterate folks, providing for them a Bible of the Poor. Indeed, Cothren shows us that stained glass windows, rich with shaded meanings, functioned more like sermon than scripture. As an ensemble, they created a radiant interpretive backdrop that explicated and situated the performance of the Mass in this giant liturgical theater.


[T]his is a splendid selection of both archival and recent photographs that provides excellent visual documentation... [T]his book ... without a doubt constitutes the most accessible scholarly study of the 13th- and 14th- century glazing of Beauvais Cathedral to date and is likely long to remain so... Cothren hs not only worked out the chronology of the glas brilliantly; he presents it here with admirable clarity. --James Bugslag, Journal of Stained Glass Cothren's agility in choosing the appropriate means with which to tease out a possible solution to a given problem allows him to embrace the multifaceted approach crucial to an understanding of the monument as a whole. His visual observations of the figural as well as physiognomic style in each window, carried out on a microanalytic level, elicit questions and suggestions that lead to the most complete investigation of the glazing program of Beauvais up to the present time. --Mary Weitzel Gibbons, Church History

About the Author

Michael W. Cothren is Professor of Art History at Swarthmore College and consultative curator at the Glencairn Museum, home to one of the most distinguished collections of medieval stained glass in the United States.

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Book Info

Publication date

2nd May 2006


Michael W. Cothren

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Princeton University Press


296 pages


Religious buildings
Stained glass: artworks



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