The Recensement des vitraux anciens de la France (Inventory of Pre-Revolutionary Stained Glass in France): A Grand Project Comes to Completion

Michel Hérold (trans. Joseph Spooner)

In this article, Michel Hérold explains the aims and achievements of the French Corpus Vitrearum’s recently completed Recensement Project. The text is based on a paper given by Michel at the online colloquium of the International Corpus Vitrearum, ‘Looking Back, Looking Forward’, held on 25 June 2021.

The French text of Michel’s article can be read here.  


Mission accomplished! The French committee of the Corpus Vitrearum is delighted to announce the completion of its series, the Recensement des vitraux anciens de la France (Inventory of Pre-Revolutionary Stained Glass in France). Completion was marked by the publication, very recently, of the tenth volume, the last of the series to appear, which covers two old administrative regions, Poitou Charentes and Aquitaine; the eleventh volume, covering the Midi-Pyrénées, Languedoc-Roussillon, and Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur regions, appeared in bookshops exactly one year ago (Figs 1, 2, 3).

Fig. 1. Les Vitraux du Midi de la France, 2020.

Fig. 2. Les Vitraux de Poitou-Charentes et d’Aquitaine, 2021.

Fig. 3. The state of progress of the Recensement des vitraux anciens de la France in 2021, taken from volume X in the series, Les Vitraux de Poitou-Charentes et d’Aquitaine.

These inventory volumes deal with regions of France that have been deemed, a priori, not to be rich in medieval glass, and where only a few ensembles were famous, essentially those at Poitiers, Auch, Carcassonne, and Narbonne. One tranche of a body of material that was dispersed and little studied has now been brought together. Even though they are of exceptional quality, who knew the stained-glass windows preserved at the château of Dissay (Vienne) (Fig. 4), or those at Saint-Bertrand-de-Comminges (Haute-Garonne)? Drawing up a list of these ensembles, which are almost unknown, would be a lengthy task. No effort was spared to reach this result: volume X was the work of Karine Boulanger, with contributions from Elisabeth Pillet (with Karine having taken over the Aquitaine side of the project, which was to have been dealt with by a young doctoral student); and volume XI was the joint effort of three retired scholars – Véronique David, Françoise Gatouillat, and Jean-Pierre Blin – together with Michel Hérold.((M. Hérold (ed.), Les Vitraux du Midi de la France, Rennes, 2020, 398pp. (Recensement XI) and K. Boulanger, with contributions from E. Pillet, Les Vitraux de Poitou-Charentes et d’Aquitaine, Rennes, 2021, 332pp. (Recensement X).))

Yet now the stained-glass windows predating the French Revolution have all been identified, photographed, and studied so that they may be brought to wider attention. The project inherited from its instigators Jean Taralon and Louis Grodecki has been brought to its conclusion in exactly fifty years; the pioneer era is now over.

Fig. 4. Dissay (Vienne), window 5: the Virgin giving suck to the Christ Child, and St Luke, before 1505.
Photograph: by Michel Hérold, Centre André Chastel

The completion of an inventory of such breadth devoted to one subject – at the start it was compared to the monumental Corpus Vasorum Antiquorum – is rare in itself. Today, it is time to reflect on the way in which the project was carried out, on the results, and on the perspectives that have now opened up for us.

Why the Recensement?

At the time it was established, the Recensement appeared an absolute necessity. The work carried out by the Corpus Vitrearum since its official inception in 1952 was progressing slowly, to the extent that by 1970 only two monographs had managed to be published in France.((Volume I.1. M. Aubert, L. Grodecki, J. Lafond, J Verrier, Les Vitraux de Notre-Dame et de la Sainte-Chapelle de Paris, Paris, 1959, and volume IV.2, I. J. Lafond, in collaboration with F. Perrot and P. Popesco, Les Vitraux du chœur de l’église Saint-Ouen de Rouen, Les vitraux du chœur, Paris, 1970.)) And yet, as Louis Grodecki observed in his preface to the first volume of the Recensement: ‘Through some sort of historical privilege, our country possesses nearly as many stained-glass windows as all the countries of the West put together.’((‘Notre pays possède, par une sorte de privilège historique, à peu près autant de verrières que tous les pays d’Occident réunis’; L. Grodecki, ‘Avant-propos’, in id., Les Vitraux de Paris, de la Région parisienne, de la Picardie et du Nord-Pas-de-Calais, Paris, 1978, p. 5 (Recensement I).)) This specifically French responsibility required that appropriate solutions be found: it was necessary to make swifter progress to respond to current concerns, which appeared to be twofold: ‘Even after more than a century of research into French stained glass, no historian and no conservator from the Department for Historical Monuments can claim to know the extent of this wonderful domain of French art.’((‘Après plus d’un siècle d’études sur le vitrail français, nul historien, nul conservateur des Monuments historiques ne peut prétendre connaitre l’étendue de ce merveilleux domaine de l’art français’; ibid.))

The first objective signalled, indeed the primary objective at the time, was to respond to the need to know both the full extent and the detail of France’s stained-glass heritage, so as to ensure its preservation. True, for the Department for Historical Monuments, tracking down pre-Revolutionary stained glass could only be carried out at the time by means of the ‘protection lists’ and documentation drawn up when windows were removed during the Second World War. The principal instigator at the inception of the Recensement was therefore, very logically, Jean Taralon, Inspector General for Historical Monuments and founder of the Laboratoire de recherche des Monuments historiques (Historical Monuments Research Team), who collaborated with Louis Grodecki, co-director of the French committee of the Corpus Vitrearum.((The need for such a body of knowledge had been felt for a long time, but without any real results: between 1909 and 1932, at the instigation of Lucien Magne, Inspector General for Historical Monuments, Émile Rayon had travelled through ten or so of the départements of France, describing windows for the department by means of sketches; the latter are preserved in the Médiathèque de l’Architecture et du Patrimoine (MAP, the Multimedia Library for Architecture and Heritage). In the context of the interest aroused in 1937 by the Exposition Internationale des Arts et Techniques dans la Vie Moderne (International Exhibition of Art and Technology in Modern Life) and the Congrès du vitrail (Stained Glass Congress), Marcel Aubert made a request to the Minister for Fine Arts with a view to creating an inventory of stained-glass windows and wall-paintings (Corpus vitrearum, Archives, Dossier I). The photographic documentation required by Jean Verrier, Inspector General for Historical Monuments, at the outbreak of the Second World War – which resulted in photo-montages, on a scale of 1:10, of the windows that had been removed, both before and after restoration – constitutes both an inventory and an important tool for the study of stained glass; the material is conserved at the MAP.))

‘The second justification for this series of volumes is the need for historical knowledge’,((‘La seconde justification de cette série de publication est le besoin de la connaissance historique’; Grodecki, op. cit. n. 3, p. 5.)) that is, the need to work towards a more accurate assessment of a domain that André Chastel, as well as André Malraux and Louis Grodecki, rank among the most beautiful expressions of monumental painting in the countries of the North. This specifically French phenomenon and these riches – which compensate, luckily, for the relative poverty of retable painting in France, even for the late Middle Ages – are further reasons that render exploration of the French heritage in stained glass essential.


Fig. 5. AGLAE analyses being carried out 23–26 April 2018, on glass from bay 6 of St Mary’s Cathedral in Auch (Gers).
Photograph: Claudine Loisel, LRMH

The project was given the official green light during the international art-history congress in Florence in 1970. At the same as it was decided to institute a series of Études (Studies), which would allow Louis Grodecki to publish his work on Saint-Denis (1976), consideration was given to the creation of a ‘quick corpus’, which would become the Recensement. The project had its practical beginnings in 1971–72, with the recruitment of the initial team: Anne Granboulan, Martine Callias Bey, Laurence de Finance, Véronique David, and then Françoise Gatouillat, new graduates of a master’s degree under the direction of Louis Grodecki. It was Grodecki who established a framework for the operation, and he was assisted by Françoise Perrot, who in 1969 had become part of the Corpus Vitrearum team, then under the auspices of the Centre national de la recherche scientifique (CNRS, National Centre for Scientific Research).((As Équipe de recherche associée (ERA, Associate Research Team) 527.)) The circumstances were somewhat remarkable: at exactly the point at which the Recensement got into gear, the controversy surrounding the restoration of the twelfth-century windows in the western façade of Chartres Cathedral exploded. This was to inspire development of a modern approach to the ethics of restoration, rooted in scientific study, in which the Laboratoire de recherche des Monuments historiques and the Corpus Vitrearum came to play a decisive role. Grodecki offered an explanation for this in a piece published in 1976 in the Revue de l’art, ‘La restauration des vitraux anciens’((Revue de l’art, 31, 1976, pp. 5–8.)) (Fig. 5).

The Project’s Aims: How They Were Formulated, How They Developed

The fifteen-year period projected at the outset as needed to bring the Recensement to completion was greatly extended in order to compile the resource that is now complete – and not in five or six volumes, as initially envisaged, but eleven. Admittedly, at the start of the project, the aim consisted solely in setting up files that would allow listings to be updated; reviewing the documentation; and specifying the condition of windows by means of on-site visits.((Corpus vitrearum, Archives, III, Dossier CVMA publications 2, 6.)) But the work, which began in 1971–72,((Sessions were supported financially by the management of the Department for Historical Monuments at the Ministry of Culture, and then in 1973–74 by the ERA 527 Corpus vitrearum.)) beat a path towards much higher editorial ambitions in the years that followed. Despite Louis Grodecki’s reservations, the project’s move to the Inventaire général des monuments et des richesses artistiques de la France (General Inventory of Cultural Heritage)((This move was formalized in 1979, in order to establish the Cellule vitrail (Stained Glass Group), which then moved to the Centre André Chastel in 2005.)) rapidly led to the publication of increasingly substantive books, a move from archival labour to art-historical work. These ambitions actually evolved at the same time as the authors’ expertise, supported by the great stability of the team’s personnel.((Martine Callias Bey (volumes I–IV, VI, and VIII); Véronique David (volumes I–IV, VI, VIII, and XI); Françoise Gatouillat (volumes II, III, V, VI, VII, IX, and XI); then Michel Hérold (volumes V, VI, VII, IX, and XI).)) The results of these efforts now surpass by far the collecting of documentation and the assembling of observations made on site. Since volume IV and especially since volume V, these works have contained introductions that constitute overviews of the stained glass in each region. A most diverse range of issues was highlighted, but in each case the opportunity was taken to draw the major outlines of the history of stained glass and highlight the most emblematic studios and works, right up to the twenty-first century. These ambitions for the series developed at the same time as the authors were honing their visual skills and accumulating knowledge – without having seen everything, but having seen a great deal; and each one of them, in various fields ranging from the Middle Ages to contemporary art, has become a recognized expert. There was never a point when any of us stopped making studio and on-site visits (Fig. 6), or entering into discussion with conservation scientists, and we focused our attention constantly on technical and conservation questions, such as familiarity with the materials themselves. In developing the topics raised and the discoveries made by our day-to-day work, we benefited at all times from exchanges with colleagues in Corpus Vitrearum member countries. Recently, Isabelle Lecocq, Elisabeth Oberhaidacher, Hartmut Scholz, and Tim Ayers have dispensed advice concerning the identification and study of glasses with red-coloured filaments, known as ‘Venetian glasses’ (Figs 7, 8). Never in the history of stained glass in France since Jean Lafond has there been such a body of expert knowledge.

Fig. 6. Studying the windows at Notre-Dame de Paris: the Corpus team on the scaffolding in the southern arm of the transept in June 2021.
Photograph: Claudine Loisel, LRMH

Fig. 7. Verneuil-sur-Avre (Eure), church of Mary Magdalene, bay 8, detail of the Crowning with Thorns, c.1470.
Photograph: Inventaire général Région Normandie, Thierry Leroy

Fig. 8. Muff glass with red fillets; atelier A. Guillot, Boisse (Dordogne), June 2021.
Photograph: D. Bouchardon, LRMH

Resources set up with this kind of framework clearly have to be published in paper form, intended as they are to be works that will withstand the test of time. As a result, the researchers in the Cellule vitrail (Stained Glass Group) at the Inventaire général have always resisted any form of database; neither however did they ever shirk working towards exhaustive, professional photographic coverage, one of the project’s virtues. This was one of the benefits of the project’s being integrated into the Inventaire général, which became a stable partner after the unit moved to being under the regional authorities. Following the withdrawal in 2001 of CNRS Editions and Éditions du patrimoine, the institutional publishers who had carried the Corpus series up to that point, the project moved to the Presses universitaires de Rennes, which favoured publication (from volume VII onwards) of lavishly illustrated, full-colour volumes, supported by a concrete distribution policy that favoured low prices for books in order to reach a public wider than that found in libraries.

Were Aims Achieved?

While the protection of windows through knowledge can be held to have been achieved through the documentation that has been amassed, ties with the Department for Historical Monuments and restoration professionals have on the other hand evolved greatly since the beginnings of the project: ‘In France […], the Corpus committee collaborates very closely with the Laboratoire de recherche des Monuments historiques at Champs-sur-Marne, with the Inspection générale and the architects at the Department for Historical Monuments, and with practitioners in the field of restoration.’((‘En France […] le comité du Corpus travaille en très étroite collaboration avec le LRMH de Champs-sur-Marne, avec l’Inspection générale et avec les architectes des Monuments historiques, avec les praticiens de la restauration’; Grodecki, op. cit. n. 3.)) As with all the other member countries of the Corpus Vitrearum, work undertaken by the French committee contributed to the creation of the doctrine of complete preservation of works with the minimum of intervention and the maximum retention of original material.((The Corpus Vitrearum drew up the ‘Guidelines for the Conservation and Restoration of Stained Glass (1st edition, Vienna 1989; 2nd edition, Nuremberg, 2004); these have been recognized as essential principles in all countries in which restoration is carried out.)) But the Taralon-Grodecki-Gruber((Jean-Jacques Gruber (1904–1983) was the son of Jacques Grüber (1870–1936), the famous glass-painter and interior decorator of the Art nouveau and Art déco periods; Jean-Jacques was also a glass-painter, and a great friend of Grodecki’s.)) team stood down long ago. Today, while there is constant collaboration between historians of stained glass at the Centre André Chastel and the stained-glass hub at the Laboratoire de recherche des Monuments historiques, the full weight of the expertise acquired by the Recensement authors seems to be insufficiently deployed in the service of restoration work in the studio. And yet the team can pride itself on having had the privilege of studying France’s stained-glass heritage in its entirety. Since 2020 however, a document signed by the Directeur général des patrimoines relating to the co-option of specialist researchers in stained glass, allows us to envisage expert work being carried out in the context of a clear framework. And yet visits undertaken recently with a view to sourcing illustrations for the present piece did not provide reassurances concerning the condition of some of our greatest masterpieces of Renaissance glass-painting. But how can we dream of the very idea of a reasoned restoration policy, at public level, that takes consideration of the intrinsic value of these high-profile works as its basis? The particularly productive discussions that have been had continuously over decades have been between glass-painters, restorers, and researchers.


Fig. 9. Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat (Alpes-Maritimes), Villa Ephrussi de Rotschild: Assumption, 1540; and Belgium, ’s Herenelderen (Limburg), church of St Stephen: window of the Assumption of the Virgin donated by Marie-Madeleine de Hamal (in situ, state as in J. Helbig and Y. Vanden Bemden, Les Vitraux conservés en Belgique, III, 1974).
Photograph: © Région Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur – Inventaire général, Frédéric Pauvarel

Fig. 10. Montauban (Tarn-et-Garonne), Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption: glazier’s gondola, ?17th century.
Photograph: CAOA du Tarn-et-Garonne, Emmanuel Moureau

Fig. 11. Tarascon (Bouches-du-Rhône), private mansion, detail of painted ceiling: a glazier at work, mid-15th century.
Photograph: DRAC PACA, Blandine Jourdan

The major objective proposed with much conviction by the founders of the Corpus Vitrearum was to integrate stained glass into the evolving history of painting and more broadly into the history of art. Has this been achieved? It is not easy to arrive at an assessment, as is witnessed by the slightly regretful thinking set out in 2018 by Brigitte Kurmann in the 50th anniversary edition of the Revue de l’art.((See ‘Brigitte Kurmann-Schwarz avec Michel Hérold’, Revue de l’art, 202/4, 2018, pp. 17–23 (available online via the website of the Corpus vitrearum international); and B. Kurmann-Schwarz, ‘La recherche suisse sur le vitrail et son cadre international : avantages, handicaps et contraintes’, Zeitschrift für Schweizerische Archäologie und Kunstgeschichte, 53, 1996, pp. 345–54. For a more general assessment of the work carried out by the Corpus Vitrearum, see the fundamental piece by Eva Frodl-Kraft, ‘Das Corpus vitrearum medii aevi, ein Rückblick’, in Glas. Malerei. Forschung.: Internationale Studien zu Erhen von Rüdiger Becksmann, Berlin, 2004, pp. 13–21.)) Apart from various exceptions, it must be said that the countless topics that have progressed thanks to Corpus projects have not echoed the latter as much as hoped, and yet we have in our heads thousands of windows; our expertise in technical issues and the ways in which works were executed is greater than ever; and works on iconography, new attributions, monographic studies on artistic centres (such as Lorraine, Paris, Troyes, Châlons, and Rheims), and restoration histories have profoundly changed the state of play, while the chronological limits formerly adopted for research have been effaced.

The current context, like the directions in which the history of art is moving at the moment, are hardly favourable to projects conducted over a long period of time and deemed to be problematized to only a small degree. Yet now, medievalists and modernists cannot ignore the thousands of works made available to them, whereas the methods used to achieve this result will withstand the test of time and all changes of fashion. They are based on the founding principles of the Corpus Vitrearum, which are in line with those of the Inventaire général: exhaustivity, critical assessment on site, and synthetic overviews. All thinking is centred on the work itself.

Of course, the power of exhaustivity reaches beyond providing the simple satisfaction of having seen everything: it brings joyful discoveries. In the collections of the Rothschilds’ Villa Ephrussi at Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat (Alpes-Maritimes), it was possible to examine the original of the Assumption of the Virgin at the church of ’s Herenelderen (Limburg), whose windows had previously been studied by Jean Helbig and Yvette Vanden Bemden (Fig. 9).((J. Helbig and Y. Vanden Bemden, Les Vitraux de la première moitié du XVIe siècle conservés en Belgique: Brabant et Limbourg, Corpus vitrearum-Belgique III, Ledeberg/Ghent, 1974, pp. 261–73.)) The discovery of a glazier’s gondola in the cathedral at Montauban shows what can survive from an apparatus that was commonly used in the nineteenth century when maintenance works were being undertaken (Fig. 10). The pictorial record of the glazier at work in his studio assembling diamond-shaped quarries is now all the richer for the discovery of a beautiful painted depiction of the same dating to the mid-fifteenth century, discovered in a private residence in Tarascon (Bouches-du-Rhône) (Fig. 11).

This huge body of material is now widely available for everyone. The historian of the medium now has the materials with which to draw up a historical geography of pre-Revolutionary stained glass. While at the start of the project Louis Grodecki could affirm: ‘We realized […] that the number of stained-glass windows from the Renaissance surpassed, by a long way, that of medieval stained-glass windows’,((‘On s’est rendu compte […] que le nombre des vitraux de la Renaissance dépassait et de beaucoup, celui des vitraux du Moyen Âge.’ Op. cit. n. 3.)) we can now reexamine this allocation of the material with all the requisite qualifications. It transpires that the situation that presented itself in 1978 needs to be qualified to a great degree, first of all regarding the question of numbers. We should recall that the surface area of stained glass put into shelter in France on the eve of the Second World War has traditionally been estimated to be 50,000 m2 – an estimate that is considerably less than the actual figure, because it relates to only one part of windows that were listed. In the Midi regions of France, which were not thought to be rich in stained glass, the number of sites studied was not inconsiderable – 23, with just under 100 or so works being preserved in or documented for Languedoc-Roussillon. Considerable riches are preserved in the départments in the north-west of modern-day Occitania, particularly in the Gers, Lot, and Aveyron départments, each of which has a dozen or so sites. The 8 départments of the former Midi-Pyrénées region have between them a total of 54 monuments that are the subject of individual entries, making a grand total of nearly 200 windows, to which one needs to add the many roundels and fragments that have made their way into collections. For Poitou-Charentes, 12 sites with stained glass that has remained in place were treated, for Aquitaine 8, while the region of Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur is barely more fortunate, with 13 sites that preserve stained-glass windows or fragments in situ.

New primary material has thus been brought together that can foster thinking on the historical geography of France’s heritage. For example, was the Midi, which is now poor in glass, really like that in the Middle Ages and seventeenth century? The answer is yes for Provence, where we can see that Romanesque architecture, often featuring bays that are small in size and few in number, endured a long time, and that architecture opened up to the new formulas of Gothic very late (not before 1260, for Saint-Jean de Malte in Aix-en-Provence, and for the workshop associated with the tomb of St Mary Magdalen at Saint-Maximin-la-Sainte-Baume). The windows in these buildings were for the most part of clear glass: in Provence there is nothing comparable to the important ensembles of the cathedrals in Languedoc – Béziers, Carcassonne, Narbonne, Toulouse, not to mention Albi. In many cases, cataloguing work became conflated with a study of glazing destroyed during the religious wars of the sixteenth century, then of that lost to upheavals associated with the French Revolution and vandalism in the present day. This was one of the important aspects of Karine Boulanger’s work in Aquitaine, as well as in Poitou-Charentes. In Lower Languedoc, there is a clear explanation for the total absence of old stained glass in Nîmes and Montepellier, towns that that passed into Protestant hands a long time ago, and in Mende, where the cathedral was destroyed by the Protestants. The sitemap for stained glass often needs to be read for its blanks. This does not detract from the fact that France remains a world leader for its rich corpus of ‘stained-glass windows by the thousand’.

The question of the chronological distribution of the body of material assembled has been posed since the start of the Recensement. At the time of the publication of the first volume, in 1978, Louis Grodecki averred, as noted, that ‘the number of stained-glass windows from the Renaissance surpassed, by a long way, that of medieval stained-glass windows’. Today we can confirm this for the northern half of France, but this statement cannot be extended to the whole of the country. Unsystematic as any enumeration may be that places a small rural window on the same footing as the famous Jesse Tree by Engrand Le Prince at the church of St Stephen in Beauvais, Upper Normandy possesses around 1,400 windows predating the Revolution, housed in 230 buildings – that is, just under the number for Champagne, which possesses around 1,600 of them; in the latter region, 860 of these windows date to the sixteenth century, of which 750 predate 1550. The situation is very different in the southern half of France, where the situation is multifarious. In Auvergne, after the thirteenth century and the remarkable ensemble in the cathedral at Clermont, the heyday of stained glass – in the second half of the fifteenth century and the beginning of the sixteenth – is distinguished by ensembles associated with the patronage of the dukes of Bourbon, mainly at Riom and Moulins. Stained glass in Lower Languedoc is represented principally by ensembles dating to the end of the thirteenth and the beginning of the fourteenth century – those in the cathedrals of Béziers, Narbonne, and Carcassonne. The epicentre for Poitou today is the cathedral of St Radegonde in Poitiers, with its twelfth- and thirteenth-century windows, but research undertaken by Karine Boulanger on lost windows will clearly qualify the current situation to a great extent.

Fig. 12. Meyrueis (Lozère), the ‘Viguier’ house: heraldic panel, c.1520, state as in 2016.
Photograph: Michel Hérold, Centre André Chastel

Fig. 13. Meyrueis (Lozère), the ‘Viguier’ house.
Photograph: Michel Hérold, Centre André Chastel

Fig. 14. Fons (Lot), church of Notre-Dame-des-Artels: secular panel with the arms of the Prudhomme family, c.1515.
Photograph: Inventaire général Région Occitanie, Philippe Poitou

All regions furnish evidence for bodies of material that have received little attention until now. For those who are interested, the material needed to explore secular glass has now been assembled for the most part. It is found in both churches and museums, as Jean Lafond signalled in an article that appeared in 1956.((J. Lafond, ‘Le vitrail français à l’église et au musée’, Médecine de France, 1956, pp. 17–32.)) The roundels and fragments in museums and windows consisting of stop-gaps installed in churches were the stimulus for a three-year study in France in 2014–2016, which was highlighted at the 28th Colloquium of the Corpus Vitrearum in Troyes in 2016. This work has been continued in the volume brought together by Brigitte Kurmann and Elizabeth Pastan and published by Brill in 2019.((See the articles by M. Hérold, ‘Windows in Domestic Settings in France in the Late Middle Ages: Enclosure and Decoration in the Social Living Space’, and T. Husband, ‘The Silver-Stained Roundel in Northern Europe’, in B. Kurmann-Schwarz and E. Pastan (eds), Investigations in Medieval Stained Glass, Reading Medieval Sources 3, Leiden, 2019, pp. 132–42 and 307–318 respectively.)) There are numerous examples, and they are now sufficient in number to sustain an in-depth study of the subject (Figs 12, 13, 14). The seventeenth century – a period inscribed in French collective memory as being devoid of stained glass – in fact produced much of it, which invites us to reconsider a whole tranche of the history of stained glass. The 29th Colloquium of the Corpus Vitrearum, held in Antwerp in 2018, drew attention to this field, which is still little studied. The Recensement des vitraux anciens confirms its importance (Fig. 15).

Fig. 15. Toulouse (Haute-Garonne), Cathedral of St Stephen: bays 100, 101, and 102, 1612–13.
Photograph: Inventaire général Région Occitanie, Philippe Poitou

Even while it was being assembled, the Recensement revealed the full panoply of its strengths in stimulating multiple studies on a particularly diverse range of subjects.((Testimony to this, for example, are the overview drawn up by B. Kurmann and C. Lautier, ‘Recherches récentes sur le vitrail médiéval, 1998-2009’ (Kunstchronik, part 1, June 2010, pp. 261–84, and part 2, July 2010, pp. 313–38), or, more recently, the essays brought together by M. Hérold and V. David in Vitrail Ve-XXIe s., Paris, 2014.)) It is now up to individuals to grasp the opportunities presented by this resource, which we shall endeavour to make as accessible as possible by digitizing out-of-print volumes and making cumulative indexes available online.

Some Perspectives for the Future

But in France, stained-glass studies are in the hands of a few people, principally those considered experts in the field. While the French committee of the Corpus Vitrearum is 30 strong, the ‘hard core’ consists of only three people: Karine Boulanger, Elisabeth Pillet, and Michel Hérold, who are attached to the Centre André Chastel (the institution affiliated to the Sorbonne), the Centre national de la recherche scientifique, and the Ministry of Culture. This institutional anchorage is propitious for research work, but it is fragile.

In the highly positive context of the completion of the Recensement, the French committee of the Corpus Vitrearum has drawn up a clear work policy. The Monograph series is given over to the publication of major ensembles. While several projects have unfortunately been abandoned (the axial chapel at Evreux, the cathedral at Laon), and others are on hold (Chartres), volumes dedicated to Bourges Cathedral and the Sainte-Chapelle at Vincennes are now in preparation. The French committee strives to encourage – and benefit from – university theses and other synthetic studies to populate its Studies series. There are guidelines here: these volumes should also be resources containing catalogues of works by artists and others, and should feature detailed supporting texts. In the short to medium term, two volumes will be published: that by Maxence Hermant on the figurative arts in northern Champagne, and that by Sylvie Balcon on the medieval glazing of Rheims Cathedral.

The task in future will evidently be to study the huge corpuses of nineteenth- and twentieth-century glass, which have been recognized by us, without reservation, as forming part of our historical heritage. The ‘correct’ methods for inventorizing and studying this material are currently being drawn up.


Appendix. List of the Volumes Comprising the Recensement des vitraux anciens de la France

I. Les Vitraux de Paris, de la Région parisienne, de la Picardie et du Nord-Pas-de-Calais, Paris, Éditions du CNRS, 1978.

II. Les Vitraux du Centre et des Pays-de-la-Loire, Paris, Éditions du CNRS, 1981.

III. Les Vitraux de Bourgogne, Franche-Comté et Rhône-Alpes, Paris, Éditions du CNRS, 1986.

IV. Les Vitraux de Champagne-Ardenne, Paris, Éditions du CNRS, 1992.

V. Michel Hérold and Françoise Gatouillat, Les Vitraux de Lorraine et d’Alsace, Paris, CNRS Éditions/Inventaire général, 1994.

VI. Martine Callias Bey, Véronique Chaussé, Françoise Gatouillat, and Michel Hérold, Les Vitraux de Haute-Normandie, Paris, CNRS Éditions/Monum, Éditions du Patrimoine, 2001.

VII. Françoise Gatouillat and Michel Hérold, Les Vitraux de Bretagne, Rennes, PUR, 2005.

VIII. Martine Callias Bey and Véronique David, Les Vitraux de Basse-Normandie, Rennes, PUR, 2006.

IX. Françoise Gatouillat and Michel Hérold, in collaboration with Karine Boulanger and Jean-François Luneau, Les Vitraux d’Auvergne et du Limousin, Rennes, PUR, 2011.

X. Karine Boulanger, with contributions from Elisabeth Pillet, Les Vitraux de Poitou-Charentes et d’Aquitaine, Rennes, PUR, 2021.

XI. Michel Hérold (ed.), Les Vitraux du Midi de la France, Rennes, PUR, 2020.


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