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PARIS: Sainte-Chapelle



blog-0072692001428497126.jpgThe Sainte-Chapelle is a royal medieval Gothic chapel; another that we visited in Paris to see the incredible history and breath-taking beauty of the chapel's phenomenal stained glass. Now, while reading this blog, focusing on the fzx of creating stained glass, keep in mind that this church was built in 1242 and finished in 1246 and for some perspective: it is about three times older than AMERICA.

Walking underneath the shimmering of the Sainte-Chapelle rainbow, stained light I would have been impressed if the chapel was built last year. It's gorgeous atmosphere was unlike none other and I don't think words can do it anymore justice.

So I will just get on to a little more history of it...and then stained glass!

The Sainte-Chapelle chapel was commissioned by Louis the IX and later became his personal chapel. The 15 tall windows circling the upper part of the church actually can be READ and tell the story of the bible. Looking up at them you can read from the bottom to the left, to the next line and up to the right and then so on, reading as if it were a backward "S" shape that your were following. Starting at the first window, the story of Genesis and Adam and Eve is clearly and amazingly portrayed as you see every scene within the window. Moving to the stained window directly above the alter, Jesus wearing the Crown of Thorns adorns the head of the chapel. All of the notable Biblical scenes are depicted along the walls or in the rose window and through old age, are STILL visible.

How was this all done? Let alone...how was it all done nine hundred years ago!?

To make stained glass...

1) An artist creates a sketch. Then full-sized drawings are layed out for the different windows/panels; these compositions for the seperate sections are called cartoons. The shapes for the glass, the details to be painted, and the colors are generally indicated on the cartoon. In the early Middle Ages these were drawn on whitewashed boards.

2) DIfferent colored pieces of glass are chosen for the design and painted on the glass surface with white lime wash to next be cut. These rough shapes are cut with a dividing iron with a heated tip, which heats the glass, and breaks it where it needs to be done so. A grozing iron further reduces the size of the glass pieces to be as desired. This is an iron bar with a slot at each end that was used to chip away at the glass edges until a piece was perfected.

3) Next, the pieces are painted with a pigment formed from mixed iron oxide and gorund copper with powdered glass. To apply the pigment, wine, vinegar or even urine was also mixed in. Now all painted from a gray to black color, the pieces are set in a kiln to fuse the paint to the glass. This method works by the idea that the during firing, the powdered glass in the paint melts and merges with the glass surface, permanently staining the piece.

a. To make a face, much detail and precision is necessary. Guidelines are painted on the back of a piece and then broad layers of thin paint are done on the front with a wide brush.

b. The guidlines on the back are rubbed away. Thicker paint is added over the front washes with a brush, now to create the detail.

c. Washes, also thin, are re-painted on the back to enforce shading and give the illusion of depth. Then the piece is replaced in a kiln.

4) Narrow strips of lead hold the pieces together to create a full panel. These strips, "lead came," is flexible and adaptable. In this way, it can be fitted around the various shapes of glass.

5) Glazing is the next step which assembles the pieces of stained glass into a window to be set. As the pieces are finished they are set on the cartoon and connected with lead came to form a panel. A combination knife and hammer was used for this process in the Middle Ages. The knife cut the lead, and the hammer secured nails to the work board to keep the window still during assembly. Finally, a solder joins the lead came together. It is made up of an alloy of lead and tin that melts/sets quickly at a fairly low temperature.

6) Lastly, the panel must be cemented. This secures the leads and waterproofs the window. A semi-liquid cement is applied with a light brush and then is covered with a layer of sawdust or chalk to absorb excess liquid. The full Medieval recipe is unknown, but definitely included both chalk and linseed oil. Then the panel is scrubbed down with a dry brush until only connecting cement remains underneath the lead.

The mystery still remains on how exactly it was completed without the technologies we have today. But if it was done: it happened, and it was a true blessing to be able to witness the outcome...

Before I leave you in amazement, here's one more fun little tidbit...if you look in the very last window...you'll actually see...who? Well, of course: the king! Louis the IX! He ordered himself placed in the stained glass as he PURCHASES the Crown of Thorns! The story goes, that Louis the IX actually did buy Jesus' crown of Thorns from a street merchant and owned it. He kept it stored in Sainte-Chapelle. But of course...street vendors are dishonest, conniving and persuasive. Louis IX probably bought a highly expensive tumbleweed.

If alive today, Louis IX would probably be suffering from some intense buyer's remorse.


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