A panel from the Book of Ezekiel Window by Unknown French artist

Unknown French artist

A panel from the Book of Ezekiel Window, c.1246–48, Stained glass, Sainte-Chapelle, Paris, Bridgeman Images

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A Cage of Colour and Light

Commentary by

At the very core of Ezekiel’s visionary experiences, the first described in Ezekiel 1 and the second in Ezekiel 10, is the appearance of the four cherubim and the wheels of God’s chariot throne. These features come to represent Ezekiel’s visions in this stained glass window panel in the Sainte-Chapelle, Paris.

Built as the royal chapel of the residence for the Kings of France, the Sainte-Chapelle was commissioned by King Louis IX around 1238 to house the precious relics he had recently acquired. A literally brilliant feat of Gothic engineering, the walls of the upper chapel are almost completely given over to vibrant stained glass, creating a cage of colour and light that tells the story of Christian salvation history from Genesis to the Last Judgement.

Near the East end of the chapel, an entire window is dedicated to the book of Ezekiel. The panel is just one of thirty scenes that form a rich and carefully constructed narrative, designed to be meditated upon by the king but also enjoyed by the poorest inhabitants of medieval Paris (Cohen 2015: 148).

Ezekiel stands in the centre of this quatrefoil-shaped panel with a book in his left hand that probably contains his prophecy. He looks upon the four cherubim, who appear here as the winged symbols of the Evangelists: John as an eagle, Mark as a lion, Luke as an ox, and Matthew as an angel. This depiction had become common as Christian tradition read the cherubim via the book of Revelation (4:7). Above and behind him are waves of blue that disappear into the top of the frame, representing the firmament that appears ‘something like a sapphire’ (Ezekiel 10:1).

While the composition of the scene is simple, some details show its medieval makers grappling with the complexity of the description of the wheels, which were ‘as if a wheel were within a wheel’ 1:16; 10:10). Depicted twice in the panel, they are visualized as multicoloured concentric circles on the left and as a vertical line of four overlapping circles above Ezekiel’s raised right hand.

 

References

Cohen, Meredith. 2015. The Sainte-Chapelle and the Construction of Sacral Monarchy: Royal Architecture in Thirteenth-Century Paris (Cambridge University Press: Cambridge)

‘The Book of Ezekiel, Sainte-Chapelle’, The Medieval Stained Glass Photographic Archive. Available: http://www.therosewindow.com/pilot/StChapelle/w10-scan-Frame.htm [accessed 3 March 2020]