Jamb Statues and Capital

art_medieval249from the west façade of Chartres Cathedral, 1145-1155

The Chartres group was originally located in the south bay of the west façade of Chartres Cathedral, in what is known as the Royal Portal. Though the sculptural program of Chartres was executed by various masters, this particular group displays evidence of the influence by the Head Master of the cathedral. Conceived and created during the mid-twelfth century, the Chartres group performed a significant function both as a religious narrative and as an architectural component.

The jamb statues represent unknown figures, perhaps prophets, from the Old Testament. They stand with solemn dignity, arms and legs rigidly frozen into place, gazing into the distance. The single animating aspect of their construction is the intricate drapery of their vestments. The strong vertical line unifies the figure with the column so that both are integrated into the soaring structure of the cathedral.

The narrative in the capital frieze relates the stories of Judas' betrayal of Christ, the Entry into Jerusalem, and the Entombment. Each story flows gracefully into the next, providing a continuous narrative. The Head Master of Chartres was effective in reminding the observer that Christ's life was not merely a collection of tales, but rather a series of uniquely intertwined events.

The jamb statues integrate a strong vertical line into their composition with stiff frontality and rigid immobility, whereas the capital frieze emphasizes the horizontal through elements of repetition, as well as the juxtapositioning of motion with stillness. The starkness and singularity of Christ's tomb and the motionlessness of Christ are countered by the repetition of figures bending above the tomb. Similarly, The Entry into Jerusalem is recorded by a small parade of figures all unified in their gesticulation. The visual complexity of the capital frieze and the relative simplicity of the jamb statues complement each other perfectly to enhance the sculptural program of Chartres' west façade.

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