The Cathedral in Chartres recovers its original colour

13/7/09 – Restoration – Chartres, Cathedral – Of all the French cathedrals, Chartres is no doubt one whose original décor, be it the sculptures or stained-glass windows, is the best preserved. Less known, however, is that 80% of the 13th century plaster has survived under the built-up dirt and successive coats of paint. A restoration had been needed for a long time, which will be carried out today thanks, notably, to a contribution from the Region Centre (2 million euros) and Europe (1.5 million).

1. Upper Choir of the Chartres Cathedral
After restoration
Photo : Didier Rykner

2. Vault of the Choir of the Chartres Cathedral
After restoration
Photo : Didier Rykner

It is a pleasure to point out the quality of a restoration, led by the chief architect Patrice Calvel, which will nonetheless totally modify the cathedral’s current aspect. In this case, it means recovering the monument’s initial look without redoing anything, simply cleaning it. The result is frankly amazing when discovering it from high up on the scaffoldings set up in the choir. The stained-glass windows, also under restoration at the same time, are even more luminous in this new surrounding (ill. 1). The colour of the walls thus changes from a blackish hue to a beautiful ochre shade with white fake grouting, the architectural ribbing also covered in white, while the keystones are polychromatic (the date of these colours is not known but it has been carefully preserved).

3. Choir of the Chartres Cathedral
Gaps kept after restoration
Photo : Didier Rykner

4. Chapel in the Chartres Cathedral
After restoration
Photo : Didier Rykner

5. Detail of a stained-glass window in the choir
of the Chartres Cathedral
Photo : Didier Rykner

Let us repeat, the images of the cathedral shown in the photographs are not a reconstitution, unlike the procedure carried out at the very beginning of the project in two of the chapels in the ambulatory, where there was nothing left [1] (ill. 3). This is the original colour which will be, simply, touched up to blend in with care in those spots where the original plaster has disappeared. Two gaps have been left in place (ill. 4) as proofs showing the extent of the difference. This colour remains, and will be revealed, up to the level of the triforium where the 18th century section executed by Victor Louis starts. The project should be finished by end of 2009 but the refurbishment will continue until 2015, at which date the whole interior of the cathedral will be cleaned. Furthermore, a study of the sculptures on the north portal is currently under way in order to proceed shortly with their restoration [2].

Version française

Didier Rykner, lundi 13 juillet 2009


[1] Thanks to patronage from two associations : Les Amis de la Cathédrale de Chartres and Chartres Sanctuaire du Monde.

[2] The sculptures on the façade and those on the north portal have already undergone previous restorations.

imprimer Print this article

Previous article in News Items : A painting by de La Hyre acquired by the Musée de l’Armée

Next article in News Items : The Annunciation by Jacques Blanchard acquired by the Musée de Vic-sur-Seille