Monday, December 22, 2014

How far do you go? Chartres' Restoration

There is an account of the restoration of Chartres on NLM,
cathedral in ChartresIt has been controversial, there were various fires in the twentieth century that have left the walls blackened, the restorers chose to ignore the 16th century decoration, which was the last time, apart from minor work, that it was redecorated, and returned it to what can be found of its thirteenth century decor.

The problem with all restoration work is should it be done, how much of it should be done, to which period should it be returned to, and what should be destroyed of subsequent in order to return it to what was 'original'.

The other problem is what modern conveniences do you dispense with, how necessary is electric lighting, for example, in a 'restored' Church? The 13th cent work was supposed to be seen in natural light, after all.
Image of Chartres' 'Black Madonna' the famous 'black' Madonna has been restored. How far should restoration go, especially in a living building like a church? There are all those questions about how to maintain the the restoration, do you ban candles and incense and what about heating which seems to do most damage to ancient painting?

What do you do with sculpture for example where there are no clues about the original colouring, or were the sculpture was already decayed before being brought into an ancient building.

How far do you trust 'expert' opinion, and which experts, and what do you do ten years down the road when opinions are revised and your expert's opinion has fallen out of favour.

Does anyone know what is going to happen to the outside of Chartres, is that going to be restored and coloured too.

The restoration of Chartres is a metaphor for the restoration of the Church as a whole, with that perennial Catholic question: How far do you go?


W.A.C. said...

There seems to be a curious mix of delicate restoration by bona fide professionals and heavy handed destruction by gorillas. Sure, there is some work that permits more force. I winced at the use of stone axes to chip off previous coverings instead of grinders with variable grinding surfaces in some places that should require a much more delicate approach. In other words, strip off the cover material but take extra care to leave the underlying rock work intact. Chipping always runs the risk of pitting the foundation.

My father was a cement finisher for whom I lugged around rock, sand and the like. Watching the way some of the workers handled their trowels, for example, is evidence that there is a lack of expertise on the project.

The return of the airiness and lightness is tremendous. Given the input from Mr Lucas Viar Basterra at NLM, I am of the cautious opinion that sufficient care and attention to detail is being employed.

Though some of the more strident criticism of the restoration seems unduly harsh, it is always good to keep a watchful eye on proceedings. Extended projects tend to tax the workers. It is far too easy, then, to make compromises when none should be permitted. A little healthy criticism keeps everyone sharp and focussed on the need for precision.

Delia said...

See this for Amiens:

I understand from medievalists working in this area that the colour reconstructions of the west front of
Amiens are accurate. I saw it last year - actually a fantastic spectacle, despite my initial misgivings! Maybe they will do something similar for the facades at Chartres.

Pelerin said...

Delia's link to Amiens Cathedral is interesting and it led me to a video on Youtube showing the Son et Lumiere there and elsewhere.

It would appear that many of the Cathedrals in France are colouring their West Fronts in this way - with light rather than paint. I last saw Amiens cathedral some twenty years ago and was able to photograph the West Front in a 'before, during and after' picture - the right third was cleaned (and looked as though it had been put up the day before), the middle was behind scaffolding and plastic in the process of being cleaned, and the left third was in its original state with the grime of ages still adorning it. I actually prefer these ancient edifices to look ancient but the French Government (who own all the Cathedrals) obviously thinks differently.

I have seen a similar Son et Lumiere projected on to the elaborate West Front of Notre-Dame-de-la-Garde in Poitiers and the effect was as if all the statues there had been painted as I believe they once were. Chartres has something similar though on my last visit in September I was not able to stay for it.

I did have time to visit the Cathedral for the first time in eight years and oh dear I am so glad I saw it several times over the years before the clean up. I still remember my initial impression on entering as I turned to face the Rose window over the main door. I was bowled over with its beauty and sat for some time just gazing at all these magnificent windows. I had studied it while at Art College but to see it in reality was quite something.

Because the interior walls were black the contrast was truly startling. I have to admit I did not know that the black walls were the result of fires during the 20th century - I presumed it was the grime of centuries.

Although I had been warned that renovation was under way it still came as a shock when on entering this time and turning around I saw the west wall was a pale ochre colour hardly contrasting with the windows there at all.

Whilst it was interesting to watch some of the restorers at work this did not make up for the disappointment I felt on this visit. And as for the Black Madonna - Notre-Dame du Pilier - I was reduced to tears. There are electric 'fairy' lights nearby now and a notice asking people not to light candles in prayer. I was not surprised to see the chapel was empty whereas on previous visits there were always people praying there... The dark statues were clothed in mystery and conducive to prayer whereas now they look like shop dummies.

Interestingly the postcards on sale of the stained glass windows have been given a black border round them which shows them off to perfection - unlike todays newly cleaned /painted walls.

Gillineau said...

What is the purpose of the restoration? The work is aesthetic largely, and not to prevent collapse. Therefore, why do the French government want to chuck lots of money during a recession at this? As I asked at NLM, is it because of a renewed Catholicism in the French state? Or is it because it's good business? Probably the latter. Chatres is being Disney-fied for economic benefits. I like the idea of jolly churches in nice colours, but it is meaningless to say that we're returning it to a medieval state. It's not a medieval state, it's a contemporary state to be viewed by contemporary people. A Church is an artefact which has meaning - this restoration is about the application of state mandated capitalist economic culture on a place of worship. It may work, it may increase the faith of pilgrims. Or it may just get crowded with camera-clicking tourists. I think it may be an example of what an academic called Featherstone called 'the aestheticization of everyday life', through which the ephemeral, numinous qualities of other's cultures are translated into consumable motifs. This has the dual effect of reducing said culture in the eyes of the external observer into something graspable, but also to the artefact's creator, who see it so easily reduced to a comprehensable motif. They then abandon it.

John Simlett said...

I am of an age that remembers London in the 1940s. It was a black city: the buildings and monuments were ... black! I assumed that they were supposed to be that colour.

Then came the restoration and buildings could be seen in their former glory, as if they had finally been to confession and emerged born again.

But Fr Ray's metaphor is not lost, how would the Church stand up to such a 'clean-up'? I'm not qualified to judge but will follow this blog as it gives me more clues than elsewhere.

In the meanwhile I will sit back, drawing Church architecture, and taking artistic-license to fix the buildings venial sins with my pen.

Nicolas Bellord said...

The Cathedral at Toro near Salamanca has a west door which was covered up in order to extend the Church further west. Some years ago they removed the wood covering the original west door to reveal the original painting from the middle ages. It is somewhat faded but gives some idea of what it must have looked like. There is a crowning of Our Lady by Our Lord at the top where both appear to be laughing with bright red lips and one can imagine Our Lady saying something like 'don't be so silly' as Our Lord offers her the crown.

Edwin said...

In Valladolid they venerate the image of Maria Vulnerata: the image which English sailors dragged from an altar and hauled towards their ship [in the 16th century], before abandoning it. English Seminarians were given the Image to care for; it is venerated because of the damage it has suffered, because of its history - the 'black' Madonna has been stripped of history and become a mere doll.

Pelerin said...

Gillineau asks what the motive of the French Government is in their current mania for renovating their cathedrals.

I get the impression that they are doing it to encourage more tourists and thus help the local economy. Chartres is a small town and without the cathedral would not have much to offer its tourists. There is the Maison Picassiette (an extraordinary mosaic decorated house) and the agricultural museum and an excellent exhibition centre but it is the great cathedral which attracts the tourists.

It certainly attracts the camera-clicking tourists. But people who wish to pray would be better off elsewhere. On the day I visited this year the famous labyrinth was uncovered and dozens of people were walking around, heads down,like zombies. The chapel of the Blessed Sacrament (right at the back of the cathedral behind the High Altar) meanwhile was empty on the two occasions I entered.

Pelerin said...

PS In my last post I referred to Notre-Dame de la Garde in Poitiers. This should have read Notre-Dame la Grande.

Thomas said...

Unfortunately most posters seem to have missed the metaphor. Tradition, like buildings is organic and constantly developing, not something static and fixed in one time period. The problem is real for both modernists and for so called traditionalists. The modernists often claim they are returning things to some original ideal and often strip away much of value that has developed over time. But the traditionalists also want to restore things to some perceived golden age, but cannot agree how far back 'the rot' set in. The problem, it seems to me, is not development but rupture and incoherence. You cannot simply turn the clock back. Most of us would be in for a rude shock on many levels if we could. I suspect that 'golden ages' were not all they are made out to be, especially for those who were alive at the time. The answer lies not in going backward, but onwards into genuine development for the needs of the time, but always on solid foundations.

Richard Duncan said...

I agree with Thomas. A similar point in relation to the liturgy was made by Pius XII in Mediator Dei. "It is neither wise nor laudable to reduce everything to antiquity by every possible device."

Mike Cliffson said...

The State in France owns the cathedrals, inter alia, going back a long way,the church just uses them, and this ensures the fabric, but this has long been considered a mixed blessing on the restoration side, even in the days of definitely catholic leaders such as de gaulle, the renovation was like victorian renovation in the uk.
Its Government,and the ongoing program just charges ahead like money was water tho the economy be boom or bust
I can remember being impressed by Rouen Cathedral in 1964,and saddened a little later to see everything being sand blasted to a new surface, the altar removed,
statues not up to scratch being
replaced by (computergenerated?) replicas?
Theme park stuff, Yes, but, and No, but.
None of your once was Brish MOW tentativeness:full steam ahead.
FR may well be right to use restoration of the fabric etc as a general metaphor for renovation In this case,tho, France, the church has no say,and the particular conclusion would be, once Ceasar's involved , there are costs.
Like Maynooth.