Chartres in 2012 – the restored choir (Dennis Aubrey)


PJ and I usually have a routine when we enter a church. We enter by the west, sometimes by the south, and rarely (Notre Dame de Senlis comes to mind) we enter by the north side of the building. We go to the rear of the church, sit down together, and look at and talk about the church. Sometimes this takes just a minute, sometimes more. One time at Conques we sat for half an hour admiring the genius of the builders and rediscovering the beauty of the Stützenwechsel – the rhythmic alternation of square pillars and round columns. But last week in Chartres, we had a different experience.

We came in by the spectacular south portal and went directly to the front of the nave to look at the restored and cleaned apse. The difference between the dark, unrestored nave and the brightness of the choir was astonishing. We immediately unpacked and began shooting, with PJ mumbling something about going to the ambulatory while I headed directly to the altar and choir. We shot about 1200 shots of Notre Dame de Chartres in two days and if we didn’t need to fly back to the US on Saturday, we’d still be there firing away.

Choir, Cathédrale Notre Dame de Chartres, Chartres (Eure-et-Loir) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

We are not normally big fans of baroque altars in Gothic and Romanesque spaces, but the work is so magnificent and restrained here in Chartres that it is nitpicking to complain.

The next shot gives an indication of the progress of the restoration. In the foreground, the choir and crossing are almost complete. Most of the ambulatory is finished, although the north section is being worked now. The nave and transepts have not been done, but in the distance, it is possible to see the completed west wall with its lovely rose window. One interesting observation that occurred to me while shooting in the choir was how small the nave actually seems now. It may be that the darkness of the eight nave bays creates this illusion.

Looking west from choir, Cathédrale Notre Dame de Chartres, Chartres (Eure-et-Loir) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

If ever there existed a cathedral better served by the Canon EF TS-E 17mm f/4L tilt-shift lens, I have not found it. The following two shots are an excellent illustration for any “right lens for the job” discussion. The first is a perfectly fine shot of the choir vault taken with the Canon 24mm f3.5 TSE LII tilt-shift lens. It was the ideal choice to frame the apse windows from the choir floor.

Choir vault and windows (24mm tilt-shift, Cathédrale Notre Dame de Chartres, Chartres (Eure-et-Loir) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

But the same view captured with the Canon EF TS-E 17mm f/4L tilt-shift lens is astonishing. By framing the entire triforium level, we begin to sense the soaring height of the choir. PJ prefers it because you also get a better sense of the vaulting and its relationship to the church as a whole.

Choir vault and windows(17mm tilt-shift, Cathédrale Notre Dame de Chartres, Chartres (Eure-et-Loir) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

In this shot it is possible to see the restored ambulatory on the south side. PJ’s post on this will feature two shots – one from last year and another from this year – that show the striking differences in the space since the cleaning and restoration.

Choir and crossing, Cathédrale Notre Dame de Chartres, Chartres (Eure-et-Loir) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

When the entire cathedral has been restored, it will look as beautiful as it did at its dedication on October 24, 1260 in the presence of King Louis IX and his family. PJ and I will be there to photograph Notre Dame de Chartres next year at the final intermediate step of restoration and then again in 2014 when the finished church is revealed to the world.

✚ We would like to thank Caroline Berthod Bonnet, the Chargée de mission from the organization Chartres, Sanctuaire du Monde and Gilles Fresson, Professor of History and the secular coordinator at the Cathédrale Notre Dame de Chartres. Their kindess and assistance made it possible for us to take these photographs. The American Friends of Chartres is our sponsoring organization and I am very pleased to be on the AFC Board of Advisors and to take part in some small way with the remarkable work that they are doing. And finally, we would like to dedicate our work at Chartres to Madame Servane de Layre-Mathéus, President of Chartres, Sanctuaire du Monde. She is an inspiration to us all. ✚

Notre-Dame de la Belle Verrière, Cathédrale Notre Dame de Chartres, Chartres (Eure-et-Loir) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Location: 48.447778° 1.487887°

23 responses to “Chartres in 2012 – the restored choir (Dennis Aubrey)

  1. You two are a gift. You give me a reason to save harder, to put more dollars aside each week. And shots like the choir vault and windows (2nd one) leave me speechless about the architectural skills of mere mortal men.

    • Thanks, Trish. Chartres is simply astonishing. We’ve shot there three times and each time there is something new in every direction. Can’t wait for PJ’s post on going to the “parties hautes” – she saw things that I would love to see if I could climb like her! There was genius and inspiration at work at Chartres. And to some degree, there still is. The restoration is marvelous.

    • Thank you, Bella. We are lucky to have the opportunity to photograph these buildings that we love so much. And it is a wonderful thing to sit down and look at the pictures that we have taken and to rediscover churches that we were already starting to forget!

  2. It is really exciting to see your amazing photos of Chartres in the process of restoration. For the choir vaulting shots with two different lenses, you leave no doubt that the 17mm tilt-shift is the lense of choice.
    While I have high respect for the restoration design team for lighting the triforium, I notice some hot spots which need to be dimmed to the same intensity as the majority of bays. I am sure they will be properly tuned in due course.
    We travelled to Czech and Austria three weeks ago full of Baroque masterpieces, but managed to visit the Romanesque Cistercian Abbey of Heiligenkreuz in the Vienna woods.
    I look forward to your upcoming posts of your travel this season.
    Jong-Soung

    • They are making great progress on the restoration and cleaning. We saw the south side of the cathedral from the distance as we came into Chartres and the restored face gleamed in the sun!

  3. Excellent photography. I do so love capturing images of stately European Cathedrals and Churches.

    Must ask — what model APS-C Canon are you using?

  4. Amazing photos! I never thought that Chartres especially the cathedral brings so much attentions to the world. I have been living here for a few years now and start enjoying it! So whenever you guys visit the cathedral, remember to say hi;) One more thing… thank you for the great post!

    • Thanks for you kind words. How lucky you are to live in Chartres and to witness this historic restoration. I hope you don’t mind, but I posted this blog entry to your “Discover Chartres” Facebook site.

  5. So many essential words have been trashed by people over using them in an incorrect way that I cannot find words in my vocab to praise this photography enough. Awesome has become trite, ditto brilliant, magnificent etc. etc., but these are really very, very special. I won’t sign up for follow-ups because my INbox gets clogged up sometimes, but I will continue to check in to see further postings. You have opened my eyes to the beauty of these interiors.

    • Mari, you are too kind with your praise. We look forward to hearing more from you as you discover the stunning work of these medieval builders. Our project has resulted in about 90,000 photos so far and we are still just scratching the surface.

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