In Reims Imi Knoebel and Marc Chagall set a unique comparison between figuration and abstraction


In 2008 German artist Imi Knoebel designed the six stained glass windows of the two north and south chapel of the apse of Notre-Dame de Reims cathedral. The windows were made in the workshop of maister glaziers Simon Marq in Reims and Duchemin in Paris using traditional lead techniques. The new windows have been inaugurated in 2011 during the celebration of the cathedral’s 800th anniversary and are a pure abstraction based on the colours of the original windows.


Exactly forty years before, another contemporary artist was called for a similar commission. It was Marc Chagall, who designed the glass windows for the axial chapel of the apse. In this case the program is typical of a figurative approach to the artwork.


The central window recalls the two great figures of the Old Testament, Abraham and Christ. The principal events in the life of Abraham are there: his covenant with Yah’veh; the line of descent from Abraham to Christ; Christ on the cross, accomplishing the act of salvation. Christ can be seen rising from the tomb, depicted in red for glory.

All the expectations of the Old testament can be seen in the left-hand window. The tree of Jesse shows the lineage of the Kings of Judah. In the rose window at the top, wearing the green haloes of rebirth, are the Virgin and Child announced by the prophets.

The scenes in the right-hand window provide the sequel, depicting momentous occasions in the lives of the King of France here in the Coronation Cathedral. Anointed like the Kings of Judah since the baptism of Clovis, they for an extension of the Tree of Jesse into the New Testament. Following the tradition of David and Solomon, and the example of the good Samaritan, they must, like Saint Louis, carry put their kingly duties with justice and wisdom.

September 7, 2014