A Virgin Chartres?

September 3, 2017

From Wikipedia Commons

In yesterday’s New York Times: critics of the restoration of Chartres Cathedral wanted the “Black Virgin” de-restored. The original title of the sculpture was “the White Virgin.” It was painted black during the nineteenth century.

Memories are fickle. Once a couple of generations remove us from the origins of a building or place, we create traditions based upon new versions. The reverence for a blackened medieval icon like Chartres, or some of London’s City Churches, stems from their grimy condition following centuries of smoke-filled environments. Cleaning a building is usually good, as acids and other agents of deterioration take their toll by eroding limestone. When cleaned, the stone looks “new” but it remains in its original molded form.

Though John Ruskin would prefer to see buildings revert to nature as ruins, tourists and art history buffs want to visit the world’s cultural treasures and see them in a unified state of conservation. Today the Sistine Chapel is as popular as ever, despite protests by purists who wanted more “sfumato” in the paint. Chartes Cathedral was carved in beautiful, light colored French limestone, and we can now see what its first visitors saw.

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