Chapelle de la Sainte-Vierge

The church of Saint Florentin (Yonne, France) was built on a hill were once stood a fortified castle in the beginning of the sixteenth century. Due to the disturbances of the religious wars at that time the construction was interrupted and did not resume until the beginning of the seventeenth century. The Chapelle de la Sainte-Vierge was among one of the finest chapels which was built first. Although it must have been richer decorated at the time, it still gives us a glimpse of its former abundance.

One of the windows in the Holy Virgin chapel was offered in 1524, as the inscription on it proudly states, by Guillaume Cornu who was burgomaster of Saint Florentin in 1517:

L’an mil cinq cent vingt quatre honorable et sage maistre guille[me] cornu a donne cette verrière

[In the year one thousand five hundred and twenty-four, [the] honorable and wise Master Guille[me] Cornu gave this window]

The window depicts from top to bottom: The Annunciation, The Nativity, The Adoration of the Magi and in the centre the Virgin Immaculata standing on a crescent moon and in mandorla. Underneath, in the first register Guillaume, his sons and his wife and daughter are depicted underneath trompe l’oeil renaissances arches. Kneeling on prie-Dieu (prayer stools) adorned with their family weapons their perpetual attention is fixed on the Virgin and Child altarpiece in front of them.

Virgins' altarpiece

Underneath the non-symmetrical stone carved canopies the Virgin and Child are flanked by the martyr Saints Reine, chained and sheep at her feet, and Agnes, studying a book. Remarkable are the different styles which were used in each saint. Saint Reine and the Virgin and Child are both static, though the folding of their dresses is not at all the same. Saint Reines dress falls plainly down, while the costume of the Virgin is heavy folded but light in a sense. Saint Agnes mantle is folded, too, but massive as if made from heavy cloth. The three saints could have been made by different masters. By the looks of it the altarpiece must have been very colourful and its polychromy of high quality. Saint Agnes even holds a book with a marbled cover! Its colours must have been intensified by the light falling through the stained glass windows of Guillaume Cornu.

Behind the altarpiece, seen through the tracery, there is another window just visible. It’s iconography fitting for the chapel with the tree of Jesse. The lower register is readable only when moving around the chapel and probably best seen from the ambulatory. To the left a Pietà can be detected, centre and right bay are filled with kneeling patrons with their heraldry which from the front is largely covered by the baldachin of the Virgin and Child in front of it. Was the altarpiece planned in front of this window, blocking its view? Or was the nearness to the Virgins’ altarpiece preferred over the visibility by the worshippers visiting the church?