French, Soissons - Soisson Window, about 1205

French, Soissons

Soisson Window with Scenes from the Lives of Saints Nicasius and Eutropia, about 1205

Pot metal glass, 366 x 157.5 cm (144 1/8 x 62 in.) overall


Object details

Accession number



Created for the second chapel from the west on the north side of the chevet, Chathedral of Saints Gervais and Protais, Soissons.
Documented in nearly its current configuration by the antiquarian Baron François de Guilhermy (1808-1878) in the mid 19th century.
Probably removed from the church in the 1890s by the workshop of the French stained glass artist Édouard Didron (1836-1902), Paris, who had been comissioned to restore the cathedral's colored glass.
Purchased by Isabella Stewart Gardner (as a window from the Basilica of Saint-Denis, Paris) from an unknown Parisian collector for about 17,000 francs before about July 1906, through the art and antiques gallery Bacri Frères, Paris, on the recommendation of the historian, novelist, and critic Henry Adams (1838-1918).


Morris Carter. Isabella Stewart Gardner and Fenway Court (Boston, 1925; Reprint, Boston, 1972), pp. 216-18. (excerpting letters from Henry Adams)
Gilbert Wendel Longstreet and Morris Carter. General Catalogue (Boston, 1935), pp. 258-59. (the scenes as possibly the life of Saint Denis or King Dagobert; as Northern France, early 13th century with much replacement glass)
H.D. Cater. Henry Adams and his Friends: A Collection of his Unpublished Letters (Boston, 1947), pp. 585-87.
Philippe Verdier. "A Stained Glass from the Cathedral of Soissons." The Corcoran Gallery of Art Bulletin 10 (1958), pp. 17, 19, n15, fig. 17. (the scenes as Saints Nicaise and Eutropie; as by the Soissons atelier)
Louis Grodecki. "Les Vitraux Soissonais du Louvre, du Musée Marmottan et collections américaines." La Revue des arts (1960), pp. 163-78, figs. 2-4. (the scenes as Saints Nicaise and Eutropie; as by the workshop responsible for the windows in Soissons cathedral, 1205-1230)
Corinna Lindon Smith. Interesting People (Norman, Oklahoma, 1962), p. 166.
Orin Skinner. "Stained Glass Tours: Boston." Stained Glass (1965), p. 10.
George L. Stout. Treasures from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum (Boston, 1969), pp. 198-99, ill. (the scenes as possibly the life of Saint Denis or King Dagobert; as French, possibly from Chartres Cathedral or the Abbey-Church of Saint-Pierre, early 13th century with repairs)
Madeline H. Caviness. Medieval and Renaissance Stained Glass from New England Collections. Exh. cat. (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Busch-Reisinger Museum, Harvard University), p. 99. (the scenes as the martyrdom of Saints Nicasius and Eutropia; as Soissons, about 1220)
Jean Ancien. Vitraux de la cathédrale de Soissons comme on les voyait entre 1817 et 1882 (Soissons, 1980), pp. 23, 31-32, 37. (consult for early manuscript sources)
Madeline H. Caviness et al. "Another Dispersed Window from Soissons: A Tree of Jesse in the Sainte-Chapelle Style." Gesta (1981), p. 198, n29.
Rollin van N. Hadley. Museums Discovered: The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum (Boston, 1981), pp. 138-39, ill. (the scenes as the martyrdom of Saints Nicaise and Eutropie; as Soissons, 1205-1230)
Jane Hayward et al. Radiance and Reflection: Medieval Art from the Raymond Pitcairn Collection. Exh. cat. (New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1982), p. 139.
Suse Childs. "Two Scenes from the Life of St. Nicholas and their Relationship to the Glazing Program of the Chevet Chapels at Soissons Cathedral" in Madeline H. Caviness et al (eds.). Corpus Vitrearum: selected papers from the 11th International colloquium of the Coprus Vitrearum (New York, 1982), pp. 26-28, figs. 4-5. (as Soissons, 1200-1205)
Madeline H. Caviness et al. Stained Glass before 1540: an annotated bibliography (Boston, 1983), p. 301.
Madeline H. Caviness et al. "The Gothic Window from Soissons: A Reconsideration." Fenway Court (1983), pp. 6-25, figs. 1, 4-5. (as Soissons, about 1205; as 60% original glass)
Madeline H. Caviness et al. "Stained Glass Before 1700 in American Collections: New England and New York. Corpus Vitreaum Checklist 1." Studies in the History of Art (1985), pp. 14-15, 40, ill. (as Soissons, 1195/1210-1215)
Louis Grodecki. Le Moyen Age retrouvé: Idees et recherches (Paris, 1986), pp. 498-519, figs. 200-01, 208. (as Soissons (?), 1205-1230)
Marilyn M. Beaven. The Legendary Stained Glass from the Thirteenth Century Choir of Soissons Cathedral. MA Diss. (Medford, Massachusetts: Tufts University, 1989), op. cit., figs. 5-8, 13, 26-28. (as by the Master of the Bishops' Lives and restorers, about 1207-1212)
Marilyn M. Beaven. "A Medieval Procession: Sacred Rites Commemorated in a Stained Glass Panel from Soissons Cathedral." Bulletin of the Detroit Institute of Arts (1992), pp. 30-37, fig. 5. (as by the Master of the Bishops' Lives, about 1207-1212)
Madeline H. Caviness et al. "The Gothic Window from Soissons: A Reconsideration" in Madeline H. Caviness (ed.). Paintings on Glass: Studies in Romanesque and Gothic Monumental Art (1997), pp. 6-25, figs. 1, 4-5. (a reprint of the 1983 Fenway Court article)
Virginia Chieffo Raguin et al. Stained Glass Before 1700 in the Collections of the Midwest States. Corpus Vitreaum: United States of America, Part 8, Volume 1 (London, 2002), pp. 153-59, fig. 3. (as from Soissons Cathedral, 1207-1212)
Jane Hayward et al. English and French Medieval Stained Glass in the Collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York, 2003), pp. 119-21, no. 17.
Alan Chong et al. (eds.) Eye of the Beholder: Masterpieces from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum (Boston, 2003), pp. 26-27, ill. (as French (Soissons), about 1205)
Thirerry Jordan. Reims: La Grace d'une Catédrale (Strasbourg, 2010), p. 235, fig. 18. (as French (Soissons), about 1205)
Sylvie Balcon-Berry. "Stained Glass and the Chronology of Reims Cathedral" in Kathleen Nolan et al. (eds.). Arts of the Medieval Cathedrals: Studies on Architecture, Stained Glass and Sculpture in Honor of Anne Prache (Surrey, 2015), p. 96, fig. 5.3. (as attributed to Soissons; as probably by the same hand as that of a lower window at Reims Cathedral, now lost, see fig. 5.2)

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This window is not only the finest example of early thirteenth-century French stained glass in America, it also occupies a pivotal position in the history of early Gothic painting. It was made for Soissons cathedral, the earliest of the great High Gothic cathedrals, located some sixty miles northeast of Paris. The window at the Gardner Museum is now about 40 percent of its original height; the remainder of the window was bought by the Louvre, Paris, at the same time Mrs. Gardner acquired her pieces. The upper three registers are in their original positions, while the two lower right sections come from other parts of the window. The two sections at the lower left are made up from various fragments.

The window narrates the story of Nicasius, archbishop of Reims, and his sister Eutropia, who were martyred by the Vandals in 403. The two saints had great local significance in Soissons. One of the most imposing scenes, in the center of the Gardner window, shows the entombment of Saint Nicasius, who is surrounded by mourners gracefully bending over his body. The classicizing style of the window may well have been produced under Nivelon de Chérizy, the bishop of Soissons (from 1176 to 1205), or commissioned in his memory.

The stained glass of Soissons suffered greatly over the years. In the 1800s, many of the windows were taken to Paris for restoration and were later sold to collectors.

Source: Eye of the Beholder, edited by Alan Chong et al. (Boston: ISGM and Beacon Press, 2003): 27.


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