“Saint-Denis and Reims: Orchestrating the Struggle for the Coronation Privilege”
Wednesday, November 9, 5:15 p.m.
The scale, quality and sheer extent of sculpture and glass at the Cathedral of Reims that pertains to the coronation privilege, awarded by Urban II in 1089, has prompted art historians to conclude that the clergy took the opportunity in building its 13th century cathedral to celebrate a triumph over its prestigious competitor for the privilege, the Royal Burial Abbey of Saint-Denis. I will argue that only after Reims’ clergy responded to two communal rebellions in the 1230s in the lavish glazing of the high choir, did they turn to the coronation privilege, pursued intermittently since the 9th century. A somewhat different and, I hope, more dynamic perspective can be offered: that the outcome in Reims’ favor may not have seemed as guaranteed or secure as it appears in retrospect, and that it remained open to manipulation and orchestration by abbey and cathedral, each mounting spectacular artistic programs closely calibrated with one another. The coronation imagery can be understood, then, as a determined response to Saint-Denis’ persistent representation of its own claims to crown the kings of France long after 1089, indeed, well into the 13th century.
Barbara Abou-el-Haj is Associate Professor of Art History at Binghamton University.