Fiat Lux: Chartres Cathedral’s Representation of Medieval Culture Seen Through 21st Century Design
By Miquette Elliott
Explorations: The UC Davis Undergraduate Research Journal, Vol.15 (2013)
Abstract: Cathedrals are some of the last remaining artifacts that communicate life and values from the Middle Ages. Chartres Cathedral in France exists as a time capsule of its culture, an exhibition of material, religious, and social values, and a testament to the expert craft guild that flourished in the city. Capturing the structure of the society and the cathedral in a 21st century men’s and women’s wear collection was the objective of this project. The menswear collection focuses on the architectonic aspects of the patriarchal society and the cathedral itself. The women’s wear expresses the similarities between the cathedral’s stained glass and the cultural paradigms women faced in medieval society: the didacticism of stained glass presents the juxtaposing values and positions of women in the medieval culture. To grasp the complexity of the topic, I spent time at Chartres Cathedral and explored several other French medieval cathedrals. My field research was informed by texts from both UC Davis and the University of the Arts London. The final product was exhibited during the Fashion and Design Society’s sponsored fashion shows during the 2012 UC Davis Picnic Day, and to professional and public audiences at shows in San Francisco and Davis.
This project studies medieval artists’ representations of human values. The product of this research is a fashion collection that communicates medieval culture though the societal lens of the 21st century. The cathedral at Chartres is the ideal subject for this research because it uniquely captures medieval thoughts, morals, and fashions from the time of its creation (1193-1250). Chartres Cathedral is praised for being the most stylistically homogeneous structure of the era. Chartres was an affluent fashion capital of what was loosely called France in the Late Medieval Period, and its cathedral was a major center of spiritual, intellectual, and social thought. As such, Chartres Cathedral exhibits more than expensive materials: it displays the medieval perspective of individual value in society, beauty, and values described below. With fashion and the medieval visual language as media, I produced ten looks to communicate my commentary on medieval ideals.