Begun ca. 1130
The building has a single sculpted portal on the south entrance. Despite being heavily damaged, it remains an essential monument in the evolution of gothic sculptural style. The portal depicts the Ascension of Christ. The lintel shows a crowding of apostles, all now missing their heads. Above in the tympanum, a crowned Christ is flanked by four angels set in an undulating carved band reminiscent of clouds. The three bands of voussoirs show the seated twenty-four elders of the Apocalypse with their musical instruments, as well as an outer band of Old Testament prophets with scrolls. As at Chartres Cathedral, the portal at Etampes has a capital frieze depicting scenes from the life and passion of Christ, as well as scenes from Genesis. The jamb figures, missing both heads and feet, depict Old Testament figures carrying scrolls. The middle figure on the left carries a staff and the tablets of the law, and can be identified as Moses. Two other figures, of saints Peter and Paul, would have occupied the outermost jambs, and now reside on the interior of the church.
Stylistically, the deep-cut, circular whirls of drapery, with its almost sensual highlighting of the body beneath the robes, is a distinct style that is also found on the left side of the north portal of Chartres' west façade. Additionally, Chartres is one of the only other French buildings from the era to possess a historiated capital frieze. Thus it is generally assumed that the workshop at Etampes was also active at Chartres in the mid-1140s. Williamson argues for an earlier date for the Etampes portal, perhaps the earlier half of the 1140s, given its iconographic simplicity compared with the complex portals at Chartres. He also points to links with southern Romanesque workshops, such as at Vézelay and Saint-Maurice at Vienne that indicate the possibility that the masters at Etampes were trained in the south. This very distinct style has been located as far afield as Nazareth in the Holy Land, indicating either that the Etampes workshop was highly itinerant, or that the style it produced was so desirable as to be readily appropriated by other workshops. Either way, it remains clear that the sculptures of Etampes represent an early creative vision of the column figure, a central innovation of gothic sculpture.
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