A Walk Through the New Cité du Vitrail in Troyes
See Champagne in a new light in this sparkling new exhibition centre dedicated to stained glass in the Aube
Housed in the west wing of the 12th-century Hôtel-Dieu-le-Comte, on the Quai des Comtes-de-Champagne in the centre of medieval Troyes, the Cité du Vitrail opened its doors to the public in mid-December 2022.
It’s the first centre dedicated to the art of stained glass in France. The Aube department, of which Troyes is the capital, boasts over 350 churches and public buildings with magnificent stained-glass windows, 220 of which are listed for their glass heritage. The Cité du Vitrail was conceived to both exhibit rare examples and to explain the history, making and the art involved in stained glass.
I have to admit that when I was invited to a pre-opening exclusive viewing, I was somewhat sceptical of the concept and how I would react. ‘Lack-lustre and old-fashioned’ crossed my mind, but the moment I stepped inside the grandiose building and climbed the impressive stone staircase with dozens of coloured bottles hanging in the stairwell, all my fears were immediately dispelled.
This exhibition centre is a kaleidoscope of coloured light, filtered down through eight centuries of artistic and artisanal know-how. I was not only impressed, but in awe of the artists and their expertise, portraying both religious and everyday scenes through coloured glass. A fabulous project, funded by the council of the Aube Department, it is both an unmissable tourist attraction and a deeply interesting centre of education.
Centuries of knowledge in 3000m² of exhibition space
The historic building, rebuilt in the 18th century, has served many different purposes over the centuries, particularly concerned with helping the poor and the sick. In 1990 it was acquired by the Aube Department as a cultural centre and after many years of restoration, now houses one of the most interesting heritage centres in Europe. 3000 square metres of floor space on four floors, there are permanent exhibitions, temporary exhibitions, research areas, workshops and educational facilities.
Demonstrating the unending attraction of stained-glass, contemporary exhibits, some as recent as 2014, sit alongside others, more than 800 years old. The attractions of the centre are endless, with works of art from by-gone eras and pieces by internationally famed contemporary artists such as Fabienne Verdier.
Amongst the many fascinating exhibits in the Cité du Vitrail, two in particular caught my attention. One was an original 12th century work from the town of Troyes, depicting the Transfiguration of Christ and shown in its own dedicated exhibition room. A veritable treasure for the Centre, it has recently been carefully restored, having been originally created for a building founded by the Count of Champagne, Henry I.
The other is the monumental glass hanging light in the stairwell, which first caught my eye as I climbed the stairs to the exhibition rooms and workshops. A unique contemporary creation of very original design, the lights resemble outsize coloured glass ‘bottles’ suspended in the stairwell of the central staircase. Nearly 50 feet high and weighing 200 kg, the 24 elements cost €80,000, each one hand-blown by the Saint-Just glassworks in the Loire, specifically for this creation. The bottles are in fact the base matter (manchons) from which master glass-blowers create their works of art, here transformed into a stunning light work-of-art in its own right.
Close to my heart and fitting the location perfectly, the champagne producing co-operative of Gaston-Cheq in Meurville has formed a partnership with the Cité du Vitrail, with two different cuvées available in the boutique. A wonderful introduction – or re-introduction – to the excellent quality champagnes produced in this area.
Located in the very heart of Troyes, the historic capital of Champagne, the Cité du Vitrail inscribes a place in town, culture and touristic values, bordering the quayside of the Haute Seine canal. A site of excellence, aimed at being the most prestigious stained-glass centre at a national level. Yet another uncompromising reason to visit the southern Champagne region in the department of the Aube.
Richard Esling BSc DipWSET
Richard is an experienced wine journalist, writer, educator and consultant. With experience in the wines and spirits industry spanning several decades, he is a member of the prestigious Circle of Wine Writers and an International Wine Judge.
Lead photo credit : Hotel Dieu le Comte housing the Cité du Vitrail ©Studio OG
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