Stained glass windows by ZAO Wou-ki


The 14 original "stained glass windows" created by the great painter Zao Wou-Ki for the bay windows in the refectory of the priory, home of Pierre de Ronsard, were inaugurated on 3 July 2010. A unique work in the career of the Chinese painter, this creation befuddles its audience by the voluntary sobriety of the black Chinese ink and the applied technique.

It all began in February 2009. Zao Wou-Ki was asked to visit the priory by the Departmental Council and pay tribute to the tomb of the Pléiade poet in a gesture of reverence and affection as if his soul was still present in this place. Not to mention that the painter is also friends with a number of poets such as Henri Michaux, René Char, François Cheng...

The Romanesque refectory where he was asked to intervene has an austere appearance. The architecture is very sober except near the beautifully sculpted reader's pulpit. Surrounded by a garden faded by winter, the artist quickly avoided the temptation to use colour, wanting to accompany the building by his sober writing. Therefore, the colour black was necessary through its regularity in the sequences often painted by the artist.  Zao Wou-Ki selected a new series of 11 inks that were recently created to illustrate the poetry written by his friend Dominique de Villepin, gathered in a rare collection entitled “Là-bas”. The 11 inks used for the massive paintings fit perfectly with the eleven large 12th century windows. Understanding the defining feature, Zao Wou-Ki used the monotype created for the book for the three windows of the reader's pulpit. This pulpit is a source, an outpouring of the word. By raising the monotype painted in red Chinese ink, the colour of happiness in China, he inspires the religious building in a phenomenal and cultural way.

The technique posed a few problems that seemed difficult to solve. For example, how to respect the freedom of the artist's stokes without forcing them, smothering them or weighing them down with the famous lead strips. After a few difficulties experienced by traditional glassmakers, Zao Wou-Ki on the advice of his friend, painter Jean-Michel Meurice, went and saw Eric Linard, an expert in "decorated glass" for which he applied a patent with Saint-Gobain. The works were printed on a polyester film protected by sheets of butyl rubber and glass on each side. The entire work is then autoclaved.

The Historic Monuments committee still had to be convinced and eventually gave their go-ahead without ensuring the long-term conservation of the work installed and its integration into the 12th century building, bombed in 1944 and restored during the 1950s. There was also little evidence as to which stained glass actually hid the bay windows.

Today, the absence of lead strips makes the windows completely transparent. The floating effect of the motifs, emptiness and fullness rather than black and white, the clear view of nature changing before your eyes create a fantastic three-dimensional effect. The refectory holds exhibitions featuring famous artists of our time every year. After Zao Wou-Ki, sculptor Bernard Dejonghe and artist Ernest Pignon-Ernest used their talents to honour the priory.

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