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The Breathtaking Marc Chagall Stained Glass Windows

Marc Chagall  was a Russian-French artist and one of the most important and influential artists of the 20th century. Although born and grew up in a small Belarus village, Chagall spent most of his adult years in France.

No matter which medium Marc Chagall used, his art was mostly vibrant and colorful and full of religious and humanistic symbolism.

Chagall’s artistic career was long and prolific. In fact, he created thousands of artworks using a broad range of media, including painting, drawing, book illustrations, stained glass, stage sets, ceramics, tapestries and fine art prints.

In this article, I will focus on Marc Chagall’s most beautiful stained glass windows that continue to draw the crowds from all over the world.

“For me a glass is a transparent wall located between my heart and the heart of the world”

Quote Marc Chagall

Footage of Chagall designing and working on a Stained Glass Window

So where are the famous stained glass windows of Marc Chagall?

Marc Chagall 12 Tribe Stained Glass Windows, Abbell Synagogue, Jerusalem (1962)

Marc Chagall received his first commission for stained glass windows in 1959. The request came from Dr. Miriam Freund (the President of the Hadassah hospital) and Joseph Neufeld (the architect of the hospital).

They commissioned Marc Chagall to design stained-glass windows for a synagogue not yet built on the grounds of the Hadassah hospital. Their only request was that Chagall create twelve windows, each one representing one of the twelve tribes of Israel. Other than that, he could do what he wanted!

Marc Chagall Jerusalem Windows in the Abbell synagogue
Marc Chagall Windows Jerusalem

Chagall being Jewish, was more than happy to take on this commission for a hospital in the newly established State of Israel. He worked on these windows for over two years from his studio in Saint Paul De Vence.

The Exhibition of the Windows in Paris & New York

When Marc Chagall completed this project, the magnificent windows first went on an international art tour. They were first displayed in the Louvre in Paris and then afterwards in the New York Museum of Modern Art. These windows attracted huge crowds and were a incredibly successful worldwide.

Finally, the beautiful Chagall stained glass windows reached their permanent home in the the Abbell synagogue located in the grounds of the Jerusalem Hadassah hospital in February 1962.

Chagall Stained-glass windows in Jerusalem, Israel
Marc Chagall windows Jerusalem

This commission was extremely important to Chagall

Marc Chagall said that while working on this commission, he felt the following:

“I felt my mother and father looking over my shoulder; and behind them were Jews, millions of other vanished Jews – of yesterday and a thousand years ago.” 

One of the twelve Chagall Windows, Abbell Synagogue Jerusalem
One of the twelve Chagall Windows, Abbell Synagogue Jerusalem

Chagall’s Gift to the Jewish People – His People

At the opening ceremony, Chagall said the following emotional words:

“The windows are my modest gift to the Jewish people, who have always dreamt of biblical love, of friendship and peace among all people; to that people who lived here, thousands of years ago, among other Semitic people. My hope is that I hereby extend my hand to seekers of culture, to poets and to artists among the neighboring people.”

For more information about the Marc Chagall stained glass windows in the Abbell Synagogue, press here.

The Chagall Peace Windows, United Nations, NYC (1964)

In 1964, Marc Chagall received a commission to create a stained-glass window for the United Nations. The purpose of this window was to honor Dag Hammarskjöld, the UN’s second Secretary General who was killed together with 15 other people in a plane crash in Africa. When the window arrived at the United Nations, it was named “The Peace Window“.

The window is predominantly blue in color and full of whimsical figures and symbolism. Chagall’s aim was to express the ideals of peace and brotherhood, for which the United Nations was founded.

The Chagall Peace Window” is located in the western side of the UN public lobby. For more details, press here.

"Peace Window" in the United Nations
Marc Chagall Stained Glass Window at the United Nations, New York

Fraumünster Church Stained Glass Windows, Zurich (1967)

The clergy of the Fraumunster church tried for a long time to find a local artist to create beautifully colored stained glass windows for their medieval church. However, they were unsuccessful in finding someone suitable.

In 1967, the Kunsthaus (Art Museum) of Zurich hosted a Marc Chagall exhibition. Someone in the clergy saw Chagall’s exhibition and was moved by his artworks. He knew immediately that Chagall was the artist for their windows!

Marc Chagall was 80 years old when he received and accepted this commission for the Fraumunster church. His project was to create five 10-meter tall stained glass windows.

Fraumünster Church - Marc Chagall stained glass windows
Marc Chagall stained glass windows in Zurich
Photo by Dennis Jarvis (CC BY-SA 2.0)

The end result is stunning. Each of the Chagall’s windows has its own color theme. Chagall used the colors symbolically. Blue and green representing earth and red and yellow representing the heavens.

Each window portrays the following biblical stories:

  • The Prophet’s Window, with Elijah carried away to heaven
  • The Law Window in which Moses holds the ten commandments and is looking down upon his suffering people
  • Jacob, displaying his combat, and dreams of heaven
  • The Zion Window, depicting King David and the descent of Jerusalem from heaven to earth
  • The Christ Window, illustrating the life of Jesus

Marc Chagall Reims Cathedral Stained Glass Windows, France (1974)

The Gothic Notre-Dame de Reims Cathedral has always dominated the city of Reims. This massive, majestic, medieval church took over three hundred years to build (between 1211 and 1516). It was the epicenter of medieval French Catholic life. It was here in this church where French Kings were crowned. 

The Cathedral of Reims is impressive both inside and out. The inside is decorated with thousands of religious sculptures and hundreds of magnificent stained glass windows created over the centuries. One of the highlights are the stained glass windows designed by the Jewish artist, Marc Chagall. You can find these windows in the axial chapel.  

Marc Chagall Stained Glass Windows in Reims Cathedral, France
Marc Chagall Stained Glass Windows Reims Cathedral, France
Peter Lucas / CC BY-SA 3.0)

When Chagall was offered this prestigious commission, he started working on the project in 1968 together with the skilled glass-maker Charles Marq. Together they completed the windows six years later, in 1974. It was important to Chagall to use the same colors of those hues used in medieval time.

The end result is stunning. Chagall created six 10 meter-high lancet windows and above them three small rose windows, depicting the following scenes:

  •  The window on the left portrays the Tree of Jesse, David and Solomon and virgin Mary holding baby Jesus.  
  • The central window depicts the history of Abraham and the last moments of Christ on earth. 
  • The window on the right tells the history of the cathedral, such as the crowning ceremonies of the French kings.  

For more information about the Reims Cathedral, press here.  

St Stephan’s Church Chagall Stained Glass Windows, Mainz, Germany (1978)

The inside of St Stephan’s church is rather plain and utilitarian. However, it is the perfect backdrop for the magnificent Marc Chagall stained glass windows.

St Stephan's church Chagall Stained Glass Windows, Mainz
St Stephan’s church Chagall Stained Glass Windows, Mainz
Photo by John Budacovich (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Marc Chagall was at first reluctant to agree to a commission from a German church after the atrocities that the Germans committed against the Jewish people during World War Two. To avoid being killed himself, Chagall & his own family were forced to flee Nazi occupied France and spend many of the war years in the United States.

The reason why the Jewish Artist Agreed to Design Windows for a German Church

However after a lot of thought, Chagall felt that by doing this project it would demonstrate something much more meaningful to humanity. A Jewish artist creating windows for a German church could symbolize both a reconciliation between Germany and the Jewish people and also between Christians and Jews. With this in mind, Chagall finally agreed to this commission.

 This project was in fact Marc Chagall’s last one and he did not live to see his works installed inside the church. He died after creating the last major window at the age of 97.

St Stephan's church Chagall Stained Glass Windows, Mainz
St Stephan’s church Chagall Stained Glass Windows, Mainz, Germany
Photo by mwmosser (CC BY-NC 2.0)

The glass-maker who worked with Chagall for decades, Charles Marq, completed the other windows around the sides of the church in homage to his mentor, Chagall.

For more details about these beautiful Chagall windows, press here.

All Saints’ Church Marc Chagall Windows, Tudeley, UK (1963–1978)

The interesting story behind the windows

In 1963, the daughter of Sir Henry and Lady D’Avigdor-Goldsmid drowned in a sailing accident. As a memorial to their beloved daughter, the couple decided to commission Marc Chagall to design and install one stained glass window for their local church.

One of Marc Chagall Stained Glass Windows of All Saints' Church in Tudeley
The Chagall windows Tudeley

Marc Chagall agreed to the commission and made one window. When Chagall arrived for the dedication of his window in 1967, he felt overwhelmed by the beauty of this church. He exclaimed:

C’est magnifique! Je les ferai tous!  (“It’s magnificent! I will do them all!”)

Over the next ten years Marc Chagall designed the remaining eleven windows for this church.

The windows were installed in 1985, just before Chagall’s death. This small church in Tudeley is the only church in the world that has ALL of its stained-glass windows designed by the world famous Marc Chagall.

For more information about these Chagall windows, press here.

Marc Chagall Windows in the Chichester Cathedral, West Sussex, UK

Chichester Cathedral is an active church that has been the center of Chichester community life for nearly 1000 years.

There are many large, historical and beautiful stained glass windows inside this Cathedral. However, the most famous one that draws the crowds, is the Marc Chagall window.

Walter Hussey, Dean of Chichester, was familiar with the beautiful stained glass windows of Marc Chagall. He saw the special exhibition of Chagall’s Twelve Tribe windows at the Louvre in 1960.

He decided to commission Chagall to create one window for the Chichester Cathedral. Chagall agreed and his masterpiece was unveiled in 1978 by
the Duchess of Kent & dedicated by the Bishop of Chichester.

The windows are based on Psalm 150:

“O praise God in his holiness…Let everything that has breath praise the Lord.”

Chichester Cathedral stained glass windows made by Marc Chagall
Marc Chagall Chichester Cathedral stained glass windows
Photo by Tony Hisgett from Birmingham, UK / (CC BY 2.0)

This predominantly red window is festive in spirit. You can see in the window musicians playing horns, drums, flutes, strings & cymbals as mentioned in the psalm. Also shown in the center are two figures holding up a seven branched candlestick, while David, the author of the psalm, is playing his harp.

For more information about the beautiful Chichester Cathedral and Chagall’s window, press here.

Marc Chagall Stained Glass Chicago (1977)

Marc Chagall created The America Windows in honor of the American Bicentennial. He presented the beautiful windows to The Art Institute of Chicago in 1977.

Chagall felt extremely grateful to the United States. Throughout Chagall’s life, he faced discrimination as a Jew both in Belarus as a young boy and later in France during the Nazi occupation.

In 1941, Chagall and his family were forced to flee Europe and received refuge in the United States. When he returned to France in 1948, Chagall openly said the following:

“Above all I am impressed by the greatness of this country (the United States) and the feeling of freedom that it gives me.” Quote Marc Chagall

The America Windows are the second set of windows that the artist created for the United States. The other windows called the “Peace Windows” which are located in the lobby inside the United Nations building.

Marc Chagall stained glass windows artwork in Chicago
A close up section of the Art Institute of Chicago Chagall windows

The meaning behind the America Windows

  • The first panel depicts the rich Chicago history of blues and soul music
  • The second panel aims to portray the cooperation and unity found within many neighborhoods of Chicago. The panel also serves as a prayer & remembrance to Chicago’s Mayor Richard J. Daley who died in 1976.
  • The third panel aims to highlight the importance of religious freedom in America.
America Windows, Chicago by Marc Chagall
America Windows, Chicago by Marc Chagall
Photo by artgrad (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Like all of Chagall’s other stained glass windows around the world, the America Windows continue to draw massive crowds from near and afar. See the below video about these windows and their later restoration.

The Marc Chagall Stained Glass Windows in Chicago “The America Windows”

Check out “The Bridal Chair“, a wonderful historical fiction novel about Marc Chagall . It is a must read for all Chagall lovers.

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