|February to June|
|July to November|
The town itself is fairly non-descript; a busy intersection of classic French D roads, the houses strung out along each one with an open tarmacked square at the center. To one side is a small church. You'd drive through without a second glance; your sights firmly set on one of the destinations mentioned above.
However, in 2009 some restoration work was being carried out in the church, and yes, you guessed it, they found some lovely wall paintings. We weren't aware of them but Susan & Simon tipped us off. They had found out about them by chance and had been to have a look with a client.
The church is small and the wall paintings are mostly from the 12th century. However, some were repainted in the 13th and 14th centuries. All are easily seen as the roof is comparatively low. There's a lighting system, which for a small fee, lights the wall paintings so you can see them more easily.
|Detail: May -- a knight and his horse|
Like a book of hours, most months portray a scene appropriate to the time of year. In September, for example, a man is shown treading grapes in a large tun. Sadly it isn't quite complete as 2 months are missing. It looks as if, at some point, the pillars were re-done and thus the arch has lost December and January.
In the frame of one of the windows in the apse stands Cain holding a sheaf of grain. Opposite him stands Abel with the hand of God reaching down to bless him.
It looks a bit odd, as if there should be more of the figure than just this disembodied hand and a what looks to be a bit of beard, but this was quite a common convention. One couldn't 'portray' God so this was the solution.
The glass [although now 19th century replacement] is unlikely to have had any role in the tableau.
So the next time you're dashing off with friends or family to show them one of the four sights mentioned above you might like to pop in and see the wall paintings as well.
Unlike other parables this one only features in Luke's gospel and may, therefore, be quite uncommon in mediaeval iconography.
UPDATE! on the wall paintings which begin with the rich man at his table feasting with his friends [see above].
We took the four separate paintings to be just that - three different biblical exhortations: feeding the hungry, making a 'good' death [& contrasting 'bad' death where your soul gets taken to hell] and the Christ child enthroned.
In fact they are all episodes in the parable of the rich man (named Dives in the Middle Ages, presumably from the Vulgate 'dives' = 'rich', although he is not named in St. Luke's account - 16:19-31) and should be thus read in sequence.
So firstly a poor beggar, afflicted by leprosy, named Lazarus (not the 'Lazarus' who elsewhere was raised from the dead - bring on the confusion!) daily comes to the rich man's house looking for food, which is refused. What we thought was a joint of meat above his head is now presumably a leper's clapper or bell. The extra touch is the dog at Lazarus' feet, as the text notes that "dogs would lick his open sores" and possibly a tiny canine tongue is just visible if one looks closely.
|Lazarus begging for food|
Next up are the two deaths. Dives, on the left, dies in a sumptuous bed (note the deep red cover), but a devil is hovering to drag his soul off to Hell. Lazarus also dies, but as his shrouded body is laid in a pauper's grave an angel receives his soul (always shown as a small child) and whisks it off to the comfort of Abraham's bosom in Heaven, a popular mediaeval image reserved for the 'blessed' who are placed near to the Godhead.
The third section on the extreme left continues the parable with Dives in torment among the flames, looking up to Heaven and seeing Lazarus. The heavily abbreviated Latin text reports his plea: "father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue, for I am tormented in this flame" (Trans. W. Tyndale, 1525). Abraham basically says 'Dream on, you did nothing for him when you had the chance' and so the parable ends. Presumably everyone viewing it and hearing the story would resolve to mend their ways while they still had time.
|Dives begging for a drop of water|
Simply click on any of the photos to enlarge them if you would like to see more detail.
It's now on the list.
All we need is some time to start ticking things off the list!
P.S. I meant to say the paintings look absolutely wonderful...
@Gaynor - it would make a nice interlude between two 'big' visits like Villandry and Azay-le-Rideau for example.
That's exactly how we use it, and indeed where there today with clients.
You find some amazing places. This is wonderful.
Poor deprived dog!
These are stunning, aren't they...and all thanks to the workings of the grapevine which put you on to them.
They really are quite remarkable! How long before they find one of Hollande and Valerie?
@Susan - hope they liked it as much as we did. Thanks for tipping us off. :-)
@AJ - church is quite small so you're up close and personal.
Also as some of the wall paintings [like the months of the year] were redone a bit later they're more free flowing in style than the 11/12th century ones.
@Fly - I know; the dog looks so hard done by doesn't he!
@John - yup they are. I especially like the dog :-) oh and the grape treading of course!
@Craig - LOL!
These paintings are beautiful. I'm sure there are more elsewhere to be discovered now that France is up to save her "patrimoine" as humble as it might be.
Hi Niall and Antoinette,
I have a question and I wonder if it is within your province or expertise. Here it is: In most pictorial representations of Christ, his garments are almost always red and blue. Any special reason for that? Any technical reason or other?
My grandfather followed that tradition and I could not ask him. He’s been dead for more than a century!
@chm - I'm sure there are! Here's hoping that as much as possible of the 'patrimoine' is conserved/restored. Too often "familiarity breeds contempt" a sad but true cliché.
re the PS we have some thoughts on that but want to check the odd thing 1st.
Gosh, you have some wonderful treasures within easy reach, you lucky things. These paintings are very appealing and I love the thought of them being hidden away in just another unremarkable little French town.
@Perpetua - aren't we just! :-)And the lovely thing is, we keep finding new ones!
@chm - send a quick email so we have your address. Then we reply properly and share with you what we know -- it's a bit too much for a reply here.
Our email address is on the blog page [bit about using photos at the bottom]
There are some wall paintings in the modest church of Antigny  just three kilometers south of St-Savin-sur-Gartempe. There is also, on the town square, a beautifully preserved "lanterne des morts".
@chm - Thanks for the tip. :-) We'll definitely go and have a look!
I'd be interested in knowing the answer to chm's question too, if you could summarize it.
@Carolyn - here's more or less what we wrote to chm:
The colors of Christ's garments... firstly there is no definitive "regulation". Certainly there's nothing in the Bible.
However, there are meanings/symbolism associated with colors. BUT often there are as many exceptions to the rule as there are adherents. Also they are often regional or specific to a particular period.
The middle ages art was all about intensity of color: red, blue, gold[ yellow] and white. In other words primary colors.
Think of the best stained glass--a high % is ruby or cobalt as in Chartres cathedral. In manuscripts think of Les tres riches heures du Duc de Berry
Cost of pigments:
Lapis lazuli [blue] was extremely expensive and in powdered form used as paint. A good example is the robes of the angels in the Wilton dyptych created for Richard II of England [very late 14thC]
Carmine [red] from cochineal beetles was used as dye for high end garments--again expensive. [and still used in expensive lipsticks :-)]
A good blue dye was also quite expensive to produce -- high status clothes had intense colors.
A very general and by no means definitive color association for a religious context:
Blue: is associated with celestial [and became the color traditionally used for the robes of Mary, mother of God]. Late medieval: blue replaced imperial purple [due to the near extinction of the snail from which it was made] especially in France
Red: is associated with pentecost, blood of Christ, martyrdom
Thank you for that info. Interesting.
When I see a new post on your blog, I go back and pick up the comments from your previous blog entry, and that's how I found you'd answered my question.
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