Discovery of wall paintings and restorations in the Orleans cathedral


1. Sacristy of Orleans cathedral
We can see the wall peintings of the XVth century representing the
Passion
Phot : Didier Rykner

13/3/11 – Discovery, restorations, acquisition – Orléans, cathédrale Sainte-Croix – A few years ago, the remains of a wall painting representing the Entombment of Christ was discovered in the first room inside the sacristy of the Orleans cathedral, a former chapel from the 14th century which used to open out on the choir.
Appointed in 2008, the new curator for historical monuments, Gilles Blieck, decided to check and see if this painting was not part of a cycle located behind the furniture covering the walls in the first room. Thus, three other scenes from the Passion of Christ were unveiled on 29 June 2010 (ill. 1). From left to right (ill. 2), there is Jesus before Pilate (ill. 3), the Flagellation (ill. 4), the Crucifixion (ill. 5) and, finally, the Entombment which was already known. Except for the last one, these oil paintings are relatively well preserved despite traces of vandalism (scratches mostly on some of the faces) which probably date back to the Wars of Religion during which the cathedral suffered heavily as it was partly destroyed by Reformers.


2. France, end of the XVth century
The Passion
Wall painting
Orleans, Sacristy of Orleans cathedral
Photo : Didier Rykner

3. France, end of the XVth century
Jesus before Pilate
Wall painting
Orleans, Sacristy of the cathedral
Photo : Didier Rykner


Gilles Blieck explained to us that “the eyes and the faces of the figures shown are in fact favorite targets for iconoclasts as demonstrated notably in the exhibition “Iconoclasme. Vie et mort de l’image medieval” held in 2001 at the Musée de l’oeuvre Notre-Dame in Strasbourg.”


4. France, end of the XVth century
The Flagellation
Wall painting
Orleans, Sacristy of the cathedral
Photo : Didier Rykner

5. France, end of the XVth century
The Crucifixion
Wall peinting
Orleans, Sacristy of the cathedral
Photo : Didier Rykner


This kind of discovery raises very concrete problems : how can the presentation of this cycle of the Passion, whose quality requires delicate conservation, allow for the exhibition of the sacristy furniture which, although less important, is also of historical interest. After the restoration of the wall paintings, the furniture will be rearranged to provide a coherent view of the room. The lower part of the closets will be reinstalled, as well as the tier of drawers above it, which at the same time will help to keep visitors from coming too close to the wall.


6. France, XVIIIth century
Lectern
Wood - 183 cm
Orleans, Sainte-Croix cathedral
Photo : V. Binoche, étude Binocle-Maredsous



Since arriving in Orleans two years ago after previously working in Champagne-Ardennes, Gilles Blieck has also undertaken various other initiatives to enhance the cathedral’s heritage in furnishings. Besides purchasing an 18th century lectern, probably from the cathedral itself [1](ill. 6), he also had several paintings restored, notably four large canvases by Jacques de Létin, a student of Simon Vouet from Troyes, now on view to the public in two chapels in the ambulatory. Moreover, the Jacques V Gabriel maquette for the cathedral’s western façade (4.80 m. high) is being restored and will soon be put on display.


7. Jacques de Létin (1597-1661)
Christ in the Garden of Olives
Oil on canvas - 341 x 221 cm
Orleans, Sainte-Croix cathedral
Photo : Pierre Thibaut - Région Centre Inventaire général

8. Jacques de Létin (1597-1661)
The Flagellation
Oil on canvas - 341 x 220.1 cm
Orleans, Sainte-Croix cathedral
Photo : Pierre Thibaut - Région Centre Inventaire général


9. Jacques de Létin (1597-1661)
Christ Bearing the Cross
Oil on canvas - 337 x 221 cm
Orleans, Sainte-Croix cathedral
Photo : Pierre Thibaut - Région Centre Inventaire général

10. Jacques de Létin (1597-1661)
The Crucifixion
Oil on canvas - 342.5 x 221 cm
Orleans, Sainte-Croix cathedral
Photo : Pierre Thibaut - Région Centre Inventaire général


The second room of the sacristy holds three of the cathedral’s most important paintings : Christ in the Garden of Olives by Jean Jouvenet which had already been reinstalled here in 2002 ; newly framed, Zurbarán’s Christ Bearing the Cross and Claude Vignon’s Saint Mamert at the Foot of the Cross have recently joined it. Several other, smaller, canvases also hang here, high enough to discourage theft or vandalism. Among these, there is a Pieta of exceptional quality (ill. 7). The work remains anonymous with no plausible suggestions so far. If any of our readers at The Art Tribune have an idea, please do not hesitate to write and we will pass the word on to the curator.


11. Anonyme of the XVIth century
Pieta
Panel - 87 x 56.5 cm
Orleans, Sainte-Croix cathedral
Photo : DRAC



For now, except for Jacques de Létin, it is not easy to see these works unless visitors manage to have someone open the sacristy. However, in the future, once the restoration of the wall paintings is over, the sacristy, as well as the Cathedral Treasure (already planned for quite some time), should open regularly for the public [2].


Didier Rykner, dimanche 13 mars 2011


Notes

[1] According to the auctioneer, and based on the seller’s family history, this lectern had been donated to the cathedral in Orleans by Monsignor Louis Sextius Jarente de La Bruyère, bishop of Orleans from 1758 until his death in 1788.

[2] We would like to thank Gilles Blieck for the extensive information he provided. Please see his article, « La cathédrale d’Orléans et son mobilier, un chantier permanent », published in the Bulletin des Amis de la cathédrale d’Orléans (n° 20, December 2010).



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