Peintures françaises du XVIIe des églises de Paris

XVIIth century French paintings in Parisian churches

Author : Guillaume Kazerouni

While XVIIth century French painting has often been highlighted in the past few years in several publications, these tend to reproduce the same works. The major virtue of this issue of Dossiers de l’art is to offer a new perspective on paintings found in Paris but often unpublished or rarely reproduced. The aim is simple : to make this rich cultural heritage better known to a public who is barely aware of its presence. Following an introduction by Daniel Imbert, head of the conservation department for art objects at the Ville de Paris who recounts the fate of these paintings after the French Revolution, the text retraces the history of XVIIth century French art showcasing the works visible in Parisian churches.

1. Quentin Varin (c. 1575-1634)
Fall of the Rebel Angels, 1623
Mural painting
Paris, Saint-Nicolas-des-Champs, chapel Sainte-Cécile
Photo : Conservation des objets d’art de la
ville de Paris

Among the many discoveries, mural compositions are especially important. It is amazing, given the fact that XVIIth century French painted décors are rare, that those still present in Parisian churches [1] (mostly at Saint Eustache, Saint-Nicolas-des-Champs and the Chapelle des Carmes) have been totally excluded from recent major surveys and, in a word, practically ignored even by specialists. Guillaume Kazerouni, the author of this study, had already broached the subject in his essay on Parisian painting of the early XVIIth century in the catalogue for the Strasbourg exhibition Lot and his Daughters by Simon Vouet [2]. He returns again here in a more complete study with the help of fine colour photographs. In the church of Saint-Nicolas-des-Champs no less than two chapels are by the hand of Quentin Varin (ill. 1) and another by Georges Lallemant [3]. The two masters who reigned over art circles in Paris before Simon Vouet’s return can thus be examined through their decorative paintings, something which is today impossible in the case of Vouet himself. From the latter’s school, a décor ascribed to Nicolas Chaperon can be seen in the Saint-Vincent-de-Paul chapel of the church of Saint-Nicolas-des-Champs and an anonymous painting, well known to specialists but which has never been reproduced in color awaits identification at the church of Saint Thomas Aquinas.

2. Charles Thorin (active about 1600-1635)
Saint Mary Magdalen, 1631
Oil on canvas - 145 x 121 cm
Paris, Saint-Etienne-du-Mont
Photo : Conservation des objets d’art de la
ville de Paris

Kazerouni had already published an article on Jean Bassange’s only known painting [4] and seems to like unicum. One can enjoy another painted décor here (Saint Eustache), the only listed work by Antoine Ricart (already published in 1960 by Jean-Pierre Babelon [5], but reproduced in color for the first time), the only painting ascribed to Alexandre Durant, a modest artist it is true (Martyrdom of a Pope, Notre-Dame-de-la-Croix) [6] and notably a Mary Magdalen of beautiful quality by Charles Thorin (ill. 2, active around 1600-1635), for the moment the only canvas that has been found for this artist.

The discoveries presented in this special issue however are not only by small masters. There is, for instance, a reproduction in color for the first time – alas, only of the lower part – of The Flagellation, a work by Charles Le Brun exhibited in 1956 in the Sorbonne Chapel [7] and yet totally forgotten since then. A beautiful Virgin of Sorrows from Philippe de Champaigne’s circle was until now unpublished whereas Saint Isabel of France Presenting the Model of Longchamp Abbey to the Virgin (Notre-Dame-de-Bonne-Nouvelle), signed by the painter is photographed here after its restoration.

3. France, XVIIth Century (School of Simon Vouet)
Saint Michael Slaying the Demon - Size unknown
Quebec, Musée de l’Amérique française
Photo : Centre de conservation du Québec

In completing this non-exhaustive panorama of XVIIth century French painting in Parisian churches, a chapter is devoted to collections related to this theme. Thus, one can mention the paintings (which are often preliminary studies) belonging to the Musée Carnavalet, the large formats displayed at the Musée des Beaux-Arts d’Arras, the Parisian pictures sent to Mayence and to Brussels at the time when these two cities were head of their “department” or political region and, finally, and most unexpected of all, the paintings held in churches in Québec. Two are reproduced here : a little-known Simon Vouet (Saint Francis de Paule Resuscitating a Child) and a Saint Michael Slaying the Demon (and not the dragon) by one of his students but not yet identified (ill. 3). The journal concludes with some XVIIth century paintings from foreign schools in Parisian churches. Some are well known such as the Guercino in Saint Thomas Aquinas and the Zurbaran in Saint Médard, others not nearly as much, for instance The Ecstasy of Saint Francis, an anonymous work in Saint-Nicolas-du-Chardonnet (sometimes given to the Italian school, at others to the Spanish) and the extraordinary Antonio de Pareda, a monumental canvas (630 x 385 cm) which is unfortunately rarely visible in the Wedding sacristy, often closed, in Saint Sulpice.

Our only reservations concern the format, understandably limited in the case of a journal, and which makes it impossible to provide a detailed bibliography [8]. The same restrictions most probably explain the fact that a complete inventory was not published. It would have been a welcome addition. However, these are only minor inconveniences for a work sold at an inexpensive price and which is intended for the general public but also indispensable to specialists in the field.

Guillaume Kazerouni, introduction par Daniel Imbert, Peintures françaises du XVIIe des églises de Paris, Dossiers de l’Art, n° 149, février 2008, 9 €.

Didier Rykner, mardi 11 mars 2008


[1] Sometimes in perilous condition…

[2] Guillaume Kazerouni, « Simon Vouet et la peinture à Paris au début du XVIIe siècle. Questions de styles. », catalogue for the exhibition Loth et ses filles de Simon Vouet, Musées de Strasbourg, p. 59-76.

[3] Let us note that these are not frescoes but rather mural paintings. The only fresco painting in Paris of the XVIIth century, second half, appears on the dome of the Val de Grâce by Mignard.

[4] Guillaume Kazerouni, « Jean Bassange, peintre de l’Académie de Saint-Luc, un tableau retrouvé », Les Cahiers de l’Histoire de l’Art, n° 4, 2006.

[5] Jean-Pierre Babelon, « Recherches sur les fresques du XVIIe siècle décorant une chapelle de l’église Saint-Eustache », Bulletin de la Société de l’Histoire de l’Art français, 1959 (1960), p. 67-74.

[6] Already reproduced, but in black and white, in the article quoted in footnote 1.

[7] Trésors d’art des églises de Paris, catalogue d’exposition, Paris, Chapelle de la Sorbonne, 1956.

[8] As is still often the case, Internet publications are not mentioned. Yet, one of the paintings reproduced here (Frère Luc, Jesus Taken Down from the Cross, Saint-Nicolas-du-Chardonnet) was published for the first time under this name here on our web site. It is true that Guillaume Kazerouni had, and with no connection to Pierre Curie, also identified its author.

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