Seventeenth century Parisian Church Paintings in Nantes

1. Simon Vouet (1590-1649)
The Apotheosis of Saint Eustace
and his Family
, c. 1635
Oil on Canvas - 273.8 x 233.5 cm
Nantes, Musée des Beaux-Arts
Photo : RMNGP/G. Blot

20/12/12 - Exhibition - Nantes, Musée des Beaux-Arts - Currently undergoing a refurbishment and addition, the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Nantes decided not to close its doors entirely and regularly organizes exhibitions based on its holdings in the Oratoire chapel. This is an interesting experiment as it demonstrates just how a museum can continue to work around its permanent collections to display them differently, thus still attracting the public which is avid for new events. This type of operation is also being considered at the moment by the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Rouen (see article in French) and will probably be extended to other establishments. It will no doubt be further encouraged by the cuts in cultural funding which in the short term will mean fewer exhibitions.

The current exhibition (accompanied by a real catalogue with entries), complements the one at the Musee Carnavalet (see article in French) whose scholarly curator, along with Adeline Collange-Perugi, is also Guillaume Kazerouni, is organized around the 17th century paintings from Parisian churches held in Nantes.
These works thus find themselves in the chapel in an environment closely imitating their original location and hang under beautiful lighting. Their presentation here enables viewers to rediscover the paintings in another context.

2. Philippe de Champaigne (1602-1674)
Feast in the House of Simon, c. 1656
Oil on Canvas - 292 x 399 cm
Nantes, Musée des Beaux-Arts
Photo : RMNGP/G. Blot

Nantes is fortunate in that it owns many paintings from Parisian churches, most of them shipped in 1809. Several major artists are represented, the first of which is Simon Vouet with The Apotheosis of Saint Eustace and his Family (ill. 1), the upper part of the altarpiece ornating the Parisian church of the same name which now holds only the lower part presented on the inside, or back side, of the facade. There is also, besides a rare painting by his brother, Aubin Vouet, a canvas by his student Michel Corneille I.
Two other great names, Laurent de la Hyre and Philippe de Champaigne, also appear in this exhibition with works commissioned for Parisian buildings. The one by Philippe de Champaigne (ill. 2), an absolute masterpiece which comes from the refectory at the Val-de-Grace, is here thanks to the generosity of the Louvre which placed it on deposit in 1982. After having reached a very deteriorated condition, it has now been restored by the C2RMF.

Along with a beautiful The Rapture of Saint Joseph by Louis de Licherie (ill. 3), a work confirming the talent of this artist who has not been sufficiently studied, the exhibition presents two paintings by Sébastien Bourdon rarely on view as they are alas, foolishly deposited in storage at the château de Nantes where they have no business being. Rediscovered in the church of Saint Nicolas in the early 1990’s, they should be returned there or else hang at the Musée des Beaux-Arts when it reopens. These two canvases have been reunited for the first time along with a third one (in very poor condition), all part of the same commission for the Convent of the Minimes in Chaillot (a fourth one is still missing, its whereabouts unknown), held at the church of Saint Eustache in Paris.

3. Louis de Licherie (1629-1687)
The Rapture of Saint Joseph
Oil on Canvas - 241 x 166 cm
Nantes, Musée des Beaux-Arts
Photo : RMNGP/G. Blot

4. Simon Vouet (1590-1649)
The Christ Appearing to Saint Antoine
the Abbot
, c. 1638-1639
Oil on Canvas - 278 x 163 cm
Grenoble, Musée
Photo : Musée de Grenoble

Finally, still in connection with the exhibition at Carnavalet, we would like to point out a show of engravings at the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Nantes reproducing the 17th century Parisian church paintings from the Thuillier donation (without a catalogue), and also at the Musée in Grenoble a visit of the collections with a small booklet. The latter holds several paintings from Parisian churches, notably two Vouets (ill. 4), three Champaignes and one Le Sueur.

The exhibition ends on 20 January 2013.

Collective work, Splendeurs sacrées. Chefs d’oeuvre du XVIIe siècle français du musée des beaux-arts de Nantes, 2012, Coedited by Editions Fage/Musée des beaux-arts de Nantes, 63 p., 18 euros. ISBN : 9782849752746.

The exhibition Hommage à Jacques Thuillier. Evocation des décors d’églises de Paris is showing at the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Nancy until 11 February 2013.

Version française

Didier Rykner, jeudi 3 janvier 2013

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