The Restoration of the Chapel des Ames du Purgatoire in the Church of Sainte Marguerite

23/01/12 - Restoration - Paris, church of Sainte Marguerite - The Chapel of the Ames du Purgatoire [Souls in Purgatory] (ill. 1 and 2), which is located on the left side of the church of Sainte Marguerite in Paris, was built in 1761/1762 and designed by Victor Louis, the famous architect known for the theater in Bordeaux.
Since 2005 it has undergone a complete restoration. The floor was drained first to prevent humidity from rising up the walls ; then in 2010, the stained-glass windows were restored and, finally, in 2011, the painted decor, extremely damaged, was entirely restored.

1. Victor Louis (1731-1800)
Chapel of the Ames du Purgatoire
Paris, church of Sainte-Marguerite
Photo : Didier Rykner

2. Victor Louis (1731-1800)
Chapel of the Ames du Purgatoire
Paris, church of Sainte-Marguerite
Photo : Didier Rykner

The Classical and illusionist decor designed by Victor Louis was painted by Paolo Antonio Brunetti, an Italian artist active in Paris who was a theater decorator but also painted murals in private residences. Those previously ornating the grand staircase in the Hôtel de Luynes, destroyed in the early 20th century then reassembled at the Musée Carnavalet, are also by Brunetti. Along with his father, Gaetano (who died in 1758), he worked with Charles Natoire in the chapel of Enfants-Trouvés [Found Children] in the Hôtel-Dieu in Paris (1751), a decor destroyed, alas, during the demolition of this building for the renovations of the city carried out by Hausmann.
The scenes from the Old Testament and the allegorical figures imitating sculptures which complete the painted architecture (ill. 2) appear to be by Gabriel Briard, who produced a large altar painting representing The Passing of the Souls in Purgatory to Heaven [1]. However, Marc Sandoz in the catalog raisonné for this artist [2], did not accept this attribution and ascribed all of the mural paintings to Brunetti. Although the overall effect is impressive, the detail of the work in the figures is of average quality and seems inferior to that of the altar painting but this could also be due to the poor conservation conditions in the chapel.

3. Paolo Antonio Brunetti (1723-1783)
Decor of the Chapel of the Ames du Purgatoire
Paris, church of Sainte-Marguerite
Photo : Didier Rykner

The entire iconography is a reference to death and the hope of resurrection. The backside of the entrance, on the spandrel, shows a representation of Adam and Eve with the legend STIPENDIUM PECCATI MORS ("death is the tribute for sin"). The two false bas-reliefs, to the right and left of the tablet depict respectively The Death of Jacob and Jacob’s Funeral, while the ten illusory sculptures on the walls (ill. 3) are veritable Vanitas representing the fragile condition of our existence (from right to left [3] : Adam’s descendants, youth, death’s agony, old age, life’s brevity, the fragility of happiness, Christian philosophy, glory, wealth and poverty).
The altar painting, depicts the souls in Purgatory ascending into Heaven, without an interceding saint as is found generally in this type of representation : here, the faithful enact this role directly [4]. The altar receives natural light from the outside through an opening above the painting, invisible to visitors, using a Baroque method invented by Bernini.

The restoration of this chapel was absolutely necessary and the result is extremely well accomplished and spectacular. The expense totaled 370,000 €. Let us daydream a bit and do some math : 200 million euros divided by 370,000 is about 540. Now, 200 million is the minimum estimated budget for the destruction and reconstruction of the Jean Bouin stadium. This is the equivalent of no less than 540 (!) chapel decors similar to this one which could have been restored if the mayor of Paris, Bertrand Delanoë, had decided not to please the Stade Français [5], at the expense of taxpayers and Parisian heritage.

French Version

Didier Rykner, mercredi 25 janvier 2012


Concerning the disastrous condition of Parisian churches, we refer our readers to the report presented by France-Culture a few days ago, available online here. Danièle Pourtaud, assistant to the Mayor of Paris, congratulates herself and the Mayor of Paris for their achievements, an exercice in which she excels. We would point out notably the diaporama on the church of Saint-Philippe-du-Roule, commented by the sexton, Vincent Vagné, who confirms entirely, alas, the sad accounting we made about a year ago of the conditions there (see article).


[1] This is explained in the entry describing the restoration on the website of the city of Paris,, as well as by Guillaume Kazerouni in an issue of Dossiers de l’art highlighting 18th century paintings in Parisian churches (see article in French).

[2] Marc Sandoz, Gabriel Briard (1725-1777), Paris, 1981, pp. 134-135.

[3] These identifications are provided in the article quoted above on

[4] According to Guillaume Kazerouni, op. cit.

[5] French national rugby association.

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