The Alliance des Arts, The Chapelle des Lazaristes and the Reliquary Shrine of Saint Vincent de Paul
Fig. 1. Old Saint-Lazare. Vintage postcard of “Prison Saint-Lazare,” which features the entry portal of the former motherhouse prior to demolition in 1940. Photo: DePaul University Special Collections and Archives
I. The Historical, Geographic, and Architectural Foundations: Hittorff, Gallois, and Étienne
Located at number 93 rue de Sèvres, and just down the block from the Bon Marché department store in the chic VIème arrondissement, is the Chapelle des Lazaristes, which exemplifies the Catholic Renouveau movement of nineteenth-century France. This is the motherhouse church of the Congregation of the Mission, founded in 1624 by the French Apostle of Charity, Saint Vincent de Paul (1581–1660). But their chapelle is also poised on the street to welcome the faithful to venerate the saint’s reliquary shrine. As such, this setup reprises the Congregation’s first motherhouse chapel at Saint-Lazare in the present-day Xème, which functioned up to the French Revolution. And open-door access was enhanced in 1685, when the church got imbedded into a sprawling new streetwall on the main road of rue du Faubourg-Saint Denis. Alas, these very buildings were converted into a municipal prison upon their confiscation in 1792, and the proud entry portal stood upright until the walls came down in 1940 (Fig. 1). In contrast the ancient church was swiftly demolished, but only after sympathetic officials quietly handed over the intact skeleton of Saint Vincent de Paul to the Congregation. Then on the other side of the Revolution, the secured corpse was prepared for a celebratory reinstallation in “New” Saint-Lazare on rue de Sèvres, which was awarded as compensation to the priests by Louis XVIII in 1817, at the vanguard of the Bourbon Restoration (1815–1830). This replacement motherhouse was in fact the former Hôtel de Lorges, an aristocratic hôtel particulier named for the last owner who had fled at the outbreak of revolution.
Fig. 2. Jacobs and Blanchard. Plan de Paris … Enceinte de Paris sous Louis Philippe 1er; engraved map, undated but executed in the July Monarchy of Louis-Philippe d’Orléans, 1830-1848. Photo: DePaul University Special Collections and Archives
The two sites provide the anchors for my analysis of Saint Vincent de Paul’s respective reliquary shrines: the vintage map indicates that “Old” Saint-Lazare is on the Right Bank, clear across the River Seine from “New” Saint-Lazare on the Left Bank (Fig. 2). And these properties were unrelated in respect to their past histories and by every other account, except for one striking historical fact that linked them together in the Restoration; and this connecting thread is illuminated through their sacred architecture: the classical, or Néogrec, façade of the Chapelle des Lazaristes on rue de Sèvres (Fig. 5) appears to reflect, if in a flatter and cheaper mode, and on a reduced scale, the portico of the grandiose church of Saint-Vincent-de-Paul (Fig. 3). Even after listing the other classical churches that went up around Paris at this time, it must be emphasized that these two alone were committed to the name and memory of Vincent de Paul. And their “partnering” came about because the basilica was positioned upon the highest hill of Old Saint-Lazare. That is, while the prison system was appropriating the buildings and grounds near the road (as we know), the internal wheatfields were parcelled and sold to developers—except for the crest of the hill, which was reserved as emplacement by the Crown of Louis XVIII for a parish church. This privileged structure became the showpiece of Jacques-Ignace Hittorff (1792–1867), the renowned professor of architecture at the École des Beaux-Arts, who took charge after his father-in-law Jean-Baptiste Lepère (1761–1844) had stepped aside. Hittorff’s work commenced in 1824, and the long-awaited dedication took place on October 21, 1844, in the monarchy of Louis-Philippe d’Orléans. The plan and grandeur of Hittorff’s Saint-Vincent-de-Paul were meant to imitate the Early Christian basilicas of Rome, above all San Paolo fuori le Mura. Luxuriously decorated besides on the façade and porch and throughout the interior, the programming was effectively based on the architect’s summary of 1838 (published 1842), although embellishments to the nave walls, high altar, apse, and windows were prolonged over several decades and into the Second Empire of Louis-Napoléon (Fig. 4). The décor was implemented by Hittorff’s chosen artists as a collective apology of his strong opinions on ancient polychromy, for he achieved notoriety in claiming, with defiance even, that the surfaces of Greek and Roman temples were covered with saturated encaustic paint, just as the walls of ancient churches were carpeted with vivid mosaic tile.
Fig. 3. Old Saint-Lazare. The parish church of Saint-Vincent-de-Paul, which was built by Jacques-Ignace Hittorff, beginning in 1824 and consecrated in 1844, view of the exterior and the street. Photo: DePaul University Special Collections and Archives
Fig. 4. Old Saint-Lazare. Interior view of the church of Saint-Vincent-de-Paul. Photo: J-M Drouet – Duplidart.fr
In now turning to the Chapelle des Lazaristes, I have identified Paul-Marie Gallois (1825–1889) as its architect from the sources in the motherhouse archives of New Saint-Lazare. He arrived in 1848 at age twenty-four, fresh out of the École des Beaux-Arts, having taken the First Class Prize there in 1847; and in looking ahead, he would be decorated as Chevalier in the Legion d’honneur (August 13, 1888) in the year before his death. Instead of visiting Italy, Gallois went to work; and his life-long career fast became the grands travaux for the chapelle and Hôtel de Lorges compound. In drawing from the scrupulous example set by Hittorff at Saint-Vincent-de-Paul, the Chapelle des Lazaristes similarly features a trabeated colonnade and second-story tribune. Moreover, in wielding polychromy to the extent of setting his elements ablaze in technicolor, Gallois offers a pristine case for Hittorff’s doctrines on Néogrec architecture—since his space even more closely actualized them than the grandstanding basilica did! Its richness may now be savored thanks to the recent campaigns of cleaning and conservation (1985–1992), which accompanied the installation of modern mechanical systems. However, in a departure from Hittorff’s obligation to equip a new parish church—in an equally new residential quartier—with splendid furnishings à l’époque (La Belle Époque!), the purpose of the Chapelle des Lazaristes was to spotlight the saint’s reliquary châsse, which marked the top note in the vanishing point of Gallois’s perspective alignment in the nave (Fig. 6).
Fig. 5. New Saint-Lazare. Vintage postcard of the rue de Sèvres showing the exterior façade of the Chapelle des Lazaristes, which was built by and decorated under Paul-Marie Gallois largely in the mid-1850s. Photo: DePaul University Special Collections and Archives
Fig. 6. New Saint-Lazare. Chapelle des Lazaristes, interior view photographed in 1984-1985 during renovations undertaken by the architects Alain M. Cluzet, Rémy de Sèze, and Yves Théry. Photo: Archives de la Maison-Mère, Congregation de la Mission, Paris
In other words, the dramatic framing of the shrine was the rationale behind all the grands travaux that proclaim Gallois’s allegiance to Hittorff. But far from designing his church from scratch, Gallois had to negotiate constants that were fixed in place: the reliquary casket itself, the extant church in which it was mounted, and the second (that is, replacement) high altar, which got underway soon after his arrival in 1848. First of all, the châsse bearing the saint’s corpse had been borne to New Saint-Lazare on April 25, 1830, in the ceremony of Solemn Translation, whence it was placed upon the altar table in the “primitive” Chapelle des Lazaristes; this had been raised by Philibert Vasserot (1773–1844) in haste over an eighteen-month period and was consecrated on November 1, 1827. Its only known plan is included on the Grand Atlas of Paris, which Vasserot himself had rendered, but the appearance of the interior was not recorded. Our information must therefore be stitched together from the primary sources, conservation reports, and communiqués over its consideration as a Monument Historique. Altogether, these texts reveal that Vasserot’s chapelle was small and had a single nave whose walls were articulated by blind arcades (arcatures) separated by pilasters, and that the ceiling was a ribbed barrel vault (en berceau). Was it intended to be provisional? Its rebuilding seemed inevitable—and the opportune moment came a half generation later with the election of a fiercely ambitious superior general. Jean-Baptiste Étienne (1801–1874) arrived at New Saint-Lazare in 1820 and became one of the first novices and ordinands since the Revolution; his rise in leadership was unstoppable for he was appointed to procurateur general while still in his twenties, in 1827.
Being elected superior general in 1843 allowed Étienne to unleash his own vision for the chapelle in anticipating the bicentennial of Saint Vincent de Paul’s death in 1860—that is, once the ecclesiatical realms got restabilized in both the July Monarchy of Louis-Philippe (1830–1848) and Second Empire of Louis-Napoléon (1852–1870), which succeeded the fall of the Bourbons in 1830. In moving forward beyond this lull period, the new superior general hired a bright light from the younger generation, Paul-Marie Gallois. As we know, Gallois arrived in 1848, but was initially occupied at the Hôtel de Lorges. He would then be “tested” on religious architecture two years later in designing a fine classical ædicule for the statue of the Virgin in May 1850 (still in situ in the private garden), and again from 1851 to 1854 in raising the tiny Chapel of the Passion, along with overseeing its décor, which extended the narthex of the chapelle into the corridor leading to the convent next door, whose configuration included Étienne’s private parloir. As part of his learning curve Gallois was sent to inspect the Vincentian seminary chapel in Amiens in October 1850. Soon afterwards Étienne handed him the reins at the Chapelle des Lazaristes!
II. The Reliquary Châsse: Jean-Baptiste-Claude Odiot père and Charles-Nicolas Odiot fils
Fig. 7. New Saint-Lazare. Jean-Baptiste Claude Odiot, père, and Charles-Nicolas Odiot, fils. The current reliquary châsse of Saint Vincent de Paul, crystal and solid silver, designed by J-B-C in 1817 and manufactured by C-N; it was placed upon the altar mensa in the “primitive” Chapelle des Lazaristes in April 1830, and re-installed in the mid-1850s upon the new high altar designed by Arthur Martin, S.J., in the renovated church. The corpus sanctum was fashioned from the skeletal remains of the body and skull, whose exposed face and hands are sealed with wax; the attire is authentic. Photo: Archives de la Maison-Mère, Congrégation de la Mission, Paris
As was stated above, the châsse of Saint Vincent de Paul was translated to New Saint-Lazare on April 25, 1830, through the winning stratagems of a younger Étienne; this public procession, which headed out from Notre Dame, took place once the remains had been reauthenticated by the royal surgeon. These were encased in wax and garbed in the saint’s own lovingly preserved vestments to create the corpus sanctum; and upon being deposited in the châsse, the effigy was displayed through the glass vitrine. The saint’s physical presence is amplified by the portrait statuette that stands in glory at the apex of the lid while the angels, which represent Religion, Faith, Hope, and Charity, are confirming his supernatural state of being (Fig. 7). One special feature is the crucifix of ebony and ivory placed on its breast. Long held to come from the deathbed of Louis XIII, whom Vincent de Paul had comforted in his final hours (in 1643), this relic was presented by Archbishop Hyacinthe-Louis de Quélen as one of several contributions from the Archdiocese of Paris. The dazzling châsse was designed by Jean-Baptiste-Claude Odiot (1763–1850), who drafted the large presentation esquisse in watercolor and grisaille against a blue field; it is dated 1817, and the cartouche is inscribed, “Corpus S. Vincentii A Paulo” (Collection Odiot). The piece was then manufactured by his son Charles-Nicolas (d. 1869) in 130 kilos of solid silver that cost 62,757 francs, and it took First Prize in the Exposition universelle of 1827.
Fig. 8. Old Saint-Lazare. Pierre-François Tardieu, Reliquary Châsse and Altarpiece Representing the Glorification. Image: Archives de la Maison-Mère, Congrégation de la Mission, Paris
Tardieu shows the châsse situated in the Saint Vincent de Paul Chapel at Old Saint-Lazare; this was not the high altar but one of the side chapels, located just left of it in the sanctuary (Fig. 8). The châsse was placed on the equally elegant Rococo mensa, which was carved of multi-colored marble; then mounted on the wall above was a monumental canvas representing the apotheosis of Vincent de Paul—the motif picked up by the Odiot—which was painted in a Late Baroque style by the Dominican artist, Frère Jean-André (1662–1753). The entirety was framed by a triumphal arch that sprang from the doubled Corinthian pilasters, chief among other forms of rinceaux and florid marginalia. The effect created by this colorful fusion of Late Baroque, Rococo, and classicizing strains (apropos of the mid-eighteenth century) was stunning and sumptuous. And if the ensemble would inspire some of Odiot’s ideas, to what extent did it influence Gallois in the chapelle of New Saint-Lazare, which called for a change of purpose because the reliquary was uniquely combined there with the high altar?
Viewing the two shrines side-by-side reveals that Étienne and his men steered clear of duplication and nostalgia. Notably, the counterpart to the glorified saint in Jean-André’s tableau is the solid silver likeness at the summit of Odiot’s châsse; this is his only three-dimensional portrait in the chapelle, which prompts admiration of the marble statuettes of saints on the high altar, just below. Étienne brought in the foremost expert in Medieval Christian art to design the high altar in what became the first, and defining, moment of his new-wave grands travaux in the chapelle. This was the remarkable, and overbooked, Jesuit priest Arthur Martin (1801–1856), whom Étienne nailed down in 1850, according to a dated esquisse. Gallois, meanwhile, was preparing to step in once the high altar/reliquary shrine was well underway. Indeed his first sacred works for Étienne were implemented in the year of Father Martin’s drawing (in positioning the statue of the Virgin in the garden and raising the Chapel of the Passion). Did Martin accept the job offer due to convenience? He likely was already residing at the Jesuit house of Saint-Ignace, which is just down the street at 35 rue de Sèvres, whose Neo-Gothic chapel he would design in 1855.
III. The High Altar: Père Arthur Martin, S.J. (1801–1856)
Arthur Martin ranks among the most gifted figures of the mid-century. In starting out as a young priest and published author at age thirty, Father Martin dedicated himself “entièrement à l’étude de l’archéolgie” according to the standard Jesuit bibliography, which he restricted to Early and Medieval Christianity in “la science théologique,” and not “par romantisme.” Martin became a prolific writer, artist-designer, and architect, and authority on restoring Gothic architecture; and we may single out his report of August 31, 1847, to the Ministre des Travaux Publics on the stained glass of La Sainte-Chapelle. Moreover, from the monumental in scale on down, nearly every type of artifact seized his eye and mind, and he deserves praise for taking a scientific approach to the industrial arts. His published landmarks are the volumes cowritten with Charles Cahier, for which he provided the ravishing plates: the monograph on the stained glass of Bourges Cathedral (1842), which earned him a gold medal from the Institut; and Nouveaux mélanges d’archéologie, d’histoire et de littérature sur le Moyen Age, which was begun in 1848 and eventually issued posthumously in four volumes (it is the book most familiar to today’s readers).
We learn also from the standard Jesuit bibliography that Father Martin designed “Plusieurs chapelles de Paris ont aussi été décorées sous sa direction; entre autres, celle de Sainte Geneviève-du-Mont, fait le plus grand honneur à son gout …” It may not be widely known that he created this brightly colored Neo-Gothic shrine, dated to circa 1854–1855, which is purely commemorative since the relics were burned in the Revolution after a conviction of treason. What a powerful contrast it makes, therefore, against the silvery high altar—neo-medieval also but in a different way—which Martin furnished for the bona fide reliquary of New Saint-Lazare! But it earned just a single line buried in his papers in the Jesuit archives. In now beginning coverage with the ending of the story, his high altar was inaugurated by the apostolic nuncio on the feast day of the Annunciation, March 25, 1857, and the plaque beside it mentions him by name: “Altare Maius Huius Ecclesiae, Dirigente P. Arthur Martin S.J. Erectum …” This citation, however, has not led to critical appreciation of Father Martin—all accolades are showered upon the Odiot—an injustice that I am about to set right.
It therefore took seven years to execute the masterpiece, which we know from counting backwards to the esquisse of 1850, mentioned above.
Fig. 9. New Saint-Lazare. Vintage photograph of the high altar of the Chapelle des Lazaristes, which was executed by the firm of Fontanelle, Sculpteur, after the design of Arthur Martin, S.J., marble, beg. 1850 and consecrated March 25, 1857. The gloriette of carved and gilded wood has since been removed to the on-site museum. Photo: Archives de la Maison-Mère
Fig. 10. New Saint-Lazare. Vintage photograph of the Chapelle des Lazaristes; interior view featuring the sanctuary prior to the removal in the 1980’s of the gloriette above the high altar, the choir stalls, and the iron grille. Photo: Archives de la Maison-Mère
Martin devised a theatrical neo-medieval retable that was set into Vasserot’s sanctuary, a hemicyle whose altar table was framed at each side by a column and pilaster (as is known from the plan, extant masonry, and documents). Moreover, Vasserot returned twenty years after his “official” departure to sign off on the Mémoire des ouvrages de Menuiserie of 1847, which refers to the oak stalls in the choir that were carved by the entrepreneur Bugniet. One more salvaged holdover was the French alabaster mensa costing two thousand francs; it was elevated about a foot by Gallois and served as a platform upon which Father Martin stacked three tiers that rise in a crescendo toward the ceiling to support the châsse at the pinnacle (Fig. 9). And these lower registers are filled with white marble figures: large statues of four evangelists and eight prophets who stand guard at either side of the châsse; fifteen statuettes perched in colonnaded niches that depict saints with attributes; and eighteen angels (Fig. 11). Moreover, the saint’s celestial sphere became accessible through the “hidden” stone staircases at either side, which allow visitors to approach and descend from the reliquary as never before. Father Martin’s objective, which was penned in the “Courte explication” kept in the motherhouse archives, was to revive medieval devotional practices in which pilgrims had passed beneath the saints’ relics at Saint-Denis. Mentioned also in this memo, along with examples that got published in Mélanges d’Archéologie, is the tradition of depicting apostles on reliquaries and tombs of saints, which was popularized in the twelfth century. This typology was not merely brought back to life but much expanded, with the help of Fontenelle, who was Martin’s contractor and agent. Fontanelle’s two lengthy and itemized Mémoires des Travaux de Sculpture et Marbrerie (dated September 1, 1858, and October 24, 1859), reveal that besides carving the forty-seven statues and statuettes his firm had made, transported, and installed everything else in all media: the columns and pilasters framing the sanctuary (which supplemented those from Vasserot), the staircases beside the altar, the tabernacle and canopied crucifix, the mosaic tile pavement on the top step (now hidden by carpeting), the fancy “Menuiserie” (referring to the gloriette), and the full complement of architectural garnitures.
Fig. 11. New Saint-Lazare. Chapelle des Lazaristes, side view of the high altar. Photo: Author
Another memo, “Statues de l’Autel de St. Vincent/Retable,” identifies each figure sequentially in two groupings according to the Gospel and Epistle sides; and they are all historical persons in keeping with Martin’s promotion of “la science théologique.” In addition to the Holy Family, he chose saints who lived in the Middle Ages on up through Vincent de Paul’s time—and like him, many had founded religious communities. This once-living chorus thereby testifies to the “humanity” of Saint Vincent de Paul. They include the group of the Virgin and Child, which is centered in the lowest register on axis with the tabernacle, Odiot’s standing portrait of the saint, and the face of Jesus in the gloriette; Jesus’s family members, consisting of Joseph, Anne, and Joachim, and John the Baptist; plus all-male figures such as Denis (the first French martyr), Benedict, Dominic, Bruno, Francis of Assisi, Philip Neri, Francis Xavier, and Vincent de Paul’s mentor and friend, Francis de Sales. This cavalcade reveals one more example of Martin’s lively imagination and the deep scholarly reserves he plumbed, and published, in Mélanges d’Archéologie. In addition to the medieval devotional practices he sought to revive, the mosaic-tile pavement of the sanctuary resuscitates the floors of ancient Italian churches. And the statuettes are near copies of relief panels carved on the flanks of Early Christian sarcophagi (Fig. 12). Martin enthusiastically sketched and published the specimens he studied in Provence especially, and looked forward to examining the Roman catacombs on what became his last journey in 1856. Father Martin departed for Italy once the high altar and several other projects were either finished or nearly so. But while in Ravenna he succumbed to apoplexy on November 24, 1856, and did not live to attend the dedication in March 1857.
Fig. 12. New Saint-Lazare. Plate from Charles Cahier, S.J., and Arthur Martin, S.J. Photo: DePaul University Library Special Collections
IV. Paul-Marie Gallois Expands and Decorates the Chapelle, Circa 1855 to 1864
Gallois, meanwhile, gathered his forces for staging the gleaming set piece to maximum effect and transforming Vasserot’s “primitive” chapelle into an exciting contemporary space. First of all, he duly highlighted the medieval scheme of Father Martin’s high altar and the adjacent choir; but instead of picking up on its silvery cream tonalities, which resonate also with Odiot’s châsse, Gallois had his decorators, who included frères-coadjuteurs, strike the most daring foils to them by covering the walls and their Néogrec embellishments with intensely polychromed color, as if shouting out Hittorff’s teachings. Moreover, the linchpin that unifies these competing artistic/historical styles is the triumphal arch, or gateway into the high altar, which was done by the painter-in-residence Frère François Carbonnier (Fig. 13). Did the end result not set the sterling standard for showing off the alliance des arts in Catholic architecture of the mid-nineteenth century?
Fig. 13. New Saint-Lazare. Contemporary photograph of the high altar of the Chapelle des Lazaristes, which features a close-up of the triumphal arch painted in grisaille on canvas by the frère-coadjuteur François Carbonnier, and installed in 1855. Photo: Courtesy of Erik Pronske, M.D.
In further acknowledging the neo-medieval statement of Martin’s high altar, one may step backwards several paces to behold how emphatic it appears in being framed, from the floor, by the graceful oak stalls that were positioned in the choir for the use of the Lazarists (and which were ordered by Vasserot in 1847) (Fig. 10). Gallois then created a border that closed and picturesquely set off this sacred and liturgical zone from the rest of the nave—which is reserved for the laity—with an ornate iron grille (since removed in the late 1980s). These artisinal travaux de serrurerie were fabricated in 1856 by the entrepreneur Deschars to imitate the cross of the Ordre de Saint-Lazare et de Notre-Dame du Mont-Carmel, whose history goes way back to the medieval origins of Old Saint-Lazare! Deschars was employed besides to install the wholly essential and functional serrurerie, as in the harnesses and braces, which secured the new masonry constructed by the entrepreneurs Beauvais and Roullie. For while maintaining the length of Vasserot’s nave, which terminates at the sanctuary, Gallois extended the footprint laterally, in 1855–1856, by punching through the blind arcades (arcatures) of the walls, thus making them arched openings into a proper side aisle at each flank. The pilasters of Vasserot’s arcuations were left standing to mark the bays, and in front of them Gallois built a nave colonnade consisting of Doric columns, which supports a trabeated entablature. Gallois used its upper edge as the baseline for raising a second-story tribune above the side aisles. And since his plan was thereby wider and higher than before, a soaring new ceiling went up in the magnificently coffered barrel vault; its base is pierced by arched apertures that align with the Doric columns and are rhythmically stretched high and taut across the line. Moreover, the new black and white tiles laid down in the aisles had to meet the grade level of the nave floor, whose pavement in large white blocks was retained. It certainly is a challenge to distinguish which portions of Vasserot’s fabrique had been demolished and which furnishings were repurposed, since the Mémoires des Travaux are preserved in various states of legibility, and some of them are all but indecipherable! In now inspecting the glorious classical decoration, the ornaments projecting from the plastered surfaces are molded from pierre plâtre, or carton pierre, and faux bois, and masked in a horror vacui of gilding and polychrome done in oil paint. Despite the outburst, everything is crisply controlled: the rosettes punctuating the coffers of the vault, the denticulation of the architrave, the beaded banding below the Doric capitals, the angels heads at the faux keystones of the arches at the base of the vault, and the rinceaux in the spandrels. Several motifs come straight from the châsse, in the ribbon of curvilinear foliage that rims the upper lid, and the acanthus frieze at the base; did Father Martin chime in with a few flourishes of his own?
V. Brother François Carbonnier Paints the Linchpin that Unifies the Space
A frère-coadjuteur, François Carbonnier (1787–1873), was the supreme painter-in-residence and Étienne’s very first protégé. He was born in Beauvais and baptized as Casimir; in Paris he studied with Jacques-Louis David and Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, and joined David’s other pupils in painting the massive coronation picture Le Sacre de Napoléon, of 1806–1807 (Paris, Musée du Louvre). Then in the Salon of 1812 Carbonnier showed Virgile récitant l’Enéide au moment où il prononce:“Tu Marcellus eris … ”; it so impressed Caroline Bonaparte, the Emperor’s sister and Queen of Naples, that she hired him to execute her portrait (untraced). The most recent information we have on his technique comes from the handwritten report that M. Jean-Jacques Borgetto kindly shared with me after he had cleaned the canvases at New Saint-Lazare in 1998, which states Carbonnier painted in “la pure tradition classique.” He laid down a solid ground upon which thin coats of paint were applied after the preceding colors had dried, and transparent glazes were added to heighten luster. His masterpieces consist of eight monumental canvases representing the lives of Mary and Jesus, which are signed and dated between 1846 and 1864; but were they planned as a suite? They were mounted behind the choir stalls after the aisles were built but have since been taken upstairs to the tribune. However beautiful they may be in rephrasing strains from Raphael—whose cult was all the rage among Catholic artists—they hardly factor into the aesthetic regime of the centerpiece and are therefore set aside in favor of Carbonnier’s triumphal arch, which plays a pivotal role in this respect.
This is a wide horseshoe-shaped band painted in oils on canvas, en grisaille; it was attached to the plaster wall in July 1855 by the mason Beauvais and three helpers to look like a carved archivolt beneath the vault at its terminus, that is, just above the threshold into the sanctuary. Each blunt edge of the curve is supported by paired columns that both frame the centerpiece and meet the ending of the colonnade at a right angle, on its half of the nave. The painted archway is thereby implicated into the architectural setting and holds the perspective line of all the elements that are marching inwards from the straight-edged entablatures and the fillets lined up on the coffered vault. Carbonnier responded to the high altar, besides, in his subject matter and technique. The cascading figures that surround Vincent de Paul in the center and appear together with his virtues (Simplicity, Charity, and Humility) resemble high reliefs whose chiaroscuro pitches them against a neutral ground. These “sculptural” characters are grouped into narrative vignettes that, at right, depict the missions of Saint Louise de Marillac and the Daughters of Charity. And at the left, Carbonnier features the evangelization of the priests, most sensationally of John Gabriel Perboyre (1802–1840) and Francis Regis Clet (1748–1820), who had recently been martyred in China—and whose remains were brought to the chapelle, where they may be venerated in their own shrines in the side aisles.
Carbonnier’s triumphal arch therefore reads like a cross between two and three dimensions, and ties together elements that would otherwise look discordant: it serves as transition from sculpture to painting, and its deep gray tonalities are caught between the silvery coolness of the centerpiece and the warmth of saturated color on the entablature and vault. His work so effortlessly harmonizes pictorial oppositions that one may ask if their basic artistic/historical differences—between the neo-medieval and the Néogrec—have likewise been reconciled. Moreover, what of Gallois’s conversion of the “pagan hovel” described by Charles Rene de Montalembert into an impeccable Christian church? The two dilemmas are related—as are their resolutions, which reside in yet another “crossover” involving our ultra-Catholic champions of the Early Christian revival. This trend was activated by the rebuilding of San Paolo fuori le Mura following its disastrous fire of 1823, and it so profoundly altered both Hittorff and Father Martin that linking Classical Antiquity with Early Christianity occupied the heart of their work. Their enterprises in art and architecture and published books provide undeniable evidence that pagan traditions were hardly antithetical to Catholicism, but had been fluently carried over into the ancient Christian basilicas of Italy. Hittorff offered Saint-Vincent-de-Paul as his exemplum, which in fact followed the model of San Paolo (as was mentioned above). And in respect to Martin, one recurring theme in Mélanges d’Archéologie betrays him pondering the roots of his beloved Middle Ages in the pagan world; and in at least one passage he observes that the barbarians who invaded Gaul were the truer hostile forces. As if staking out two different posts on the same battlefield, they had generated valid and legitimate alternatives to the fashionable Gothic Revival! In now returning to Gallois’s chapelle, we may clearly recognize that the so-called conflict between the classical and the medieval was instead played out as an exercise in Christian modalities which sits tight on the arc of the Middle Ages, if in different time zones: in Father Martin’s evocations of the twelfth century in the high altar, and in Gallois’s “Late Antique” hall overflowing with motifs such as the rinceaux, which symbolize Celestial Paradise and bow down, as well, to the research of Father Martin!
VI. On the Alliance des Arts
The Chapelle des Lazaristes manifests a breathtaking unification of concept with design, which in France was called the travail d’ensemble (also the alliance des arts and un œuvre d’art total) and dominated architectural thinking of the mid-century (by way of the music dramas composed in Germany by Richard Wagner). And if Paul-Marie Gallois and his grands travaux have been brought to light in this article, the last words may be granted to Mme C. Di Matteo, Inspecteur Principal des Monuments Historiques of the Ministère de la Culture, who writes this assessment in the minutes (dated January 16, 1985) of the meeting convened on January 9, 1985, over the issue of nominating the chapelle among the Monuments Historiques de la Ville de Paris: “Dans son état actuel, la chapelle de la maison mère des Lazaristes frappe par la qualité de son architecture, la cohérence de son décor et son mobilier égralement conservé depuis sa création 1830.” (Gallois was unknown to them.) The campaigns of conservation began soon afterwards in direct result of the Ministry’s suggestions and through the auspices of Superior General Richard McMullen. The leadership of the Province of Paris shepherded everything through in three planning stages; and the classification of the chapelle in January 1993 represented the crowning moment, with all gratitude owed to “la douce ténacité” of Father Claude Lautissier, who was serving as Provincial of Paris (1983–1992), and is at present Archivist of the Province of France.
Brief Epilogue: Saint Vincent de Paul Church in Chicago, Illinois
Fig. 14. Saint Vincent de Paul Church, Chicago, Illinois. Photograph of the sanctuary that was used in the parish’s Centennial Booklet in 1976. The high altar designed by Augustine O’Callaghan was carved between 1903 and 1909 of white Carrara marble, and inlaid with mother-of-pearl and Venetian mosaic tile. Photo: DARM Memorial Archives, DePaul University Special Collections
In revisiting the other sacred monuments that were built or renovated in Paris in this period, we may wish to evaluate how their programmes stack up against the Chapelle des Lazaristes. But I prefer, first, to take a detour to raise this question: How did the more erudite interpretations of the historical revival in France reach the architects of the Gilded Age of American churches from circa 1870 to 1929? And why are their discourses far from intertwined? In offering a splendid example close to home, Saint Vincent de Paul Church in Chicago is found at the edge of the DePaul University campus and is administered by Vincentian priests from the Western Province of the Congregation in the United States. It was raised in 1895–1897, twenty years after the parish was founded to serve Irish and German families, by Egan and Prindeville of Chicago; Prindeville was a native of the city and James J. Egan (1839–1914) came from Cork, Ireland. He first studied at the Government School of Design, Queen’s College, Cork, then finished his education in England, which of course was inundated by its own waves of the Medieval Revival. Why would he not sail across the Channel and head to the continent, starting out from Paris, to absorb everything he could? After all, his church in Chicago knowingly combines Romanesque styles on the façade and in the nave with Gothic conventions in the tracery, lofty polychromed interior, and stained glass lancets and rosaces, which were ordered from Mayer & Co. of Munich (through its New York office). And like Gallois’s chapelle, its focal point is the multitiered high altar that may be similarly experienced through the open expanses of the nave (Fig. 14). It was carved between 1903 and 1909 of shiny Carrara marble, with inlays of mother-of-pearl and Venetian mosaic tile, according to the design of Augustine O’Callaghan, a sculptor who produced an earlier variation (in 1899) for the only other parish that had French associations, Notre Dame de Chicago. Was its general resemblance to Arthur Martin’s confection an uncanny coincidence? Or were decisions made to recollect Saint Vincent’s shrine in Paris for the benefit of the Vincentians and their parishioners—and those of Notre Dame de Chicago? Since American builders wished to impart the grandeur of European churches, along with their artistic/historical roots in the faith of their fathers, future investigation of the New World counterparts must raise fresh questions in respect to geographic, and political, dislocations. And it must also identify the mediating links—starting at the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893—which fueled the transmission of knowledge, in preparation for crossing the Atlantic in search of answers at the source. And in thus ending my study at the edge of the docks, it is satisfying to pry open even more dilemmas than I have attempted to address in these pages!