In line with the major retrospectives dedicated to national heritage, the Ensemble Conventuel of the Jacobins de Toulouse, in collaboration with the Musée de Normandie in Caen where the exhibition was previously given, invites us to discover an ensemble of masterpieces. They demonstrate the surprising vitality of the artistic production in Normandy from the XIIIth to the XVth centuries.
Les Jacobins, a perfect setting
Perfectly coherent with space and time, these sculptures and pieces of gold work of the Middle Ages could not have found a more beautiful setting than the volts of the Refectory of the Jacobins. The Ensemble Conventuel des Jacobins is indeed a magnificent example, completely made in brick, of a monastery of the XIIIth and XIVth centuries, a jewel of Gothic art of the Languedoc region. In Toulouse, the exhibition opens with a Marie-Madeleine dressed solely with her hair. Though recognized at the present state of research as Marie-Madeleine, the masterpiece from the collegiate of Ecouis could also evoke the legend of Mary the Egyptian whose cult had spread in the Western world.
The apostles, the Virgin and the saints
In a voluntarily chronological presentation, the nine apostles from the apostolic school of Saint-Pierre de Jumièges, true «living columns», are associated to the pieces of silver and gold ware that let us imagine the wealth of the decors of the churches and cathedrals of that time, such as the reliquary of saint Taurin, made towards 1240, in golden silver and bronze, set with enamels and kept in Evreux. Then there is the truly unique piece, an Entombment whose composition translates with intensity the feeling of pain each of the seven characters experiences in this episode of the Passion of Christ. By its exceptional quality, this sculpted ensemble is similar to that of the Monesties in the Tarn. At the end of the Middle Ages, the cult of saints grew and here, to represent this devotion, the saints most venerated in a great number of regions in France - Saint Peter, Saint John, Saint Denis - are together with the most popular saints in Normandy such as Saint Barb, as always leaning against his tower, or Saint Clair, called to intervene in case of any trouble with the eyes. The last part to complete the visit is dedicated to various versions of Virgin and Child - most of them in polychrome stone - that have reached us miraculously, and whose faces are inhabited by sweetness and serenity.
The cult of courtly love
We will note a superb series of stained glass windows, remarkable and rare. The painting on glass of Dives-sur-Mer that presents angel musicians is a successful answer to the beautiful wall paintings of the Chapel of Saint-Antonin right next to the Réfectoire des Jacobins. In the painting, on a blue background with white lis, angels play the viol, the bagpipes, the harp and the nebel. Further on in the exhibition two statues of musician kings underline the fact that at that time too, in Northern as well as in Southern France, trouvères of the Oïl culture as well as trouvères of the Oc culture, as well as poets and musicians brought Europe the cult of woman and of the Virgin, courteous love and chivalry idealism. This exhibition demonstrates the rich Norman creativity in the Gothic period, which has no reason to blush if compared to that of Toulouse and its region. It also illustrates the commitment of the Ensemble conventuel des Jacobins, to make accessible to the general public the treasures of our past and give the keys to understand them in order to better live our present.
illustration: Arm-relique called «arm of saint Manvieu» Golden embossed and melted copper, natural paint (on hand) XVth century Gonfreville (Manche) Photo: Conseil général de la Manche /CAOA/P-Y. Le Meur
Catalogue of the exhibition, 200 p., 130 ill., 35 €
Journal of the exhibition, 20 p., colored illustrations, 3 €
To see more illustrations, click on VERSION FRANCAISE at the top of this page