As in 1988, on the occasion of the 350th anniversary of the vow of Louis XIII, and on the occasion of the jubilee marking 850 years of Notre Dame de Paris and during the festivities of the Assumption, four tapestries produced during the 17th century for the chancel of Notre Dame will be temporarily hung inside the cathedral : the Annunciation, the Visitation, the Assumption and the Coronation of the Virgin.
This exhibition is organized by the cathedral Notre Dame de Paris, in collaboration with the Fabrique of the Cathedral of Strasbourg, the DRAC Alsace and the DRAC Ile-de-France.
Wool and silk. 5,92 x 4,97 m
Delivered in 1657 for the chancel of Notre Dame de Paris,
and now conserved by the Cathedral of Strasbourg.
Cartoons by Charles Poerson, woven by the workshop of Pierre Damour.
On February 10, 1638, King Louis XIII consecrated France to the Blessed Virgin. In accordance with this vow, processions in honour of Mary on the Feast of the Assumption were instituted throughout the kingdom. The first of these took place at Notre Dame de Paris on August 15, 1638, and the cathedral therefore became a perpetual memorial of the King’s act of consecration. Indeed, the royal vow continues to be commemorated each year.
In his vow, Louis XIII undertook to “reconstruct the high altar of the Cathedral Church of Paris, including a representation of the Virgin holding her Beloved Son in her arms upon his deposition from the cross” with an effigy of himself “at the feet of the Son and his Mother, offering them our crown and scepter.” This scene was painted by Philippe de Champaigne (1602-1674) in time for August 15, 1638. The king’s first minister, Cardinal Richelieu (1585-1642), espoused the royal initiative by deciding to present the cathedral with four tapestries on the theme of the life of the Virgin. The donation was effected through the offices of his intendant, Michel Le Masle (1587-1662), who was one of the canons at Notre Dame. The series, completed in 1657, comprised fourteen tapestries, which adorned the chancel of the cathedral on major feast days until the end of the seventeenth century :
1. The Birth of the Virgin, 2. The Presentation of the Virgin to the Temple, 3. The Marriage of the Virgin, 4. The Annunciation, 5. The Visitation, 6. The Nativity, 7. The Adoration of the Magi, 8. The Purification of the Virgin, 9. The Flight into Egypt, 10. Jesus among the Doctors of the Law, 11. The Wedding at Cana, 12. The Dormition of the Virgin, 13. The Assumption of the Virgin into Heaven, 14. The Coronation of the Virgin.
Three celebrated artists successively produced the cartoons for these hangings: Philippe de Champaigne (1602-1674), Jacques Stella(1596-1657), and Charles Poerson (1610-1667). Poerson also painted the May of 1642 on the subject of St Peter preaching in Jerusalem, which can still be viewed in St Peter’s Chapel.
The reconstruction of the high altar originally planned by Louis XIII was actually carried out only towards the end of the reign of Louis XIV, when the creation of a new sanctuary “of a magnificence exceeding that of the initial project” was undertaken in 1699 and would eventually lead to the chancel being entirely rebuilt. Of the majestic baroque décor there remain the choir stalls and the Pietà flanked on either side by statues of Louis XIII offering his crown and scepter to the Virgin Mary and of Louis XIV. The new chancel, completed in 1717, was adorned with works of art in marble and bronze, wood paneling and large paintings. Meanwhile, thetapestries were consigned to the reserve collections. Thereafter, the canons granted temporary loans in response to requests from churches in Paris, a practice which had a harmful effect on their state of preservation. By 1720, there were referring to the collection as unnecessary, more frequently rolled up than actually exhibited, and costly to maintain. In 1730, it was therefore decided to sell off the hangings “for the best possible price...”
In 1739, the offer from the Chapter of Strasbourg Cathedral was accepted and the fourteen tapestries left Paris, with an inscription at the bottom recording the date of acquisition: “Sumptibus Reverentissimi Et Illustrissimi Capituli Argentinesis Pro Uso Cathedralis Ecclesiae – Anno 1739. “Acquired by the most reverend and most illustrious chapter of Strasbourg for the use of the Cathedral Church in 1739.” For lack of space in the chancel of Strasbourg Cathedral, the fourteen tapestries were placed in the nave, where they continue to be hung every year in December during Advent and Christmastime.
The ange Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin (...); and the virgin’s name was Mary. He went in and said to her, "Rejoice, you who enjoy God’s favour ! The Lors is with you. (...) Look ! You are to concessive in your womb and bear a son and you must name him Jesus." (...) Mary said, ’You see befor you the Lord’s servant, let it happen to me as you have said."
Gospel of saint Luke (1, 26-38)
Mary set out and went as quickly as she could into the hill country to a town in Judah. She went into Zechariah’s house and greeted Elizabeth. Now it happened that as soon as Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leapt in her womb and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. She gave a loud cry and said. "Of all women you are the most blessed, and blessed is the fruit of you womb. (...)" And Mary said : "My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour..."
Gospel of saint Luke (1, 39-56)
The Immaculate Mother of God, the ever Virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory.
Pie XII, Apostolic Constitution Munificentissimus Deus, 1950
Ave, Regína cælórum, Ave, Dómina Angelórum, Sálve rádix, sálve, pórta, Ex qua múndo lux est órta. Gáude, Vírgo gloriósa, Super ómnes speciósa ; Vále, o valde decóra, Et pro nóbis Christum exóra.
Hail, Queen of the heavens, Hail, ruler of the angels : Hail, root, hail, portal, From whom light has shone to the world. Hail, Virgin most glorious, Beautiful above all, Farewell, O most comely, And pray [always] to Christ for us.
Ave Regina Cælorum, Marian antiphon, 12th century
Sumptibus Reverentissimi Et Illustrissimi Capituli Argentinesis Pro Usu Cathedralis Ecclesiae - Anno 1739. « Acquis par le très révérend et très illustre chapitre de Strasbourg à l’usage de l’Église cathédrale en 1739. » © David Bordes