a unique opportunity to see “Les Mays”, these gigantic paintings of the cathedral, at eye level

a unique opportunity to see “Les Mays”, these gigantic paintings of the cathedral, at eye level

This is the good side of the restorations linked to the fire of Notre-Dame de Paris: they give rise to exhibitions which allow you to admire its adornment up close. After the treasure, exhibited at the Louvre until last January, the statues of the apostles of the arrow, still visible at the Cité de l'Architecture et du Patrimoine, here are the Mays, these paintings from the classical era that you have to run see at the National Mobilier gallery, at Gobelins, in Paris.

As soon as you enter, you are struck by these immense paintings, offered to the cathedral. The descent of the Holy Spirit by Jacques Blanchard to the original composition, the Conversion of Saint Paul by Laurent de La Hyre in brilliant colors, or the spectacular Stoning of Saint Stephen by Charles Le Brun… are exhibited on one level. “Every May, from 1630 to 1707, the brotherhood of goldsmiths offered a work commissioned from a great painter of the time, illustrating a scene from the Acts of the Apostles,” says one of the curators of the exhibition Emmanuel Pénicaut .

In this great movement of spiritual renewal of the 17th century and in the face of Protestantism, the Church affirms through these scenes “its link with the primitive Church, and its link with Rome. In addition, these paintings have a catechetical role,” continues the director of the Mobilier national collections, who shows how, in the Conversion of Saint Paulthe painter added a figure of Christ emerging from the clouds, in relation to his “model», a small painting presented next to it, and which was intended to show the project to the canons of Notre-Dame. No doubt there was discussion and a desire to make the image more explicit to the faithful through this addition… Today, labels, deliberately very educational, summarize the scene represented for those who are not familiar with the image. Holy history.

In all, seventy-six paintings were thus offered to Notre-Dame, the format of which grew over time to reach almost four meters by three. Scattered in various museums during the Revolution, the Mays and other paintings were partly returned to the cathedral from 1947 thanks to Pierre-Marie Auzas, inspector of Historical Monuments.

The Regional Directorate of Cultural Affairs (Drac) of Île-de-France took charge of the restoration of these thirteen Mays and twenty-two smaller format paintings evacuated just after the fire. “It took 20,000 hours of work over two years for the four teams of restorers and their apprentices because we wanted there to be a dimension of transmitting know-how,” explains Marie-Hélène Didier, curator of the Historical monuments at the Drac. Thanks to films and panels, the exhibition presents this meticulous work in relation to the works.

Upstairs, the Mobilier national presents the tapestry series of The life of the Virginsold by the canons of Paris to those of Strasbourg in 1739 and loaned exceptionally for the occasion, as well as half of the immense choir carpet offered by King Louis-Philippe to the cathedral in 1841.

Finally, the route also presents models of the future liturgical furniture designed by the designer Guillaume Bardet and some examples of the chairs designed by his colleague, Ionna Vautrin. There is no doubt that the decor of Notre-Dame continues to mobilize artists.

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