The magnificent Gothic vaults of the Collège des Bernardins, in Paris, more accustomed to hosting contemporary art, are presenting an unusual display this fall: fourteen works painted between the 15th and 20th centuries, from the diocese’s collections. On different religious themes, the styles are, of course, very eclectic and their interest varies. But all of them have a story, sometimes incredible, and most are not usually visible to the public.
The eye is immediately drawn to a large portrait of Saint Teresa of Avila with an intense gaze, directed straight towards the viewer. This masterpiece by François Gérard, painted in 1828 and set with a heavy original neo-Gothic frame, was intended since its commission to adorn the chapel of the Marie-Thérèse infirmary, in the 14th arrondissement of Paris, a charity founded by the couple Céleste and François-René de Chateaubriand. It is also the only classified work in the exhibition. “This painting, which aroused the enthusiasm of the public at the time because it renewed the iconography of the saint, never left the infirmary,” explains Caroline Morizot, responsible for conservation and inventory to the diocesan commission of sacred art.