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Sunday, July 25, 2010

The Church of Notre-Dame De Toute Grâce du Plateau d'Assy







Not far from Chamonix in France, The Church of Notre-Dame De Toute Grâce du Plateau d'Assy stands in a beautiful situation on a mountain-side facing Mont Blanc. It was designed by the architect Maurice Novarina and was constructed in 1937-45

In 1939, Father Marie-Alain Couturier O. P. (November 15, 1897-February 9, 1954) a Dominican friar, began twelve years ago of commissioning the best and most modern he could find to embellish the Church

It was in reaction to the art of "Saint Sulpice". Anachronistic second-rate commissions had given rise to what was known as the art of `Saint Sulpice' after the church square in Paris where vestments and Church fittings could be ordered as required

He brought together Braque, Matisse, Bonnard, Lurçat, Rouault, Léger, Bazaine, Chagall, Berçot, Briançon, and Richier

The architect was Maurice Novarina (1907-2002)

In 1996 Novarina summarised his conception of the work:

« En face de la chaîne […] du mont Blanc, il fallait un édifice robuste, solidement ancré au sol, capable d’affronter les lourdes charges de neige […]. Il fallait surtout que cette arche immobile, à peine soulevée par la verticale contrôlée d’un clocher massif, puisse s’insérer sans heurt dans la tectonique du paysage. […] une façade assez large avec un toit débordant […] [une] toiture posée sur six colonnes en pierre du pays […]. » (1996)

The facade is by Fernand Léger. It illustrates the Litanies of Mary

Here are the drawings/plans for the facade. They are works of art in their own right

Fernand Léger (1881-1955)
First Floor église d'Assy. Sancellemoz, Haute Savoie 1947
Drawing
46.5 x 102.5 cm
Musée national Fernand Léger, Biot

Fernand Léger (1881-1955)
Third Floor église d'Assy. Sancellemoz, Haute Savoie 1947
Drawing
45.9 x 122 cm
Musée national Fernand Léger, Biot

Fernand Léger (1881-1955)
Fourth Floor église d'Assy. Sancellemoz, Haute Savoie 1947
Drawing Gouache
46.5 x 118 cm
Musée national Fernand Léger, Biot

Fernand Léger (1881-1955)
Maquette for the Mosaic of l'église Notre-Dame-de-Toute-Grâce (Plateau d'Assy, Haute Savoie) 1947
Drawing Gouache
46.5 x 102 cm
Musée national Fernand Léger, Biot

Fernand Léger (1881-1955)
Full Maquette for the Mosaic of l'église Notre-Dame-de-Toute-Grâce (Plateau d'Assy, Haute Savoie) 1947
Drawing Gouache
89.7 x 145 cm
Musée national Fernand Léger, Biot

Couturier`s ambitious programme for a modernist church for a sanatorium community in the Alps, Notre-Dame-de-Toute Grace at Assy was blessed by Pope Pius XII in 1946

In 1948, the Church and all its works were consecrated by the local bishop. However that was when the adverse reaction began especially from the extreme right in France.

In 1949, the local bishop (Bishop Cesbron) ordered the crucifix to be removed. It especially had been subject to complaints.

The crucifix was meant to depict the physical and spiritual torment of Christ.

But the Church especially the facade and Richier`s Crucifix came under attack. The Vatican's direct attack on Assy came on June 10th, 1950 in a denunciation Dell'Arte sacra deformatrice. It denounced Assy as a pastiche and an insult to the majesty of God

The installation and removal were the catalyst for a great argument about the nature and role of sacred art which took place throughout the 1950s.

The facade by Fernand Léger was described by some critics as a “blasphemy”

Unfortunately there was an element of politics and ideology in the attacks. The artists and their supporters were regarded as being on the left wing and even Communist.

Many artists found themselves in opposition to the traditional role of religious and academic art. One was the so called Angers tract. See below



As can be seen from the newspaper clip above the local adverse reaction was intense.


Richier.- Crucifix at Assy

The crucifix had no cross, but only a green bronze, faceless figure cast roughly in the shape of a cross. The sculptor, Germaine Richier, (1867 – 1958) explained that "the cross has been taken with the suffering into the flesh, and its outlines can just be made out coming from the undersides of the arms. There is no face because God is the spirit and faceless."

For many it seemed to be a denial of the Incarnation and the Humanity of God.

They did have a valid point. You could argue that if you just focused on her statement that “God is the spirit and faceless” her conception was not in accordance with Church teaching.

It is however a consummate representation of “life in death” and “death in life”. She was not a theologian. It represented the fusion of body and bark, and of body and wood. With the crucifix, there was a placard with a quotation from Isaiah 53:

`For he shall grow up... as a root out of dry ground; he hath no form nor comeliness... He is despised and rejected of men... a man of sorrows.'

Father Régamey said of the Crucifixion debate:

« Si ce Crucifix pouvait lui-même éveiller l’idée de “scandale”, ce n’est pas qu’il fut scandaleux […] Le seul “scandale” était celui même du mystère du Calvaire, que le sculpteur avait évoqué pour les yeux, en son alliance d’abjection et de surgissement triomphal »

Claude Mary, the assistant and pupil of Richier said:

« Elle était à l’unisson du sujet […] intimidée, au fond, par une tâche inhabituelle dont le sujet la ravissait et l’épouvantait à la fois. Elle trouva immédiatement le parti […] elle faisait une sculpture […] Lorsque le placement [en l’église] fut terminé, elle finit de trembler. Elle vit qu’elle avait fait de son mieux»

Richier died before the Second Vatican Council . After the Council, the Vatican adopted the very artists denounced in Assy as the core of the new modern Vatican Museum collection

The bronze crucifix was not reinstated at Assy for twenty years, reappearing on the high altar and classified as a historical monument, in 1971.

Other works included those by Rouault:

Rouault.- Stained glass window of St Veronica at Assy

Georges Rouault. – Flagellation

Of Rouault`s work at Assy, the architect Maurice Novarina said:

« En liaison avec le Christ des douleurs, Georges Rouault conçut les vitraux qui garnissent les fenêtres inférieures de la façade. Deux de ces vitraux sont consacrés aux scènes de la Passion. Dans la chapelle des Morts apparaît, sous les traits de sainte Véronique, l'effigie de la fille de l'artiste, mélange extraordinaire de pureté et de grâce mystique. On remarque, avec une certaine perplexité, les deux « vitraux aux fleurs », qui prolongent, de part et d'autre de l'entrée, les deux attitudes du Christ souffrant.

Chaque bouquet est souligné par ces quelques notes qui déconcertent : à droite, « il a été maltraité et opprimé » et, à gauche, « il n'a pas ouvert la bouche ». Mots tirés du prophète Isaïe et qui nous reportent manifestement à la Passion. C'est le thème des cinq vitraux de Rouault et c'est, en même temps, leur unité à travers la trilogie verbale de la Passion, de la souffrance et de la maladie.

Pouvait-on mieux qu'au Plateau d'Assy, lieu d'attente de la santé, associer la souffrance sous les traits du Christ des douleurs, et l'espoir sous la forme fleurie qui l'évoque ? Je rappelle que Rouault, à qui nous avions proposé cette réalisation, nous avait dit toute sa joie ; mais il avait ajouté : « Pourquoi avez-vous attendu que je sois si près de mon dernier voyage pour me confier cette œuvre importante ? ».


Ladislas Kijno `s (b. 1921) Last Supper in the Crypt is most impressive:



Kijno had been ill for about 12 years and had been in the nearby TB sanatorium on a number of occasions.

Here is Pierre Bonnard, Saint François de Sales (the patron saint of the parish) with a detail:




Amongst the highlights in the Church are those works commissioned from Marc Chagall. Marc Chagall and Jacques Lipchitz were of the Jewish faith. Perhaps at the time the idea of two Jewish artists being involved in the decoration of a Church would also have been rather surprising.





Here are some of Chagall`s plans/drawings for the works:

Marc Chagall 1887 - 1985
Psalm 42 for Stained Glass at Assy 1956-1957
Drawing: Pencil and Chinese ink on paper
36 x 61 cm
Musée national Message biblique Marc Chagall, Nice

Marc Chagall 1887 - 1985
Psalm 124 for Stained Glass at Assy 1956-1957
Drawing: Pencil and Chinese ink on paper
50 x 65.3 cm
Musée national Message biblique Marc Chagall, Nice

Marc Chagall 1887 - 1985
The Angel of the Candleholder for Stained Glass at Assy 1956-1957
Aquarelle Pencil and Chinese ink on paper
100 x 60 cm
Musée national Message biblique Marc Chagall, Nice

Marc Chagall 1887 - 1985
The Angel of the Holy Oils for Stained Glass at Assy 1956-1957
Aquarelle Pencil and Chinese ink on paper
100 x 60 cm
Musée national Message biblique Marc Chagall, Nice


References:
Eglise Notre-Dame De Toute Grâce (Plateau d'Assy)