Quatuor Ardeo in Perigueux

In Perigueux for the opening concert of the Sinfonia en Perigord season. Quatuor Ardeo, with Carole Petitdemange and Mi-sa Yang on violins, Yuko Hara on viola and Matthijs Broersma replacing Joëlle Martinez on cello, played an extremely entertaining programme.

Quatuor Ardeo

It began with Beethoven’s ‘String Quartet no. 1 in F major’, written between 1798 and 1800. The second movement, which was inspired by the tomb scene from William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, was particularly beautifully played. This was followed by a piece I had never heard before, Joaquin Turina’s single-movement ‘La Oración del torero’ (The Toreador’s Prayer), composed in 1924, which has an impressionistic, Iberian feel to it, reminiscent of Debussy and Ravel, which was most enjoyable.

The most impressive playing was reserved for Dvorak’s ‘String Quartet no. 12 in F major’, known as the ‘American’. Mi-sa Yang took over as first violin and played wonderfully, with great energy and rhythm. It was all followed by the most unusual of encores, without any instruments at all. A performance of Steve Reich’s ‘Clapping Music’ rounded off a very pleasant evening.

Matthijs Broersma

Ludwig van Beethoven: ‘String Quartet no. 1 in F major’, opus 18, no. 1; Joaquin Turina: ‘La Oración del torero’ (The Toreador’s Prayer), Op. 34; Antonin Dvořák: ‘String Quartet no. 12 in F major, ‘American’, opus 96; Steve Reich: ‘Clapping Music’.

Cadouin Abbey

Cadouin Abbey, in Le Buisson-de-Cadouin, Dordogne, was founded in 1115, becoming a Cistercian monastery in 1119. It became a magnet for pilgrims on the route to Santiago de Compostela after it claimed to have the shroud that had been wrapped around the head of Christ. Eleanor of Aquitaine and Richard the Lionheart were both visitors. However, when it was discovered that the cloth came from Egypt and dates from the eleventh century, pilgrim numbers unsuprisingly fell drastically.

Cadouin Abbey

The Abbey’s main attraction now is the cloister, which is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage monument. It was rebuilt in the fifteenth century after the Abbey buildings were badly damaged during the Hundred Years War. It was built in the Flamboyant Gothic style, with very rich ornamentation and decorative sculptures.

Cadouin Abbey cloister

The Sanctuary of Rocamadour

In Rocamadour, in the Lot, another of ‘Les Plus Beaux Villages de France’, and it is easy to see why when looking at its setting – it clings precariously against a cliff overlooking the Alzou Valley. It has been an important pilgrim destination for over one thousand years and amongst those who have visited the site are Henry II of England, Eleanor of Aquitaine, Blanche of Castille and Kings Louis IX, Charles IV and Louis XI of France.

Rocamadour

The village is built on three levels, the bottom level contains the houses and shops, the next level has the Sanctuary of Rocamadour, a remarkable group of seven chapels and a basilica. The top level is the site of the castle, built in the fourteenth century to protect the Sanctuary.

Between the lower town and the Sanctuary is the Grand Escalier, a steep climb of 216 steps. It is said that pilgrims once climbed these on their knees as an act of penance. At the centre of the Sanctuary is the Parvis des Eglises, a small square around which the religious buildings were constructed between the eleventh and the fourteenth centuries.

Basilique Saint-Sauveur

The Sanctuary began to be built and the pilgrims started to arrive following the discovery in 1166 of an intact body which the village presented as that of Saint Amadour. The relics of the saint were housed in the crypt below Saint-Sauveur church, which was constructed in limestone between the eleventh and thirteenth centuries, at a time of transition between the Romanesque and Gothic styles. Unfortunately, the church later fell into a serious state of disrepair, the roof needed to be replaced and the southern face was badly bowed because of the downward thrust of the vaults. The bishops of Cahors decided to restore the building in 1842. 

Basilique Saint-Sauveur, Rocamadour

Chapelle Notre-Dame

Next to the basilica is the Chapel of Notre-Dame. The Chapel is home to the famous statue of Our Lady of Rocamadour, known as the Vierge Noire or Black Madonna. Carved from walnut in the twelfth century, she drew medieval worshippers from all across Europe.The statue is linked to numerous miracles, particularly to the saving of lives at sea. Overhead, the ninth-century iron bell is said to have mysteriously rung whenever the Virgin performed a miracle.

Chapelle Notre-Dame, Rocamadour

La Vierge Noire, Chapelle Notre-Dame, Rocamadour

Embedded in the rock above the chapel is a sword known as the Durandel sword. According to legend, when Roland, the nephew of Charlemagne, was badly injured in battle he begged the Archangel Michael to save his sword from the enemy. He threw it into the air and it miraculously landed in the rock face at Rocamadour three hundred kilometres away.

Alongside the entrance to the chapel are the remains of what would have been a bigger, thirteenth-century fresco of the dance macabre.

Dance macabre fresco, Chapelle Notre-Dame, Rocamadour

Chapelle Saint-Michel

Chapelle Saint-Michel is the highest of all the religious buildings in Rocamadour. It has no roof nor a western wall as the chapel was carved into the rock. However, medieval pilgrims did not have access to it as it was strictly for the use of the Benedictine monks.

Chapelle Saint-Michel, Rocamadour

The fact that it was built under a rock overhang has allowed the chapel’s thirteenth-century frescoes to survive in an exceptional condition. On the lower part of the wall is half of a now-faded fresco depicting Saint Christopher, whilst above is a representation of ‘The Annunciation and The Visitation’.

‘The Annunciation and The Visitation’ fresco, Chapelle Saint-Michel, Rocamadour

Inside, a thirteenth-century fresco decorates the semi-dome apse. It depicts Christ in glory, with the Evangelists on either side writing the Gospels. At the bottom left, Saint Michael is weighing the souls, whilst on the right, seraphim welcome the righteous into heaven.

Apse fresco, Chapelle Saint-Michel, Rocamadour

Chapelle Saint-Louis et Notre Dame de l’Ovalie

The chapel, which is built into the cliff, was originally dedicated to King Louis, who travelled to Rocamadour as a pilgrim in May 1244, accompanied by his mother, Queen Blanche, and his brothers. In 1297, Louis became the first layman to be canonized. However, interestingly, the chapel has more recently been rededicated to rugby players and prayers are now said there for those injured during a game. Consequently, the chapel has on display the shirts of many famous rugby players from all over the world.

Chapelle Saint-Louis et Notre Dame de l’Ovalie, complete with rugby shirts

Chapelle Saint-Jean-Baptiste

Chapelle Saint-Jean-Baptiste is a small octagonal chapel that initially served as a funeral chapel; however, it was transformed into a baptistery in the nineteenth century. The Gothic portal from the fifteenth century was kept, on which a tympanum was added depicting the Lamb of God.

Chapelle Saint-Jean-Baptiste, Rocamadour

Tympanum, Chapelle Saint-Jean-Baptiste, Rocamadour

The chapel still houses the tomb of Jean de Vallon, who was the Head Master of the Saint John of Jerusalem Knights in the fifteenth century.

Tomb of Jean de Valon, Chapelle Saint-Jean-Baptiste, Rocamadour

Chapelle Saint-Blaise

The chapel of Saint-Blaise or of the Divine Miséricorde is dedicated to the fourth-century physician who was martyred by being tortured and beheaded. It is a small chapel, but has particularly beautiful stained-glass windows.

Chapelle Saint-Blaise, Rocamadour

The Chapel is in a strategic position in the Sanctuary, as the west window is above the Grand Escalier. This enabled it to be used as a surveillance point during the Hundred Year’s War as part of the Sanctuary’s defensive system.

Stained-glass windows, Chapelle Saint-Blaise, Rocamadour

Chapelle Sainte-Anne

Sainte-Anne chapel was built in the thirteenth century. but many of its contents are from later periods. It contains a seventeenth-century altarpiece which was moved from Chapelle Notre-Dame. As it was the original site of the Black Virgin it still contains the message ‘Nigra sum sed formosa’ (I am black and yet beautiful).

A stained-glass window is from the nineteenth century and depicts the Virgin as a young maid with her parents, Sainte Anne and Saint Joachim and the dove of the Holy Spirit. On the walls of the chapel are photographs of engravings showing the ruins of the Sanctuary after the French Revolution.

Chapelle Sainte-Anne, Rocamadour

Crypte Saint-Amadour

The Saint Amadour crypt, which is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is located beneath Saint-Sauveur Basilica. The chapel dates from the twelfth century and has a very simple design, with a single nave and no altar or transept.

The chapel and the relics were badly damaged by fire during the wars of religion when, in 1562, the Huguenots plundered and burned the sanctuary. Local inhabitants save a few bones from the flames which were placed in a small reliquary that was then hidden.

Crypte Saint Amadour

Beaulieu-sur-Dordogne

In Beaulieu-sur-Dordogne in the Corrèze department of France, one of the ‘Plus Beaux Villages de France’. The centre of the town is dominated by the Abbey Church of Saint-Pierre, which was completed in 1140.

Beaulieu-sur-Dordogne alongside the river Dordogne

Abbatiale Saint-Pierre de Beaulieu-sur-Dordogne

The portal on the south façade of the church has a magnificent tympanum which depicts the Parousia – the second coming of Christ on Earth. The tympanum is divided into three registers. The lower register contains depictions of exotic animals which symbolise the deadly sins of anger, pride and envy. The middle register depicts Hell, into which the characters on the upper register risk being thrown if they are not judged worthy of Paradise. The upper register is dominated by a two-metre carving of Christ, his arms spread in the form of a cross. He is flanked by the twelve Apostles, while angels above him carry the crown and nails. Meanwhile, other angels sound the trumpet to summon up the dead.

Tympanum, Abbatiale Saint-Pierre de Beaulieu-sur-Dordogne

There are further carvings either side of the entrance porch, with scenes from both the Old and New Testaments. On the left are episodes from the Life of Daniel, whilst on the right are Temptations of Christ.

Porch carvings, Abbatiale Saint-Pierre de Beaulieu-sur-Dordogne

Inside the church, its treasure is exhibited in the north transept. It consists of a statue of the Virgin and Child in wood covered with silver from the twelfth century, a reliquary lantern dating from the eleventh century, a thirteenth-century enamelled shrine depicting the journey of the Three Magi, and two silver reliquary arms from the thirteenthth century, those of Sainte-Félicité and Saint-Emilion.

Virgin and Child, Abbatiale Saint-Pierre, Beaulieu-sur-Dordogne

Enamelled shrine depicting the journey of the Three Magi (thirteenth century)

The abbey was the subject of attacks during both the Hundred Years War and the Wars of Religion, resulting in the monks eventually fleeing in 1574. In 1663 it was taken over by the French Benedictine community which restored it. However, it was definitively abandoned during the Revolution, when it became the parish church.

Beaulieu’s original parish church was built in the twelfth century, near the upper port where the river barges stopped. However, it was sold during the Revolution, when its function was transferred to the abbey church. It was purchased by the Brotherhood of Blue Penitents in 1820 and became the seat of the brotherhood until 1870.

Chapel of the Penitents, Beaulieu-sur-Dordogne

Pierre Soulages (1919 – 2022)

Whilst at the Fernand Leger exhibition at the Musée Soulages in Rodez, it was a perfect opportunity to see the works of the artist after whom the museum was named, Pierre Soulages, who was born in Rodez in 1919. The museum was opened in 2014, enabling the largest collection of his works in the world to be on permanent display. Soulages and Colette, his wife of eighty years, donated 900 works to the museum. However, just a few days after my visit, on 26 October, Soulages died in Nimes at the impressive age of 102.

Pierre Soulages, aged 100

There was an extreme contrast between the colourful works of Leger in one room and Soulages in the next. With Soulanges there were no bright, primary colours or cheerful subjects – instead, vast blocks of black and brown and minimalist works in Brous de noix. Temporary exhibitions at the museum are usually of artists with a connection with the works of Soulages, but on this occasion the paintings were so different that I wondered what possible connection there could be. Yet there were several – the two artists not only knew each other and admired each other’s work but they also worked together. For example, in 1952, at an event to commemorate the fifth centenary of Leonardo da Vinci at Chateau d’Amboise, Léger designed costumes and Soulages the sets for an evening performance.

Pierre Soulages ‘Brou de Noix, 65,7 x 50,1 cm’ (1947)

Whilst in many of Soulage’s paintings black dominated, he explained that “my instrument is not black but the light reflected from the black.” In other words, they were ‘beyond black’; in fact he called the technique ‘outrenoir’. He applied the paint in thick impasto layers and then worked on it with tools to achieve the complex textures he wanted. In earlier years he had also painted in walnut stain, applying bold brown strokes to the canvas to produce an effect which again provided a contrast to the bright colours of the neo-Fauvists of the period.

Pierre Soulages ‘Peinture 162 x 114 cm’ (1958)

In 1938 Soulages enrolled in the Ecole des beaux-arts in Paris, but did not stay as he disliked the traditional techniques taught there and he sought his own way, rejecting the trends in abstract painting of the time. This made him more noticeable and he was successful quite quickly. After military service in World War II, he exhibited at the Salon des Surindépendants in 1947, in Germany the following year and at the Venice Biennale in 1954. In 1954 he also exhibited in New York, gaining recognition in the United States during the time that Abstract Expressionism was being promoted. He would later be made an Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

Pierre Soulages ‘Design for stained-glass windows’

The windows installed in Abbatiale Sainte-Foy de Conques

Between 1987 and 1994 he produced 104 stained-glass windows for the Abbey Church of Saint Foy in Conques, the preliminary designs for which are also on display in the Rodez museum. He was the first living artist to exhibit at the Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg. A retrospective of his work was also held at the Centre Pompidou in Paris in 2009 – 2010 and the Louvre held a major exhibition in 2019 – 20 to celebrate his one-hundredth birthday.

Hieroglyphics in Figeac

The Rosetta Stone, which contains three versions of a decree issued in Memphis, Egypt, in 196 BC, was discovered in 1799 being used as a building material in the construction of Fort Julien near the town of Rashid (or Rosetta) in the Nile Delta.

The first version was in Egyptian hieroglyphic, never before translated, and the last was in Ancient Greek. This enabled scholars to work on the interpretation of the hieroglyph symbols. Jean-François Champollion, who was born in Figeac, was the first to succeed and render hieroglyphics understandable.

Figeac now not only has a Champollion Museum but the town’s Place des écritures has a giant replica of the Rosetta Stone in his honour.

Rosetta Stone replica, Place des écritures, Figeac

Fernand Léger in Rodez

At the Musée Soulages in Rodez, in the Aveyron department of southern France, for the exhibition ‘Fernand Leger. La vie à bras-le-corps’. The exhibition, which was twice cancelled due to the Covid pandemic, presents eighty-six paintings, mainly from the Centre Pompidou in Paris and the Fernand Léger museum in Biot. It focuses on three main themes in Léger’s work: the city, the world of work and the world of leisure.

Fernand Léger ‘Le Mécanicien’ (1918)

Fernand Léger ‘Le Remorqueur’ (1920)

Fernand Léger ‘Composition aux trois figures, fond bleu’ (1931)

Fernand Léger ‘Les Loisirs sur fond rouge’ (1949)

Fernand Léger ‘La Partie de Campagne (Deuxième état)’ (1954)

Fernand Léger ‘La Partie de Campagne (Deuxième état)’ (1954)

Fernand Léger ‘La Partie de Campagne’ (1954)

Fernand Léger ‘Le Campeur’ (1954)

Musée Henri Martin, Cahors

In Cahors to visit the recently reopened Musée Henri Martin, which contains a fine collection of sculpture and paintings from the fifteenth to the nineteenth century, including the world’s largest collection of paintings by Post-Impressionist artist Henri Martin.

Henri Jean Guillaume Martin was born in Toulouse in 1860 and attended the Ecole des beaux-arts in the city from 1877 to 1879, when he left for Paris. In Paris he continued his studies and won a scholarship to tour Italy where he studied the artists of the early Renaissance.

Henri Martin c.1882

He developed a Pointillist style of painting and earned a gold medal at the 1889 Salon. In 1896 he was made a knight of the Legion of Honour, before being promoted to the rank of officer in 1905 and commander in 1914. At the 1900 World Fair he was awarded the Grand Prize for his work.

When Martin decided to move away from Paris, he searched for ten years for his ideal home, eventually buying the Domaine de Marquayrol, overlooking the village of Labastide-du-Vert, near Cahors. He produced what is considered to be his best work in this new tranquil environment where he lived for over forty years. He also produced paintings for many public buildings, including the Capitole in Toulouse, the Sorbonne and the Council of State in Paris and several Parisian town halls. He died at Domaine de Marquayrol in 1943.

Henri Martin ‘Meditation’ (c.1890 – 1900)

Henri Martin ‘Haymaking’ (1910)

Henri Martin ‘The Bridge at Labastide-du-Vert’ (c.1920)

Henri Martin ‘Labastide-du-Vert, morning’ (c.1925)

Henri Martin ‘Monument to the Dead of Cahors’ (1932)

Henri Martin ‘Self-Portrait’ (c.1938)