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The renewal of passion. Religious sculpture between Chartres and Paris around 1540

The exhibition at the Musée de la Renaissance in Écouen is one of those that many were desperate to see, fearing that it would close before opening, due to the pandemic. Fortunately, it was able to be extended, and we now have almost the whole summer to go and see it, which we strongly recommend.

This one, which is part of this flowering of studies on the French 16th century, although small in size, is indeed remarkable and accompanied by a catalog which is no less so. It brings together for the first time the reliefs sculpted for the rood screen of the Saint-Père-en-Vallée church in Chartres, thus making it possible to discover, along with other sculptures, an important but still little-known artist: François Marchand. His life is made up of hypotheses: died in 1551, he may have been born around 1500… or twenty years earlier. Active between Orléans and Chartres, he is undoubtedly from the first city, and at least very probably trained there. A trip to Italy is possible, but the influence of the sculpture of the peninsula can be explained by the knowledge of engravings. The only certainties: he received the order for sculptures for the Abbey of Saint-Père in Chartres, and those for two scenes from the choir tower of the cathedral. Finally, he participated in the tomb of François I in Saint-Denis, in a way that was undoubtedly more important than we thought, as shown in an essay devoted to this work by Geneviève Bresc-Bautier.

1. Anonymous sculptor and Étienne Le Tonnelier (painter active around 1540)

The Birth of the Virgin surrounded by Saint John the Baptist

and Saint John the Evangelist
, c. 1542-1543

Polychrome Vernon stone – 71 x 192 x 18 cm

Paris, Louvre Museum

Photo : Didier Rykner

See the image in his page

The exhibition opens on a high relief of the Louvre (ill. 1), recently restored, of which the painter who gave him his polychrome, Étienne Le Tonnelier, is paradoxically known, but not the name of the sculptor. This is the only surviving element of the altarpiece of the Eleven Thousand Virgins that was in the north arm of Chartres Cathedral. Although contemporary with the work of François Marchand in Chartres, and even if the work was attributed to him by Lenoir on the pretext that at that time there was only this active sculptor – which is false – its author remains unknown. For Guillaume Fonkenell, the curator of the exhibition, this is undoubtedly an artist established between Chartres and Normandy, who turned more to northern art than to Italy.

2. François Marchand (? -1551)

St.Paul, c. 1540-1543

Alabaster – 149 x 46 x 33 cm

Chartres, Museum of Fine Arts

Photo : Didier Rykner

See the image in his page

The first part of the exhibition is therefore dedicated to the church of the Abbey of Saint-Père-en-Vallée in Chartres, today known as the Saint-Pierre church. We devoted part of an article to him on the heritage of Chartres. This one …

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