By Darla McCammon
Among the treasures to be found in Notre Dame Cathedral were the “Great Mays.” These are works of art, large paintings, averaging 10 by 13 feet in size. To give you an idea about the scale of this Cathedral, at one time there were 76 of these “Great Mays” paintings in the church. About 50 of these paintings existed before the fire. Some were lost during the French Revolution. Historically, between 1630 and 1707, during a period of over 70 years, a new painting was provided by the goldsmiths of Paris nearly every spring on May 1. So was born the title of “The Great Mays” when referring to these extraordinary paintings by a variety of excellent artists.
This tradition of May paintings was begun in honor of the Virgin Mary. Artist Charles Poërson provided a Great May in 1642 of St. Peter preaching in Jerusalem. Poërson was a pupil of Simon Vouet who was also selected to provide several of the Great May paintings. The similarity in the style of these two artists was striking, with Poërson adopting the contraposto technique in his figures as in the St. Peter example shown. Contraposto is when the artist shows a figure with all the weight on one leg, thus freeing the other leg to bend or shift. If you have a chance, look up the Great Mays. You will see a superb collection of beautiful art.
Looking at this work by Poërson gives one an idea of the grand scale of these epic paintings. During the catastrophic fire, grave concern was expressed about the relics and art within the walls of Notre Dame, including the irreplaceable “Great Mays.” A human brigade led by the fire department chaplain, in spite of the danger to themselves, rushed in during the fire to rescue relics and many of these historic pieces. As of this writing, the condition of these priceless pieces is unknown, but there is hope. Most are at the restoration facility within the Louvre to determine damage and hopefully achieve full recovery and repair.
Poërson died in 1667 but left behind a wealth of beautiful works, one of them near enough for you to take a drive to visit. The Cleveland Museum of Art, near us in Ohio, has one of his paintings in their collections but be sure you call them before driving over to be sure it is currently on display.
We will have more for you next week about this tragic fire at the world-famous Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris.
Upcoming and Current Events:
If you would like to exhibit at Warsaw City Hall Art Gallery or want to submit an event, contact Darla at [email protected] or (574) 527-4044.
- The Tri Kappa Art Show will take place at Warsaw High School from 6 to 9 p.m. May 9.
- The Dean Jansen photography exhibit will be on display at Warsaw City Hall through May 31.
- The Gallery at Rua will display the RedBird Studio art exhibit through May 19. Cardinal Services proudly displays some incredible artwork under mentor Timothy Young.
- Joel Fremion fabric collages will be on display at the Honeywell Center Clark Gallery in Wabash through June 3.
- The spring art competition is now on view at Lakeland Art Gallery, 302 E. Winona Ave., Warsaw.