Work Mother Catherine-Agnès Arnault (1593 - 1671) and Sister Catherine de Sainte Suzanne de Champaigne (1636-1686)
Department of Paintings: French painting
Ex-Voto of 1662
© 2007 RMN / Franck Raux
This picture was painted by the artist in 1662 as an act of thanksgiving for the miraculous recovery of his daughter, a nun at the convent of Port-Royal in Paris.
A miracle resulting in a masterpiece
This painting was designed to be an ex-voto by Philippe de Champaigne. The event that gave rise to it is well-known: the artist's daughter, Catherine, a nun at Port-Royal in Paris, had been suffering since October 1660 from an illness that had caused her to lose the use of both legs. After a novena (a series of prayers and acts of devotion spread over nine days), the young woman was completely cured. This is one of the artist's finest and most personal paintings, giving thanks for his daughter's recovery, which was considered miraculous. The work was given by him to Port-Royal in 1662. After being seized at the French Revolution, this moving display of piety and gratitude became part of the Louvre collections. Since then it has remained one of the most celebrated examples of the work of Philippe de Champaigne.
A moment of grace
The composition is a very sober one. Mother Superior Catherine-Agnès Arnault kneels beside Sister Catherine de Sainte Suzanne de Champaigne who is reclining in a chair with her feet raised. It is the moment when the prayers for the young woman's recovery are over and the mother superior receives the revelation that she is healed. The bare cell has only a single crucifix by way of decoration, and so all attention is directed towards the faces with their look of religious serenity. Champaigne once again demonstrates his talents as a portraitist by depicting strikingly authentic figures. The austerity of the surroundings is enlivened by the subtle working of the clothes, which are almost sculptural, highlighting the solemn grandeur of the moment. The palette of colors is restrained, dominated by the ivory of the women's garments and the grey-brown of the whole picture. Only the red crosses sewn on the habits stand out.
The miracle, which is entirely physical, takes place in an atmosphere of contemplative silence. The inner, spiritual dimension is what is emphasized. The meaning of the picture is to be found in the faces, which radiate a sense of the heavenly mystery taking place. With its restraint and simplicity, the picture presents a Jansenist approach to the miracle. Jansenism was a religious movement with which the painter had close ties, and which gave priority to divine initiative, or determinism, over human freedom. A long Latin inscription explains the scene and gives an archaistic, iconic flavor to the picture.
Philippe de CHAMPAIGNE (Brussels, 1602 - Paris, 1674)
Ex-Voto of 1662
Oil on canvas
H. : 1,65 m. ; L. : 2,29 m.
Mother Catherine-Agnès Arnauld (1593-1671) and Sister Catherine de Sainte Suzanne Champaigne (1636-1686), daughter of the artist
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