Sci­en­tists crack mys­tery of the luck­less apos­tles of Paris

Kuwait Times - - LIFESTYLE -

Hav­ing lost their heads, been pulled from their plinths, smashed and even buried, things are at last look­ing up for some of the un­luck­i­est stat­ues in Chris­ten­dom. For five cen­turies the 12 apos­tles looked down on the ador­ing hordes who mar­veled at the Sainte-Chapelle in Paris, ar­guably the great­est Gothic ed­i­fice ever build. Stand­ing be­tween its spec­tac­u­lar stained glass win­dows-one of the won­ders of the me­dieval world-they could have been for­given for feel­ing smug hav­ing sur­vived the Re­for­ma­tion with­out a scratch.

But the stat­ues were caught in the whirl­wind of not just one French revo­lu­tion but two, and since then his­tory has been less than kind. Un­til now that is. A team of French sci­en­tists are at last re­veal­ing their orig­i­nal col­ors and forms from 1248 when they first stood guard over one of the most revered of Chris­tian relics, the crown of thorns that Christ re­put­edly wore on the cross. French king Louis IX built the stag­ger­ingly beau­ti­ful pri­vate chapel to house the relics af­ter buy­ing them from the cash­strapped Latins who sacked Con­stantino­ple in 1204 and be­gan strip­ping the Byzan­tine cap­i­tal of its trea­sures.

The cru­sader king, who was later made a saint, also ac­quired parts of the True Cross and the Holy Lance for the chapel, which backed onto his royal palace. Six of the most heav­ily dam­aged of the apos­tle stat­ues are now be­ing an­a­lyzed by the French mu­se­ums' restora­tion and re­search cen­tre, known as C2RMF, at its lab­o­ra­to­ries un­der­neath the Lou­vre.

Off with their heads

Its direc­tor of sculp­tures Alexan­dra Ger­ard told AFP that as well tak­ing tiny sam­ples from "the sand­wich lay­ers" of paint to find the first coat un­der a mi­cro­scope, ex­perts were also try­ing to crack the puz­zle about how the much-dam­aged, re­paired and re­painted stat­ues were first made. Us­ing X-rays and ul­tra­vi­o­let scans they have been able to cast new light on stat­ues whose nick­names are vaguely rem­i­nis­cent of the Seven Dwarves, from "The Melan­cholic" and "The Philoso­pher" to the "Head­less One". But the most ex­cit­ing po­ten­tial dis­cov­ery for the Cluny Mu­seum of the Mid­dle Ages in Paris, where the six badly dam­aged apos­tles are held, is how dif­fer­ent the orig­i­nal col­ors were.

"The stat­ues in the Sainte-Chapelle now are very highly coloured like its stained glass," said cu­ra­tor Damien Berne. "How­ever, it seems that in the 13th cen­tury they had a very dif­fer­ent chro­matic range" which may have been de­signed so "the apos­tles stood out" from the win­dows. Although tests are still go­ing on to con­firm the find­ings, he said the statue known as "The Melan­cholic" may also not have been quite so down in the dumps as he now seems.

His head may sim­ply not have been put back on his shoul­ders cor­rectly af­ter he was roughed up by French rev­o­lu­tion­ar­ies. The stat­ues' vi­cis­si­tudes be­gan in the tu­mul­tuous decade af­ter the fall of the Bastille in 1789.

Torn down and buried

Torn down from their plinths they were un­cer­e­mo­ni­ously cast aside; two ended up bro­ken and buried un­der a pave­ment and the oth­ers were dis­persed to var­i­ous store­houses and mu­se­ums. They fared even worse in the revo­lu­tion of 1830, when four lost their heads to ri­ot­ers. But for a pi­ous old woman who man­aged to pick up and hide the heads they would have been lost for­ever. While restor­ing the chapel in 1840 the ar­chi­tect Felix Duban tried to put all the stat­ues back in their place.

But the four de­cap­i­tated saints and the two buried ones were judged to be be­yond re­pair and handed on to the Cluny Mu­seum. Yet some­where along the line an­other head had gone astray. In the mean­time the sur­viv­ing apos­tles and six plas­ter re­place­ments got a strik­ing Gothic Re­vival paint job which en­dures to this day. Af­ter the tests are com­pleted, the Cluny Mu­seum-which houses France's main col­lec­tion of me­dieval trea­sures-hopes to have the stat­ues cleaned so that they can be in­stalled in their own gallery in 2020. By then "maybe we will have found which apos­tle is the true owner of the 'charm­ing' lit­tle foot" which lan­guishes leg­less in the mu­seum's stor­age, said Berne. — AFP

This file photo shows Her­itage Cu­ra­tor of the Cen­tre for Re­search and Restora­tion of Mu­se­ums of France (C2RMF) Alexan­dre Ger­ard ex­am­in­ing poly­chrome stone stat­ues be­long­ing to the Mu­seum of Cluny, the ‘apos­tles of the Sainte Chapelle’ be­fore their restora­tion in Paris. — AFP pho­tos

Alexan­dre Ger­ard ex­am­in­ing poly­chrome stone stat­ues be­long­ing to the Mu­seum of Cluny, the ‘apos­tles of the Sainte Chapelle’ be­fore their restora­tion in Paris.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Kuwait

© PressReader. All rights reserved.