Two rich exhibitions tell the story of the Wars of Religion

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Chantilly, Musée Condé, du 4 mars au 21 mai 2023
Paris, Musée de l’Armée, du 5 avril au 30 juillet 2023

1. Édouard Detaille (1848-1912)
The Earl Montgomery Wounding Henry II During the Tournament of 30 June 1559, c. 1902
Watercolour, gouache and graphite pencil - 132 x 111 cm
Paris, Musée de l’Armée
Photo: Musée de l’Armée
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Because the clash of arms was never far from the splendour of the Renaissance, the Wars of Religion have retained a prominent place in our collective memory: thanks to Alexandre Dumas and then Patrice Chéreau, no one has forgotten Queen Margot [1] while the blood spilt during the Saint-Barthélémy disaster ensures that it will always be present in history books. Three exhibitions are needed to best embody the richness and contradictions of this period of rupture, three exhibitions that are both different and complementary and that await their public between the Musée Condé, the Musée de l’Armée and the Musée national de la Renaissance in Écouen. If the rich Antoine Caron retrospective at the Château d’Écouen (article to come) is primarily intended for specialists, even if the historical return of the eight tapestries of the mythical Tenture of the Valois alone justifies one or more visits, Chantilly and the Invalides offer commendable efforts at contextualisation. The second half of the 16th century in France was marked by two regicides, beginning with the tragic (but accidental) death of King Henry II in the summer of 1559: François I’s son did not die on the battlefield but in the middle of Paris, during a fatal tournament whose cinematographic significance did not escape Edouard Detaille (ill. 1). Preparing for an ambitious composition to be sold in Paris in June 2021 (see brief of 3/6/21) and unfortunately absent from the exhibition, the Musée de l’Armée’s preparatory study sets the tone for the event, where the fascinating armour of the main protagonists of the period is scattered throughout the rooms of the exhibition, which is intended for both novices and specialists.

2. François Clouet (c. 1515-1572) and workshop
Renée de Rieux, Marquise de Nesle (detail), c. 1547/1552
Black stone, red chalk and blue pencil highlights - 34.2 x 46.6 cm (detail)
Chantilly, Musée Condé
Photo: RMN-GP/R.-G. Ojéda
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3. François Clouet (c. 1515-1572) and workshop
François de Coligny, Lord of Andelot, c. 1555-1558
Black stone, red chalk and blue highlights in the eyes - 34.4 x 23.7 cm
Chantilly, Musée Condé
Photo: RMN-GP/R.-G. Ojéda
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Opened at the beginning of March, the exhibition at the Musée Condé skilfully avoids the pitfall of yet another Clouet display by embellishing the portraits presented with various archive items, as the Duc d’Aumale, heir to the Montmorency and Condé families, had embarked on a policy of buying up all manner of libels, pamphlets and other chronicles of the Wars of Religion. We thus discover the beautiful Portulan of Gaspard de Coligny, admiral of France, or a bronze fragment reputed to come from one of the bells of the church of Saint-Germain-l’Auxerrois, which rang the beginning of the Saint-Barthélémy massacres on the night of 23 to 24 August 1572. This true relic of the Wars of Religion, from the collection of Alexandre Lenoir, is presented not far from the pencil portraits, among which we note that of Renée de Rieux, Marquise de Nesle, lady-in-waiting of Catherine de Médicis, who switched to the Reformation and was even one of the instigators of the surprise of Meaux, a conspiracy intended to kidnap King Charles IX, for which she was condemned to be decapitated (ill. 2). François de Coligny, lord of Andelot, also belonged to the Huguenot party and was even one of the first great lords condemned by the king, but his portrait (ill. 3) is certainly one of the most beautiful of the series, which has become very well known since Alexandra Zvereva’s seminal work (see article).

Jacques Tortorel (active in the 16th century) and Jean-Jacques Perrissin (1536-1617)
The Massacre at Vassy on 1 March 1562, 1569
Wood engraving, coloured highlights - 38.7 x 54.3 cm
Pau, Musée national du château
Photo: Mathieu Rabeau
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5. 16th century French school ?
The Sack of the City of Lyon by the Calvinists in 1562, c. 1565
Oil on panel - 98.5 x 131 cm
Lyon, Musée des Beaux-Arts, on deposit at the Musée Gadagne
Photo: Xavier Schwebe
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Acquired by the Duc d’Aumale in the 19th century, these marvellous drawings that we never tire of admiring cannot leave Chantilly, which justifies the exhibition where we would have liked to see an emblematic painting from our history books, The Assassination of the Duc de Guise by Paul Delaroche: commissioned in 1833 by the Duke of Orleans, it was bought by his brother and placed in the Tribune of the Château de Chantilly, opposite Ingres’ Antiochus and Stratonice. We can console ourselves with the images taken from the collection of engravings by Tortorel and Périssin, Huguenot Lyonnais exiled in Geneva, naturally present in the Musée Condé as well as in the Musée de l’Armée: the representation of the Wassy massacre (ill. 4) is one of the most striking. For the Protestants, this tragic episode marked the true beginning of the Wars of Religion. A month later, the Calvinists took Lyon and carried out acts of iconoclasm, the impact of which was short-lived, however, since the city remained Catholic (ill. 5).

6. View of the exhibition "La Haine des clans. Guerres de religion (1559-1610)".
Photo: Anne-Sylvaine Marre-Noël
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7. Vue de l’exposition «La Haine des clans. Guerres de religion (1559-1610)»
Photo : Anne-Sylvaine Marre-Noël
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Although the subject may seem daunting to some, it seems impossible to be bored by the exhibition at Les Invalides, which is served by a clever scenography that uses no artifice to plunge us back into the dark atmosphere of the period. Thus we come across the hanging figures (ill. 6) of the conspirators of Amboise, a vision that marked the young Agrippa d’Aubigné for life, while two display cases have been filled with various weapons pointed at visitors (ill. 7): a striking effect guaranteed. Realistic or allegorical, numerous documents also tell the story of the war of the spirits, rich in symbols: the glass with halberdiers, kept at the Château d’Écouen, was already featured in the exhibition "Enamelling glass in the Renaissance" (see article) but its Protestant context is well explained here. The in-house collections are naturally exploited: numerous suits of armour, generally taken by Napoleon from the Château d’Ambras, thus firmly embody the main male figures of the Wars of Religion. If Antoine Caron’s Les Massacres du Triumvirat, too fragile to travel, could not leave the Louvre for the Musée national de la Renaissance or the Musée de l’Armée, we can console ourselves by rediscovering the painting (ill. 8) by Hans Vredeman de Vries and Gillis Mostaert. Kept at the Musée Massey in Tarbes, it was entrusted to the restorer Séverine Françoise (Atelier Séraphin) prior to the exhibition and has been restored to its former glory.

8. Hans Vredeman de Vries (1527-1604 ?) and Gillis Mostaert (1528-1598)
The Massacres of the Triumvirate, 1570
Oil on panel - 128.5 x 221 cm
Tarbes, Massey Museum
Photo: Alexandre Lafore
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As the monarchy could not do without representations, allegory willingly yielded to the staging of royal power: the Pavane à la cour d’Henri III is thus presented not far from the other images of the Valois, where Catherine de Mecicis always seems to be watching over her precious offspring (ill. 9). Not all of Antoine Caron’s drawings made their way to the Château d’Écouen [2] and the queen mother is thus shown next to her four sons, three of whom would later become king, the death of the Duke of Alencon in 1584 having made the Protestant Henri de Navarre the sole legitimate heir to the Crown. Presented on a podium, their armour (ill. 10) materialises the fragility of this moribund dynasty shaken by the interconfessional violence that would eventually prevail. Admittedly, the picture rails covered with giant reproductions of the tapestries of the Valois Tapestry will not be to everyone’s taste, but they can only encourage the public to run and admire the originals on display at the Musée national de la Renaissance until the beginning of July! The iconic painting depicting the St Bartholomew’s Day massacre has not crossed the border: a masterpiece of the Musée cantonal des Beaux-Arts in Lausanne, it is never loaned out again, even though it would naturally have been the highlight of the exhibition.

9. View of the exhibition "La Haine des clans. Guerres de religion (1559-1610)".
Photo: Anne-Sylvaine Marre-Noël
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10. View of the exhibition "La Haine des clans. Guerres de religion (1559-1610)".
Photo: Anne-Sylvaine Marre-Noël
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The Parisian public can, however, be delighted to admire the beautiful portrait (ill. 11) of Admiral de Coligny on loan from the Library of the Société de l’Histoire du Protestantisme Français, which is on display alongside another fascinating painting from Zurich: this effigy (ill. 12) of the Cardinal of Lorraine, attributed to El Greco! Known mainly to specialists, these two paintings are certainly the finest pieces of art on display at the Invalides, but the Louvre’s Objets d’art department has also been generous, agreeing to part with the medal of Catherine de Médicis by Germain Pilon as well as the portrait of François de Lorraine, the second Duke of Guise and the cardinal’s elder brother, by Léonard Limosin.

11. 16th Century French School
Portrait of Gaspard de Châtillon, admiral of Coligny
Oil on canvas - 119 x 95 cm
Paris, Library of the Society for the History of French Protestantism
Photo: SHPF
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12. Attributed to Domenico Thetokopoulos, called El Greco (c. 1541-1614)
Portrait of Cardinal Charles of Lorraine, 1572
Oil on canvas - 178.5 x 94.5 cm
Zürich, Kunsthaus, The Betty and David Koetser Foundation
Photo: Kunsthaus Zürich
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The tour gives pride of place to the merciless war of words and images that accompanied the physical battles, naturally evoking the Catholic counter-offensive materialized by the League that held the capital: this is an opportunity to contemplate François Bunel’s painting depicting the procession that marched in arms through the capital. Last year, the Musée Condé had wisely preempted a lovely drawing by François Quesnel (see news item of 29/3/22) depicting a child wearing a flat hat and a cross, ostensibly signalling his membership of the League. Logically presented in the exhibition at the Château de Chantilly, it reminds us that young children took part in Catholic processions, and even in the executions of heretics. Accompanied by the rise of the printing press, confrontations also raged on paper, as demonstrated by the Placards affair in 1534. All levels of society were saturated with propaganda, of which some very tasty examples are presented, such as the Portrait of the new pope, a violent anti-Catholic charge that was reprinted until the 18th century. As aristocratic and political rivalries intermingled with religious conflict, monarchical power began to falter, even though Henry III created the Royal Order of the Holy Spirit in December 1578 in order to maintain or bring back the willingly dissident nobility around him (ill. 13).

13. View of the exhibition "La Haine des clans. Guerres de religion (1559-1610)".
Photo: Anne-Sylvaine Marre-Noël
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The most important order of chivalry of the Ancien Régime was indeed born during the Wars of Religion, as evoked in a display case of the Musée de l’Armée where a grand master’s coat made in 1818 for Louis XVIII but only used by Charles X, a hunting sword decorated with a knight’s reception and above all the mass made by the goldsmith François II Dujardin in 1585 are gathered. It was probably unthinkable to move the entire treasure of the Order of the Holy Spirit to the Left Bank, but it is regrettable that the exhibition project initiated by Agnès Bos has remained in limbo. The subject benefits, however, from stimulating new research as well as from the contributions of the exciting restoration work presented during the research day of 16 December 2020, when the exhibition was announced between 12 April and 24 July 2023...

14. Guillaume Richardière after Antoine Caron (1521-1599)
The Creation of the Order of the Holy Spirit, 1586
Miniature on vellum - 28.5 x 19.4 cm
Chantilly, Bibliothèque du Musée Condé
Photo: Institut de recherche et d’histoire des textes
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At the Musée Condé, we discover a superb miniature (ill. 14) representing the Creation of the Order of the Holy Spirit, acquired by the Duc d’Aumale in unknown circumstances and long considered the only remnant of the order’s book of Gospels. However, this manuscript has recently been identified in the collections of the Philadelphia Museum of Art and will soon be the subject of an article by Agnès Bos, who has already written a rich note in the Chantilly catalogue. The manuscript, which reached the United States at the end of the 19th century, was probably reworked and enriched with a copy of the miniature purchased by the Prince, probably during his British exile. The rest of the manuscript, however, appears to be intact and one can only hope that one day it will be presented in France. Initiated in January 2021, the restoration of the textiles in the chapel of the Order of the Holy Spirit was carried out by the Centre de Recherche et de Restauration des Musées de France (C2RMF) and the first results of this essential project - which mobilised eighteen specialised restorers and is estimated to have cost nearly one and a half million euros - will be presented [tomorrow at midday>] in the Michel Laclotte auditorium of the Louvre Museum.

15. View of the exhibition "La Haine des clans. Guerres de religion (1559-1610)".
Photo: Anne-Sylvaine Marre-Noël
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The Holy Spirit did not protect Henry III, who died stabbed by a fanatical Catholic monk, leaving the crown to Henry of Navarre, who had to set out to conquer his kingdom as well as his capital. He finally succeeded in pacifying people by negotiating with his many former enemies, definitively abjuring his Protestant faith so that he could be crowned in 1594. Four years later, he succeeded in concluding peace with Spain while promulgating the Edict of Nantes, a compromise text exceptionally presented to the public in the last room of the exhibition (ill. 15). If one can only advise viewing the long but fascinating introductory video, accompanied by a chronology and genealogy, a print of which is included in the catalogue to better set the scene, this exhibition, both dense and educational, is one of the highlights of the year. The astute scenography, coupled with a rich mediation, makes the most of these reputedly difficult spaces, while the thick catalogue, calling on the best specialists of the period, offers - notably through its interesting essays - a particularly welcome synthesis of a fundamental but complex period. A visit to the three exhibitions at the Musée Condé, the Château d’Écouen and the Musée de l’Armée promises to be a busy day, and no art and history lover should miss them.

"Visages des guerres de religion": Mathieu Deldicque
"La Haine des clans. Guerres de religion (1559-1610)": Laëtitia Desserrières, Christine Duvauchelle, Olivier Renaudeau and Morgane Varin

Under the direction of Mathieu Deldicque, Visages des guerres de religion, Éditions Faton, 2023, 96 p. 22 €, ISBN: 9782878443387

Under the direction of Laëtitia Desserrières, Christine Duvauchelle, Olivier Renaudeau and Morgane Varin, La Haine des clans. Guerres de religion (1559-1610), Coédition Musée de l’Armée, Paris / In Fine éditions d’art, 2023, 360 p., 39€, ISBN: 9782382031155

Practical information:

 Musée de l’Armée, Hôtel national des Invalides, 129 rue de Grenelle, 75007 Paris. Tel: +33 (0)1 44 42 38 77. Open every day from 10 am to 6 pm and until 10 pm on the first Friday of the month. Price: 15 € (reduced: 12 €). Website.

 Musée Condé, Château de Chantilly, 60 500 Chantilly. Tel : +33 (0)3 44 27 31 80. Open every day except Tuesday from 10.30 am to 5 pm. Price: 17 € (reduced 13,50 €). Website.

In this context, a reduced rate for the exhibitions Visages des guerres de Religion (Musée Condé), La Haine des clans. Wars of Religion, 1559-1610 (Musée de l’Armée) and Antoine Caron (1521-1599). Le théâtre de l’histoire (Musée national de la Renaissance), will be offered on presentation of a full-price ticket from one of the three participating institutions.

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