Category France

The next time you’re in Vézelay tell the people with the elephant ears I said hi

We were all alone in Vézelay’s Sainte-Marie-Madeleine Abbey, the light was fading, darker, darker…and then we climbed down into the crypt.  No, not actually a horror story ending, but in fact the ending to a perfect day, a day we spent from sunup to sundown in and around one of the world’s greatest Romanesque churches. Vézelay […]

Hospices de Beaune: death’s fancy waiting room

The Chancellor of Burgundy, Nicolas Rolin, like a lot of other rich people in the 15th century, was trying to insure his place in heaven through charity to the poor.  He founded Hospices de Beaune (also known as Hôtel-Dieu) in 1443 as an almshouse during a time of terrible famine and disease. Most American guidebooks […]

The Cistercian Abbey of Fontenay: thumbs up from Bernard of Clairvaux

You know those fantastical hybrid animal monsters abounding in Romanesque church art?  They really pissed off Cistercian abbot Bernard of Clairvaux.  I love to read and re-read his attack on Romanesque art extravagances in his Apologia c. 1124: But these are small things; I will pass on to matters greater in themselves, yet seeming smaller because they […]

Rendezvous with my favorite artist, Gislebertus, at the Cathedral of Saint Lazare in Autun

The stone carvings at the Cathedral of Autun by my favorite artist, French Romanesque sculptor Gislebertus, knocked my socks off, made me laugh, and terrified me all at once.  Listen to me people: this is the real deal, some of the finest art you can ever see.  Sure, I want you to look at the pictures, […]

Abbaye Saint-Philibert in Tournus: tranverse barrel vault FOR THE WIN!

We visited stark Abbaye Saint-Philibert in Tournus on a chilly winter day.  (If you’re also visiting in winter, bundle up!)  The interior was….ingenious.  Apparently transverse barrel vaulting was invented here and it’s an engineering feet which turns the vaults that normally run the length of the church’s nave sideways, like a half barrel, and transfers the […]

Saint Sernin Basilica, Toulouse: Romanesque enchantment (just ignore the parking lot)

By now you know that I feel all warm in my ladyparts just thinking about Romanesque art and architecture, most especially French Romanesque.  The juiciest of all French Romanesque buildings are the pilgrimage churches, and Saint Sernin is a delightful representation of a French Romanesque pilgrimage church, complete with stunning well-preserved stone carvings, medieval frescos, capital carvings, an […]

Art under your arse: carvings under the choir stalls of Notre-Dame de Nantilly, Saumur

Have you read that new book on medieval church art?  It’s called Carvings Under Choir Stalls by Seymore Butts. LOL LOL LOL LOL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Okay, okay, butt seriously, the next time you’re in an old church with a wooden choir, look under the seats.  See something funny?  It’s not an appropriate space to put a holy image, […]

The Isenheim Altarpiece: a tormented, mystical and ecstatic crucifixion in a nauseatingly cute town

It’s Good Friday and I’m thinking about the pilgrimage we made to see the Isenheim Altarpiece, the bizarre crucifixion by Matthias Grunewald in Colmar, France.  This is a perfect example of an artwork I couldn’t comprehend until I saw it in person. The altarpiece was created in 1512-1515 for a hospital that treated patients suffering from skin diseases, […]

Cave paintings in Font-de-Gaume

The guide took us through a narrow passage into a dark cave. She lit her flashlight and there it was–a 16,000 year old frieze of bison. So elegant! So confidently painted! We reached the Font-de-Gaume cave in Les Eyzies-de-Tayac, Southwestern France, by train from Périgueux, followed by a 3km hike.  While waiting for our reserved […]

French people are rude and other silly stereotypes

“French people are rude”.  “French people are snobby”.  “They hate Americans over there.”  I hear this frequently, mostly from Americans that haven’t traveled much.  Where does this idea come from, that roughly 65 million French people, living out their lives in their hexagon of a country, in between munching on baguettes, are beside themselves in a […]