A Luminous Halo

"Life is not a series of gig lamps symmetrically arranged; life is a luminous halo, a semi-transparent envelope surrounding us from the beginning of consciousness to the end." --Virginia Woolf

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Location: Springfield, Massachusetts, United States

Smith ’69, Purdue ’75. Anarchist; agnostic. Writer. Steward of the Pascal Emory house, an 1871 Second-Empire Victorian; of Sylvie, a 1974 Mercedes-Benz 450SL; and of Taz, a purebred Cockador who sets the standard for her breed. Happy enough for the present in Massachusetts, but always looking East.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Angels in the Architecture

On my recent visit to Champagne, I made a pilgrimage to Cathédrale Notre Dame de Reims. Unfortunately, the approach from the river has been a bit spoiled by architecturally insignificant buildings sited too close to the road right on the last block before the cathedral. But it's not too hard to imagine the effect this monstrous Gothic edifice must have presented in earlier centuries, before the dunderheads in the zoning department ruined the view.

The unimaginably ornate western façade is what you see coming up from the river. These three figures, along with a fourth which is not visible in the photograph, comprise the Annunciation and the Visitation Groups of jamb figures on the west portals of the cathedral. They date from the early thirteenth century.

The figure of Mary on the far right is an example of Gothic classicism at its height: a full, rounded body and ample draperies. She looks exactly like a Roman matron. The figure in the middle is also Mary, but very obviously executed by a different sculptor, this time in the Parisian style. She's slender and rigidly vertical, her robes hanging in tubular folds.

The angel on her right is also slender, yet more graceful. The body is curved, the draperies ample, the hair curly, the smile enchanting. This is the so-called "elegant style" of the Parisian masters. Widespread and long popular, but never better done.

The "Sourire de Reims" was blasted to bits by a German shell during World War I. Fortunately, a cast of the statue had been made in the late nineteenth century for the Musée National des Monuments Français. The cast was used to accomplish a restoration. The cathedral and its statuary suffered yet again during World War II.

The Sourire de Reims just keeps on smiling. Angels obviously know some things that we don't.


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