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Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Sabbatical art pilgrimage: Notre Dame du Léman Vongy

















Maurice Novarina was born in Thonon-les-Bains (Haute-Savoie) in 1907. His career as an architect began in 1933 with the construction of the church of Vongy, in the area of Thonon-les-Bains. Notre Dame du Léman was completed in 1935

Church building became a fruitful area of business – over his career he built more than 20 - which led him to work with Pére Marie-Alain Couturier, the most well known figure of the renewal of religious art after the Second World War in France, as well as many contemporary artists such as Jean BazaineFernand Léger, Alfred ManessierGeorges Rouault and Pierre Sabatier. He also built a wide range of other public buildings, including the Olympic Village at Grenoble, and in his later career was influenced by CIAM (International Congress of Modern Architecture). His masterpiece is thought to be the church of Notre-Dame De Toute Grâce du Plateau d'Assy which was decorated by Bazaine, Bonnard, ChagallLéger, LipchitzLurçatMatisse, Richier and Rouault.

Notre Dame du Léman was built because the earlier Chapel of St. Francis de Sales had become too small, as the original village became part of the more populous Thonon-les-Bains. Novarina was appointed on the initiative of the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales and the priest Fr. Ambroise Firmin. Novarina’s concern to reflect aspects of the local area in the design and decoration of this church is one of the most interesting and original aspects of his early regional style.

The church dominates the skyline of Vogny because of its 40 metre high bell tower, which can be seen from the shores of Lake Geneva. The roof of Hungarian oak is shaped like the hull of a boat and at its highest point reaches to 14 metres. The facade of the church is composed of a large triangular concrete trellis containing stained glass. There are twelve columns flanking the central front porch with a main double wooden door shaped to resemble half of a boat.

The interior is dominated by its sanctuary mosaic, made by the Mauméjean workshop, and depicting the Virgin Mary holding the infant Christ in her arms while standing on a boat with scissor sails crossing Lake Geneva accompanied by a flock of white gulls in a bright blue sky. The mosaic also includes ten Saints including St Francis de Sales who is kneeling by Lake Geneva facing the Virgin and child in order to present the church to them; he literally holds the building in his hands. The words ‘Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you’ surround the scene.

The Stations of the Cross on the nave walls are also mosaic and include the name and emblem of cities which are on the shores of Lake Geneva, in both France and Switzerland. The floor of the aisle and sanctuary is decorated with mosaics inspired by sections from the Marian Litany (Ivory Tower, Tower of David, Seat of Wisdom, Gate of Heaven, Golden House Reflection of the Sun, Vase Spiritual, Ark of the Covenant, Mystical Rose, Mother of God, Mother of Good Counsel, etc.).

The Mauméjean workshop also contributed six large stained glass windows in the nave. Interestingly these depict Our Lady blessing the work of men and women undertaking their everyday work and therefore show various trades in the locality. Mauméjean was a family workshop of master glassblowers and mosaic artists whose work spanned three generations.

Marcel Feuillat is one of several other artists and craftspeople engaged here. His tabernacle represents Our Lady of Lake Geneva crowned and seated in majesty while nursing the infant Jesus. The tabernacle is on a marble altar by the sculptor Charles Anthonioz. The chancel has a bronze door (with Boaz and Ruth depicted on the left, and the fruits of the Promised Land on the right) which is by the Lyonnais sculptor Jean Dulac. The east transept has a sculpture by François Carli, while the west has a sculpture of St Joseph by Feuillat.

Swiss artist Feuillat, who designed work in glass, gold and textiles, was a founder member in 1919 with François Baud, Alexandre Cingria, Georges de Traz and Marcel Poncet of the Group of St Luke and St Maurice which set out to defend and further the revival of religious art. Novarina would work closely with this group on the decoration of his next church, Notre Dame des Alpes at Le Fayet, where he used a similar design to this early church at Vongy. 

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Mike Scott - Bring 'Em All In.

1 comment:

j silva said...

great site and well written post..... thanks from man and van london