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XIXth painting "Saint Joseph foster father of Christ" by Benjamin Constant (1845-1902)

Church of St. Martin
Rue du General de Gaulle

14640 VILLERS-SUR-MER

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A masterpiece in the Saint-Martin church in Villers sur mer
Hanging on the west wall of the south transept, this painting is next to the large glass roof dedicated to Saint Joseph completed in 1878.

The artist, François-Jean-Baptiste-Benjamin Constant, who adopts the name of Benjamin-Constant (1845-1902), has visited Normandy several times, but nothing indicates that he frequented Villers-sur -Sea. He studied in Toulouse from 1860 and then entered the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris in 1867 as a pupil of Cabanel. After a failure at the Grand Prix of Rome, he started at the Salon in 1869. He developed an orientalist vein after a trip to Morocco in 1871-1872 and proved to be one of the heirs of Delacroix by his subjects
(Interior of harem, museum of Lille, 1878) but also by its colors and its vibrating brush (Arab night). His numerous oriental scenes brought him success, some very large having been acquired by the State.

In the course of the 1880s, Benjamin-Constant established himself as a renowned portrait painter and a decorator painter for major projects such as the Hôtel de Ville, the Opéra-Comique and the Sorbonne, in Paris. He accumulated honors: professor at the School of Fine Arts in 1883, succeeding his master Cabanel, member of the Institute in 1893, Grand Prix of the Universal Exhibition of 1900; Knight of the Legion of Honor in 1878, he was raised to the rank of officer then to that of commander in 1901, rank of officer then to that of commander in 1901.

Less known than the famous female figures of Judith or Herodias, religious scenes from the New Testament are rather rare in the production of Benjamin-Constant (Christ at the tomb exposed at the Salon of 1882, Resurrection of Lazarus and Salome and the head of Saint Jean-Baptiste) and stand out with a dark atmosphere. Here, on the contrary, the scene bathed in a pastel softness dominated by blue and pink reflects a peaceful atmosphere. The motif of the figures seated on a terrace giving off a perspective towards a landscape in the background takes up a composition that ensured the success of the painter in several oriental paintings around 1880 (Le soir sur les terrasses, Salon de 1879, musée de Montréal ). But unlike the latter, here, the vertical construction of the painting gives the house in the foreground a completely different magnitude. It imposes its white mass and gives Jesus and his foster father a height, a status, which is no longer that of a mere mortal. Beyond an orientalism devoid of geographical realism, the mountains recalling the massif of the Moroccan Atlas more than the hills around Nazareth, Benjamin-Constant, who has not made mystery of his religious feelings, offers an imprinted representation of meditation. Without giving in to the anecdote, he renewed the iconography of Saint Joseph, proclaimed patron of the universal Church by Pius IX in 1870. Figured aged with the saw at his feet, attribute of the carpenter, and the lily, symbol of his marriage virginal, he does not carry Jesus, does not hold his hand but, seated by his side, shares with him the same horizon, as they shared for many years the humble profession of carpenter. Benjamin-Constant's clear and impassioned touch delivers this laborious complicity, this community of destiny, a powerful image, among the most successful in this orientalizing vein of religious painting.

source:

Emmanuel Luis, attaché for heritage conservation, researcher and responsible for publications at the direction of the General Inventory of Cultural Heritage, Basse-Normandie Region Divine beauty! Paintings from Lower Normandy churches, 16th-20th centuries / under the direction of Emmanuel Luis; work produced by the Basse-Normandie Region, with the collaboration of the Departments of Calvados, Manche and Orne. Lyon: Lieux Dits, DL 2015.-1 vol. (408p.): Ill. in black and in color, cover Ill. in color. ; 27cm.

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