Painting of the XIXth century "Saint Joseph father-feeder of Christ" of Benjamin Constant (1845-1902)

Eglise Saint-Martin
Rue du Général de Gaulle



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

The artist, François-Jean-Baptiste-Benjamin Constant, who adopted the name Benjamin-Constant (1845-1902), visited Normandy on several occasions, but there is no indication that he frequented Villers-sur-Mer. He studied in Toulouse from 1860 and then entered the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris in 1867 as a student of Cabanel. After failing the Grand Prix de Rome, he made his debut at the Salon in 1869. He developed an orientalist vein after a trip to Morocco in 1871-1872 and revealed himself to be one of the heirs of Delacroix through his subjects
(Interior of a harem, Lille museum, 1878) but also by his colors and his vibrant brush (Arabian night). His numerous oriental scenes brought him success, some of them of very large size having been acquired by the State.

During the 1880s, Benjamin-Constant established himself as a renowned portraitist and decorative painter for major projects such as the Hôtel de Ville, the Opéra-Comique and the Sorbonne, in Paris. He received many honors: professor at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in 1883, succeeding his master Cabanel, member of the Institute in 1893, Grand Prix at the Universal Exhibition of 1900; Knight of the Legion of Honor in 1878, he was elevated to the rank of officer and then to that of commander in 1901.

Less well known than the famous female figures of Judith or Herodias, religious scenes taken from the New Testament are rather rare in Benjamin-Constant's production (Christ at the tomb exhibited at the Salon of 1882, Resurrection of Lazarus and Salome and the head of Saint John the Baptist) and are characterized by a dark atmosphere. Here, on the other hand, the scene is bathed in a soft pastel coloring of blue and pink, and conveys a peaceful atmosphere. The motif of the figures sitting on a terrace with a perspective towards a landscape in the background is a continuation of the composition that ensured the success of the painter in several orientalist canvases around 1880 (Evening on the Terraces, 1879 Salon, Montreal Museum). But unlike those paintings, here the vertical construction of the painting gives the house in the foreground a completely different scale. It imposes its white mass and confers on 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 Atlas Mountains of Morocco more than the hills around Nazareth, Benjamin-Constant, who has made no secret of his religious feelings, offers a representation imbued with contemplation. Without giving in to anecdote, he renews the iconography of Saint Joseph, proclaimed patron saint of the universal Church by Pius IX in 1870. Depicted as an elderly man with a saw at his feet, the attribute of the carpenter, and a lily, the symbol of his virginal marriage, he does not carry Jesus, nor does he hold his hand, but, seated at his side, he shares the same horizon with him, just as they shared the humble trade of carpenter for many years. Benjamin-Constant's clear and impasto touch delivers a powerful image of this laborious complicity, of this community of destiny, among the most successful in this orientalist vein of religious painting.

Emmanuel Luis, attaché of conservation of the heritage, researcher and responsible for the publications in the direction of the General Inventory of the cultural heritage, Region Basse-Normandie Divine beauty! Tableaux des églises bas-normandes, 16e-20e siècles / 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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