Bronze doors of the Madeleine
Baron Henri de Triqueti (1803-74), with assistance from Etienne-Hippolyte Maindron (1801-1884)
1834-1841 (installed 1841)
Bronze with bas-relief panels illustrating the Ten Commandments
The Madeleine, Place de la Madeleine, Paris
See commentary below
Photograph and text by Jacqueline Banerjee.
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The work was commissioned by Adolphe Thiers, who was the Minister of the Interior for the newly restored monarchy of King Louis-Philippe of France — with the assent of the royal household itself. The doors hark back to the famous ones of the Florentine Baptistry by the Renaissance sculptor Lorenzo Ghiberti, but they are four times larger than those, and twice as large as the doors of St Peter's in Rome (Galliot-Rateau 13). The idea was that they should be large enough for people to read and understand them. The point of these massive doors was, in fact, to show the might and power of the law, in an attempt to shore up the authority of the new "Citizen King" (see Ribner 85-9).
In the long run, this attempt would prove unsuccessful. In 1848, Louis-Philippe and his family fled incognito to England, and sought refuge in the Surrey residence of their son-in-law, King Leopold of the Belgians. Louis-Philippe died two years later, but his wife lived on at Claremont until 1866. After having been injured at the barricades, Triqueti, son of an industrialist and diplomat, also left for England, where his royal connections brought him major commissions and his career reached its zenith.
But the reliefs were successful in another way: as was recognised from the beginning, they are great works of art. At the very top, in the centre of the lintel, is Moses with his tablet, and on either side of him are the first two commandments (in Latin, like the others): "Thou Shalt Have No Other Gods before Me" and "Thou Shalt Not Take the Name of the Lord Thy God in Vain." Then come eight square panels with the rest of the commandments. Triqueti is generally said to have been inspired here by Ghiberti himself, and those glorious "Gates of Paradise" doors in Florence. But note that Charles Perkins, in his book about Italian sculpture which features some of Triqueti's drawings, quotes Triqueti himself as saying that Andrea Riccio's bas-reliefs in the church of S. Antonio at Padua "contain lessons sufficient to form a sculptor" (226). Though the general idea may come from Ghiberti, the dramatic Old Testament scenes in the Madeleine doors may, in fact, owe more Riccio's depictions at Padua of David with the Ark, and Judith displaying Holofernes's head, than to Ghiberti's scenes — which show events in the New Testament, and disciples and saints.
Two panels from the Madeleine doors. Left: "Thou Shalt Not Kill," showing the angels descending to console the bereaved after the murder of Abel, and drive out Cain (on the right; Gensis 4, 8-16). Right: "Thou Shalt Not Covet Thy Neighbour's Wife," showing God appearing to Abimelech in a dream, to stop him committing adultery with Abraham's wife Sarah (Genesis 20, 1-16). [Click on these images to enlarge them.]
The most important factors in the doors' success, however, are the sculptor's originality of interpretation, compositional skill, coherent vision and intensity of feeling. Despite the fierceness of prohibition, there is a great deal of sympathy. In the panels above, for example, the family of Abel is to be pitied, and there is pity too for Sarah, whom hides her face, and even for the would-be adulterer, charged in his dream. Elsewhere (see links to other panels in "Related Material" above), the warnings against breaking the commandments become even more dire precisely because of the extent of the suffering involved.
"L'Exterieur" Paroisse Catholique de La Madeleine (the church's own website, in French). Web. 12 August 2016.
Galliot-Rateau, Véronique. Henry de Triqueti, 1803-1874, Sculpteur : Collection du Musée des Beaux-Arts d'Orléans. Amis des Musée d''Orléans / Musée des Beaux-Arts d'Orléans, 2009.
Perkins, Charles C. Italian sculptors: being a history of sculpture in northern, southern, and eastern Italy. London: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1868. Internet Archive. Contributed by the Getty Research Institute. Web. 11 August 2016.
Ribner, Jonathan P. Broken Tablets: The Cult of the Law in French Art from David to Delacroix. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993. Available offsite here.
Last modified 12 August 2016