chapel of the Invalides in Paris. He dissimulated openings in the dome with an internal calotte in the centre of which an oculus spread light throughout the building
The generation from Soufflot (Sainte-Genevieve) to Boullee (the design of a revolutionary metropole) renounced the pathos of surprise in favour of the simpler and more contrasting effects produced by successions of dark and well-lit spaces. In his fictional work, L'An 2440, rêve s'il en fût jamais (1770-87), Louis-Sebastien Mercier articulated the religious and aesthetic objectives of an imaginary future, which might have been those of the end of the ancien régime. In his temple devoted to a somewhat pantheistic worship of the Supreme Being a dome-crowned rotunda was supported by a single line of columns and opened by four large portals; the light filtered in through transparent stained-glass windows set into the dome's summit. This lighting descended from the zenith, Mercier wrote, put the interior in contact with heaven, the elements, and the seasons.
The taste for abundant light characteristic of the French aesthetic went hand in hand with a gradually diminishing interest in architectural polychromy. In the period from the middle ofthe eighteenth century through the 1820s (e.g., in Notre Dame de Lorette), even while interest in colour was reviving following archaeological discoveries of painted decorations on Greek temples, places of worship remained committed to white. In Paris at Saint-Severin from 1699, and at Saint-Merry from 1751, medieval stained-glass windows were removed and replaced with white glass. Nevertheless, these transformations in taste did not take place without discussion. In 1754, those canons of Noyon who rejected the modernization of the choir attempted to argue (in line with the thinking of Jean-Baptiste Thiers, 1688) that a desire to see and be seen was contrary to piety, and that obscurity was more appropriate for the celebration of the sacred mysteries. The king's counsel did not uphold the argument, but in the early 1780s the canons of the Sainte Chapelle in Paris successfully blocked the plans of the royal administration to replace the thirteenth-century stained-glass windows of Saint Louis with white glass. Similarly, the white-washing of interior walls could trigger debate. In the Tableaux de Paris, Sebastien Mercier argued against the practice of replacing age-old mysterious shadow with an atmosphere so obviously profane (as in Notre Dame in Paris, 1753). In 1806, following the Revolution, Millin would echo Mercier's thoughts.
Debates such as these allow us to perceive the complex interweaving of arguments. An increased control over the cult of images after the promulgation of the canons of the Council of Trent had led to a growing scarcity of iconographic subjects and historical scenes and, by consequence, to a decline
Was this article helpful?