30 September 2012

Medieval fresques at Saint-Aignan

One thing we did this past week was go into the church at Saint-Aignan to visit the crypt with its ancient wall paintings. The church is romanesque, built in the 11th and 12th centuries.

The Saint-Aignan church is actually two churches, one built on top of the other. The lower church, which was dedicated to Saint Jean (John), was the first one built on the site.

It's amazing that the old pintings in the lower church survived through the centuries. According
to the Michelin Green Guide, the space was used as a stable and wine cellar during
the French Revolution.

The wall paintings in the Saint-Aignan church were drawn and painted between the 12th and
the 15th centuries, according to the Michelin guide.

I have to say that I have slightly enhanced the color saturation and the contrasts in these photos
to make the paintings more vibrant. The lower church is dark despite some electric lighting,
 and I believe I used my camera's flash when I took photos down there. As always,
you can click on the pictures to see them in a larger size. Often, a second click
will give you an even more detailed view.


  1. One of these days you’ll have to take me there. These frescoes are superb. In a way, they make me think of Saint-Savin-sur-Gartempe.

  2. Those wall paintings (as I imagine they are, rather than frescoes) are wonderfully lively, with great detail of contemporary costume. I had no idea they were so good. Thanks for sharing.

  3. You say wall painting if you want to, Susan. Thanks for sharing.

  4. CHM, are you sure we haven't been down there together? I'm surprised. But then, there is always so much to do. The stairs down into the lower church are very steep, and it's dark down there, with a rough dirt floor.

    Do you remember the fresques in the priory in Palluau-sur-Indre? I did a post about it (search on Palluau on the blog).

    By the way, the dictionaries give frescos or frescoes as the plural. I prefer the spelling without the e.

    Do you know if the word fresque in French translates to fresco? Collins-Robert says it does, and Michelin calls the paintings fresques. Susan seems to say they are not for some technical reason (and she loves to correct everything anybody says LOL!).

  5. Wall paintings, schmall paintings... who gives a damn... these are superb pictures of their period... and show period costume wonderfully.
    It must have been quite a trial, always, for the artist... getting the main biblical stories in a form that all the populace could understand... did it survive because it was under the replacement church and therefore ignored. Thanks for putting these up, Ken.

  6. Wow. What a vast improvement your photos are over the in-person experience, where it's really hard to see anything and you come away knowing you've seen frescoes but not exactly what.

  7. Carolyn, a lot depends on how much sunlight there is coming through the windows. But it's still gloomy in there. Bring a bright flashlight!

  8. I think painting is a loose term in English. If I say, in my living room I have several paintings does it say what they are made of or with. As a matter of fact several are pastels, one is a gouache, another is a watercolor, several are oil and a few more are just plain drawings. Am I wrong do say they’re all paintings? They certainly are pictures, though.

    OTOH fresco, as everybody knows, means fresh in Italian and it derived into fresque in French. It means the colors are applied on fresh plaster and thus mixing with it. And that’s why so many fresco[e]s have survived. If the walls were painted, it could have been at any time after the plaster had dried up and then the colors could peel off.

    That’s why I think you’re right in saying these are frescos.

    Yes, I do remember the frescos in the St Lazarre priory in Palluau as well as in Antigny near St Savin.

    On the third hand, the paintings in Lascaux are just that: paintings. Plaster wasn’t invented yet!

  9. Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious!

  10. Great enhancement of the images. I've been down in that crypt a couple of times over the years and the photos I took reflect the actual state of the frescos, i.e. quite faded in places. Your photos really make the images come alive.
    I hope Cecilia Gimenez stays far away from St. Aignan.

  11. Dean France, LOL, and faraway from any ‘œuvre d’art’ that needs restoring or otherwise!

  12. DItto what chm explained. (I was going to bring out my little bit of acquired knowledge from my Western Art History class to define fresco vs wall painting, as well, but chm beat me to it [no surprise!]). I would think that Michelin would be careful with their wording, and would not use the term fresque, unless it were, indeed, painted into the fresh plaster. Now, if we can get hold of a Michelin guide for the caves at Lascaux, and see what terminology they use to describe those wall paintings, we can settle at least that part of the discussion :)

  13. p.s. Your photos are fabulous, Ken! Magnificent job bringing forth such bright, clear photos. Add this to my list for ONE DAY, whenever I get to Saint Aignan!

    p.p.s. Dean and chm, news of Cecilia Gimenez's contributions made it all the way out her to the midwest! (Though I believe I saw mention of it first on TV5 monde.)


  14. Great photos! Ours are ok--also enhanced [we went and looked at them in august] but your 'improvements' really show how good they are. Next time we'll take a mono-pod and a good flash-light!

    Just to clarify: A fresco uses water-colour paints and is painted onto wet plaster & so soaks into the medium and lasts longer. [A wall painting or mural is painted onto a dry surface].

    We're pretty sure they're murals. As are those at St Savin.

    Either way, bottom line is they are lovely! :-)

  15. Thanks, Antoinette, CHM, Judy, Susan, Dean, Evelyn, OFG, Tim, Carolyn. So now I know a lot more about frescos, murals, and wall paintings than I ever dreamed of knowing.

    In French, according to the Robert dictionary, the word fresque is also used loosely, meaning:

    Peinture, décoration murale (fresque proprement dite, détrempe, peinture à l'huile, à l'encaustique, sgraffite, marouflage...)

    I doubt that many people know the techical difference between a fresco and a mural.

    A few minutes ago, I accidentally posted a topic I intended to post tomorrow morning. Oh well. I'll just post another one tomorrow.


What's on your mind? Qu'avez-vous à me dire ?