JESUS LIVING IN MARY:
HANDBOOK OF THE SPIRITUALITY OF ST. LOUIS DE MONTFORT

   

ICONOGRAPHY    


Summary
I.	Montfort the Artist: 
	1.	Youth; 
	2.	Art in service of the mission: 
		a.	A restorer of churches and chapels, 
		b.	The Calvary of Pontchâteau, 
		c.	An inspired producer. 
II.	Montfort the Statue Maker: 
	1.	The Virgins of Roussay; 
	2.	The Virgins of Choletais; 
	3.	Our Lady of Wisdom; 
	4.	The Crucifix of Saint-Lazare; 
	5.	The Little Virgin and Child. 
III.	Montfort Iconography: 
	1.	The Rennes Paining; 
	2.	The Beauvoir painting; 
	3.	Grotesque iconography and statuary; 
	4.	The evolution of the Montfort image in the twentieth 		
		century.
    

I. Montfort the Artist

1. Youth

From an early age, Louis Marie had a taste for the arts, a feeling for the beautiful. Gifted with an uncommon intelligence and a studious pupil of the Jesuits at Rennes, he became interested as a youth in poetry and painting. These two activities earned the young artist a reputation as an eccentric.1

His fellow student, Jean-Baptiste Blain, called the free time he devoted to drawing and painting "innocent." He went on to say: "If he had any other more natural [talent], he limited himself to painting, for which he had a special taste and flair. If he had cultivated it, he most certainly would have excelled without a teacher. He taught himself how to draw very well and to paint miniatures. He had such a facility for art that he had only to see something in order to reproduce it. A painter he visited was so astounded that he used to stop working and hide everything related to his craft the moment the young Grignion came to his door. He wanted money if he was to become more receptive to the young man. But Louis Grignion had none (his uncle2 told me this since I came back). Providence blessed him with a small but rather singular stroke of luck. A small, well-executed devotional painting fell into the hands of the young school boy, and he copied it so well that it was a perfect likeness of the original. A man who had a liking for this kind of work saw it and was so satisfied with it that he gave him a golden louis for it. It was this money that enabled the young Grignion to have better access to the painter."3

At the age of nineteen, Louis Marie left Rennes for Paris. There, under the aegis of the Saint-Sulpice Seminary, was a community of poor ecclesiastical students under the direction of M. de la Barmondière. Neither the historical monuments nor the many great palaces that gave the capital its reputation attracted Louis’ interest. Fr. Blain notes: "The first thing Grignion sacrificed at the outskirts and entrance to Paris was his curiosity. He made a pact with his eyes not to let them see anything that could give them pleasure . . . nothing of that opulence, that splendor, of so many rare objects and art masterpieces that make Paris the most beautiful city in the world and attract so many strangers."4 On the other hand, he often doffed his hat to salute a statue of the Blessed Virgin that otherwise caught no one’s eye. "One day," Blain goes on, "surprised at seeing him doff his hat so often to someone unseen, I asked him who he was greeting. And he answered me that he was paying his respects to the images of the Blessed Virgin on the doors of the houses; they were indeed there but so indistinct that I had to strain to see them."5 In Rennes and in Paris, he used to spend a long time admiring the statues of Mary adorning the Marian shrines and the altars of the Virgin. It is likely that he had begun to sculpt replicas of these "images."

Finding drawing to be a more "secular" art than sculpting statues and composing hymns, he resolved to sacrifice this artistic diversion. But his superior, Fr. de la Barmondière, found him to have a "great predisposition" for painting as well as for sculpture, architecture, and the other fields of knowledge requiring "a fine imagination." He ordered Louis Marie to cultivate and develop his talents. The future would justify the wisdom of that decision.

2. Art in service of the mission

Montfort was able to give free reign to his artistic soul during his days as an itinerant missionary. At the start of his career, he was an "apprentice" to such famous missionaries as Fr. Leuduger. Not wanting him to appear odd, they allowed him little expression for his many talents. During his later years in La Rochelle, he convincingly demonstrated that a fiery apostle and missionary could also be a genuine artist.

a. A restorer of churches and chapels.

Appointed chaplain to the general hospital in Poitiers, Montfort busied himself there with projects that combined spiritual and material restoration. Wishing to obtain greater cleanliness and hygiene in the institution, he wanted to repair its chapel.6 But a conspiracy forced him to leave the hospital before he was able to realize this plan. Desiring to become a missionary, he started his new apostolate in Montbernage, a working-class district near the church of St. Radegonde. There he transformed the barn of La Bergerie from a dance hall into the chapel of Our Lady Queen of All Hearts. In the middle of this improvised oratory he placed a crucifix. He decorated the walls with fifteen standards, representing the fifteen mysteries of the Rosary. On one of the supports of the Joubert bridge existed the ruins of a little oratory dedicated to the Queen of the Angels. Built in the thirteenth century, it had been damaged by a flooding of the Clain river and later wrecked by the Huguenots. Under the guise of a memorial mission, Montfort undertook to restore the chapel. Upon its completion he placed in it a Madonna. He did the same thing with the so-called Temple of St. John, where modern archaeologists had found Gallo-Roman remains. In principle, the clergy did not oppose its restoration, especially since Montfort intended to dedicate this future oratory to St. John the Apostle. This explains the capricious remark of the dean of the chapter of canons: "Fr. Grignion, weren’t you transported to the island of Patmos, where God revealed to you that He wanted you to rebuild the Temple of St. John?" The missionary took up a collection for this work. He received many unexpected gifts. Volunteers helped him to transport stones and sand. As a result, in only a few months the Temple was restored "from top to bottom." This led the astonished people of Poitou to say, "Only a saint could have accomplished such a feat!"

In 1707, Montfort offered his services to a missionary team from Saint-Brieuc. People used to say that when St. Vincent Ferrer was preaching a mission there in 1417, he stood before the ruins of the chapel of Our Lady of Pity and exclaimed: "There will come a man who will be much badgered and ridiculed but despite it all will finish its restoration." During a mission three centuries later, Montfort took up the challenge. This restoration was to be his first great work. He drew up the plans, gathered the craftsmen, ordered the statues from a sculptor in Nantes, and directed their transport and installation. During some rare leisure moments in his itinerant missionary life, Montfort would often return to La Chèze to see the completion of the chapel, "one of the most beautiful in the diocese," according to Fr. Besnard.

Dismissed by Dom Leuduger, Fr. de Montfort went off to Montfort-la- Cane, his birthplace. There he found shelter in the priory of Saint- Lazare. For years this former house for lepers had fallen into disuse. It had become a two-family farm. For Louis Marie, Saint-Lazare was far from unknown. His grandfather had been the seneschal and sole judge there in 1666. And his own father, Jean-Baptiste Grignion, had been its farmer general. In Saint-Lazare as well, St. Louis Marie cleaned the chapel and restored order to it. More will be said later about Montfort’s stay in Saint-Lazare.

In the diocese of Nantes there are several churches that Montfort restored. At the time, the general custom was to bury the dead in the church buildings. Arriving at the church of Campbon in February 1709, he found it in a sorry state. On its grimy walls hung the black mourning band with the coat of arms of the Coislin dukes. Tombstones were strewn everywhere.7 First Montfort had the tombstones returned to the graveyard. Then he had the masons, stonecutters, and painters brighten the church itself. A few days later he got into trouble with seigniorial justice for whitewashing over the arms of the Duc de Coislin, the chief lord of the parish.

At Crossac, Montfort repeated his Campbon exploit. Fortified by several judgments of the Brittany parliament against those who wished to continue burying their dead in the church, the missionary profited from the good will of the parishioners and had them sign, before a notary, a surrender of their right to entombment inside the church building. After this, he had the tombstones removed and the sanctuary of the church paved, whitened, decorated, and repaired.

In the diocese of Luçon, he restored the chapel of Our Lady of Victory at La Garnache. In the diocese of La Rochelle, he restored the chapel of Our Lady of Patience at La Séguinière, and the church at Mervent.

Little by little, Montfort became aware of the advantage to be derived from having laypeople or religious assist him in the work of parish missions. Moreover, we know that Montfort, as founder of the Missionaries of the Company of Mary, had formally foreseen in his Rule that "lay Brothers [be] admitted into the Company to take care of temporal affairs provided they are detached, robust, and obedient, ready to do all they are told to do" (RM 4). And in W, he said: "I have no private money belonging to me, but there are 135 pounds belonging to Nicholas of Poitiers." Grandet points out that Montfort had sent "Brother" Nicholas to Poitiers to learn the "craft of sculptor" so that he might be able to decorate churches.8 In RM, he stipulated that the Missionaries of the Company of Mary were to explain the prayers and the mysteries of the Rosary "either by instructions or by pictures and statues which they have for this purpose" (RM 57).

b. The Calvary of Pontchâteau.

The Calvary of Pontchâteau in the diocese of Nantes remains Montfort’s masterpiece, a monumental mission memorial that demonstrated his genius as an architect of religious art. Inspired by the achievements of Mont- Valérien, Montfort wanted an artificial mountain to become the "Holy Land" of the West of France—since "The Turk still keeps Holy Calvary / Where Jesus Christ died" (H 164:1). "The missionary engineer had drawn three concentric circles. The first marked the location of the Calvary. Between the second and the third, moats hollowed out by clearing away the shrubbery surrounded the holy mountain and protected it. A bit farther away, beyond the third circle, 150 fir trees were planted, intersected by fifteen cypresses that formed an immense rosary around the cross. A few chapels recalled the mysteries of Jesus and Mary."9 "The Calvary Fr. de Montfort built a few leagues from Nantes, at so great an expense and labor, is a testimony without equal of the grace God gave him and the power he had over people’s hearts. This work, which a governor of a province would scarcely have undertaken, and which would have cost a prince a vast amount of money, was not only attempted, but completed by the poorest of all priests. According to what people told me, he called upon farmers and laborers from ten or twelve leagues around and some from even farther away to work there. And these poor folk came to do his bidding with a zeal animated by his own, in throngs and thousands, to give their day, their sweat, and their painful efforts to a man who had no salary or recompense to give them other than what heaven could supply. I heard that over twenty thousand men came to work there, and since these men were not looking to waste the time they so freely gave for the love of God, each of them took a heavier load than two salaried people would have done, which is easy to believe. What happened was that this immense work of building a Calvary, which would have taken even a prince with fifty thousand men several months to build, was finished in relatively little time by the care and blessed ingenuity of a missionary zealot."10 Its enormous size was the very reason for the loss of the Calvary of Pontchâteau. Fearing that the English might land on the coast and use its moats as trenches and its chapels as blockhouses, a royal edict ordered its demolition in 1710.

c. An inspired producer.

A century after the death of their founder, the Missionaries of the Holy Spirit of Saint-Laurent-sur-Sèvre (as the Company of Mary was then called) were renowned for the splendor of their "mission pageants." They were a unique characteristic of Montfort’s missions. Indeed, Montfort had an innate sense of how to create a religious production. He composed real medieval mystery plays and never hesitated to participate in a play himself, even to taking the part of a dead man on his way to judgment.

A handwritten page of Montfort’s gives the details of the production, along with a supporting sketch, of a short mystery play of 650 verses entitled "The Abandoned Soul Delivered from Purgatory by the Prayers of the Poor and Children" (H 127). Here is the complete text: "Dialog in the form of a canticle. Preface. In order to sing this dialog in a manner acceptable to God, edifying to our neighbor, and of benefit to the souls in Purgatory, it is necessary to:

1. Begin with the Veni Creator Spiritus: Accende lumen sensibus; and then the Ave maris stella: Monstra te esse Matrem.

2. There must be twenty characters: God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit, the Blessed Virgin, the Guardian Angels, the Devil, the Abandoned Soul, Four Suffering Souls, Four Living Souls, Geneviève, Catherine, Agnes, Françoise, Armelle. And this is not counting the angels who surround God’s throne nor the poor who will be praying in unison.

3. Each character learns his songs by heart, sings them unhurriedly, and will practice the ceremonies of which he is a part. Set up five chairs with the middle one higher than the others, and the actors will be positioned pretty much in this way: [there follows a small drawing by the author]."

The young Louis Marie certainly relished the great procession of the "consecration," which made Montfort-la-Cane famous throughout Brittany at the end of the seventeenth century. The whole city turned out. Behind the mayor and the aldermen were the harquebusiers, mounted or on foot, the count, represented by his squire, the dignitaries of the seigniorial court, with the herald of arms in his fancy hoqueton, the six paymasters carrying the chief banners of their parishes, the members of the various brotherhoods with their respective ensigns and standards, the troop of musicians that had come from Rennes, and the four chief worthies carrying the canopy. This was a format that one day would be reintroduced and brought to perfection by Montfort. The bishop of Saint- Malo personally carried the Blessed Sacrament. He was then greeted with great pomp at the town hall, a canon was fired, and upon their return a reception was held.11

Claude Masse, a military engineer at La Rochelle, had the good idea of sketching in comic-strip form the closing procession of the women’s mission on August 16, 1711. Actually, this picturesque report proves Montfort to be a past master in the art of spectacular processions. In the mind of the saint, nothing was too beautiful for the eyes of God.

Here is the text of the explanatory captions that accompany Claude Masse’s drawing: "A. Banner of the Jacobin Fathers (Dominicans), before which marched a large number of people of both sexes. B. A group of daughters of the common people, barefoot and dressed in white. C. A white standard for the same. D. A group of the daughters of merchants, most of whom were barefoot, carrying a cross, a candle, a rosary and a picture on which was written: contract of renewal of baptismal promises. E. A blue standard for the daughters of the townsfolk. F. Brother Mathurin,12 missionary assistants, keeping the marchers in order and leading the singing of the different songs. G. The clergy also controlling and ordering the march and leading the singing of hymns. H. A red standard for married women, a few of whom were barefoot. I. Another standard for the young ladies of the town. K. Two ladies carrying torches. L. Two gunners’ oboes that were played at the close of each of the verses sung by the women. M. The banner of Our Lady of the Seven Sorrows. N. A black and white standard for the Sisters of the Dominican Third Order. O. Navy men to maintain order and keep back the crowds present at various places. P. The cross of the Dominican Fathers with the rosary around it. Q. The chief dance masters and violinists of the town, whom the Father missionary railed against in his sermons and who were paid with a good supper, like the sargents and soldiers. R. Fr. Chauvet, the hospital chaplain and dispenser in reserved cases. S. Fr. M. Grignion,13 the missionary’s brother, who held a few procession rehearsals inside and outside the town in order to familiarize the women with its rubrics; he almost always carried the book of Gospels.14 T. Fr. de Montfort, missionary and secular priest of the province of Brittany; he had given several missions, always using the rosary as a principle. V. Fr. Colusson, a Jesuit seminary professor, who followed a part of the procession. X. The Dominican Fr. Doiteau, who always accompanied the missionary in his processions. Y. Sergeants and soldiers from the regiments of Angles and La Lande, then garrisoned at La Rochelle, to control the crowds."15 "This procession of women," Masse adds, "started at two o’clock from the Dominican church and passed in front of the town hall, where the Maréchal de Chamilly, then commander in this province, watched them march by along with the members of his court, which created quite an imposing spectacle. Women carried standards, and all sang the hymns and anthems in the missionary’s style to all the latest tunes."


II. MONTFORT THE STATUE MAKER

Quérard notes that in his traveling missionary team, Montfort had "a sculptor and a painter, whom he directed in the decorating of churches, chapels, and calvaries." But Grandet, whom he quotes, had added a moralizing intention that annoyed the purists: "On his missions he always had a painter and a sculptor with him in order to cover or redo those pictures and statues of the saints that were offensive or badly done."

In his leisure moments, Montfort himself became a sculptor. Tradition attributes to him a number of statues and other sculptures. Knowing Montfort’s taste for the plastic arts and his love for Our Lady, it is almost certain that he made most of them, despite the lack of written documentation.

1. The Virgins of Roussay (May 1714)

"People have preserved as relics a few objects that belonged to the saint: a pearwood statue of Mary in the parish church, two other statuettes of the Blessed Virgin that were donated by him and adorn his restored chapel."16

2. The Virgins of Choletais

Maurice Laurentin made a special study of this series of Madonnas in Saint-Laurent, La Séguinière, and Saint-Amand attributed to the saint. He concluded: "Examination and comparison both favor the tradition. They [the Madonnas] are a bit clumsy and were obviously not done by a professional but by an amateur who had before him a fine statue that he copied. They reveal the gaps in training and the hesitancy of a gifted sculptor, but one who had little experience and who had never fully grasped the laws of anatomy and the rules of modeling. But they are not without skill. They have the charm of the feeling that inspired them. . . . They possess that essential quality of a sacred work which Paul Doncoeur calls chastity. They attract attention neither by their beauty nor by their worth. They do not move the art lover or dilettante in us. But they do move the believer. . . . Looking at these relics, a Christian understands the soul of a saint and the secret of his inspiration. For him the work of art was a means of action, a lasting sign of his spiritual teaching, and an instrument of an interior reform."17

The chief proof of the authenticity of all the works attributed to Fr. de Montfort is that they reveal a similar technique. The sculptures depict the Virgin draped like a patrician, holding the child with a globe in his hand. In their own way, they illustrate a trilogy of Montfort characteristics: 1) Mary, 2) who is utterly submitted to Jesus Christ, 3) who is the Savior of the world.

These signs of Montfort authenticity take on further importance when we compare these later works (1713-1715) with those earlier sculptures correctly attributed to the talents of Louis Marie. This brings us to the period in Montfort’s life when he had been dismissed by Dom Leuduger and he had made his headquarters the priory of Saint-Lazare in Montfort, his birthplace. While there, he had some auspicious moments of "free time" at his disposal. This allowed him to use his artistic talents. We owe to this period a number of striking works.

3. Our Lady of Wisdom

Once the chapel of the old priory had been cleaned, Montfort immediately began to decorate it. He sought to make it a complete artistic unity, one that reflected his unique missionary vision. In addition, he decided to turn the priory into the oratory for the first Montfort community (with Brothers Mathurin and Jean). Above the altar he placed a dove with silver wings, the symbol of the Holy Spirit, and below it the name of Jesus in large letters. Lastly, on the altar itself he placed the statue of Our Lady of Wisdom. In the sanctuary he installed a priedieu supporting a long rosary, whose chain was in forged iron with beads the size of walnuts. There was enough room to allow several people to recite it at the same time.18

4. The Crucifix of Saint-Lazare

The so-called Saint-Lazare crucifix is preserved in the bedroom where, according to tradition, Fr. de Montfort stayed. It is of the same rather clumsy technique mentioned by Laurentin about the Virgins of Choletais, as is the following piece.

5. The Little Virgin and Child

This is the little statue that Montfort carried on the top of his walking stick.

The authenticity of the first two such Madonnas that Montfort made is beyond question. They served as models for the later sculptures that we have described above. Later other statuettes of the Virgin in the same Montfort style were discovered. All came from the religious communities of Saint-Laurent-sur-Sèvre. One of them, which had been given to the Daughters of Wisdom of Mont-Saint-Michel, has been carefully preserved by the community of Pontorson.


III. Montfort Iconography

Besnard (1717-1788), the third successor of Louis de Montfort, gives the following portrait of him: "He was of above average height with a robust constitution. He had a noble manner with an air of kindness about him. He was considerate, affable, and good-natured. He had rather ruddy cheeks, a long face, a high and broad forehead, with large bright eyes that were often self-effacing, a gently aquiline nose, as people picture him, with a somewhat prominent chin, straight and quite short chestnut hair falling softly on the top of his head just above his forehead."

Besnard wrote these lines in 1767, some fifty years after Montfort’s death. Although he may not have known the great missionary, he was on the mission band for five years with Fr. René Mulot, the saint’s second recruit. Even then Montfort iconography had already begun to be marketed throughout France in response to Fr. de Montfort’s growing fame. When Fr. Adrien Vatel, the saint’s first recruit (1715), announced Montfort’s death to the superior of the Seminary of the Holy Spirit in Paris, he was able to include with his letter "two little engravings (or images)" of Fr. de Montfort.19 This presupposes that working drawings for the engravings had already been made even before Montfort’s death. Fr. Besnard was able to see these two engravings again in Paris in 1767. Is this engraving among those preserved in the Bibliothèque Nationale? We do not think so, since all of those engravings mention Fr. de Montfort’s death. Furthermore, the engraving showing the Calvary of Pontchâteau gives such a tiny sketch of the missionary that nothing worthwhile can be obtained from it.

We possess two portraits of Montfort that might be called "prototypes," since it is apparent that they were used as models for all subsequent iconography of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

 

1. The Rennes painting

Fr. Fernand Fradet writes: "When Marie Louise of Jesus, the first Daughter of Wisdom, came to Rennes in 1724, called there by the woman who was President of Montigny to set up the first school of her Congregation, she discovered, among the few pieces of furniture left to the institution by its first benefactress, a portrait of the founder, still jealously preserved today in the private clinic of Rennes. What was the origin of this canvas? May it be supposed that Montfort consented to pose for it? Did his universally benevolent charity allow him to give in to the entreaties of some noble friend? It is too bad that history gives us no details."20 The author begins from the hypothesis that the Rennes painting was done during Montfort’s lifetime. But there seems to be a simpler explanation. This painting was taken from Saint-Laurent-sur-Sèvre after Fr. de Montfort’s death. The Marquis de Magnanne21 was staying in Rennes in 1714 with M. Bédouèt d’Orville— both of them were friends of the great missionary—when he acquired the house that was to become the first residence of the Daughters of Wisdom. In 1720, hence after Montfort’s death, the Marquis entrusted the school founded by the saint to Mademoiselle Elisabeth Dauvaise, another great benefactress of the work of Fr. de Montfort. It is highly likely, then, that on May 12, 1722, when one of the representatives of Mademoiselle Dauvaise from Nantes took possession of the school in Rennes, she brought the famous painting along with her luggage.

The explanation Fr. Fradet gave of the original painting is even more valid for the Rennes canvas. "It is possible that a member of his family [Dupleix] was in Saint-Laurent-sur-Sèvre at the time of the Saint’s death and that he was allowed to reproduce the features of the missionary as he lay on his deathbed."22 It is probable that an artist made a quick death sketch, which then served as a model for the first painter. "The features of this odd painting are those one would find in the countless portraits that were to follow. Only the body was made to stand up. The hands remained joined and the eyes lowered. Later they were half opened in order to give the face a more lifelike expression. All that had to be done now was to surround the saint with the things that he loved best and were the symbols of his work."23

The fact that the original was "recumbent" explains the emaciated face and the extremely aquiline profile that successive reproductions were to exaggerate to the point of caricature. Besnard pointed this out in 1767. We may therefore rightly look upon the Rennes painting as the prototype and the Beauvoir painting as only a copy.

2. The Beauvoir painting

In 1888, the year of Fr. de Montfort’s beatification, Fr. Deval, a Montfort missionary, was preaching in Beauvoir-sur-Mer, Vendée. He paid a visit to the octogenarian widow Dupleix in the company of the pastor of the parish. In her room, he noticed a painting that amazed him because the figure in the painting resembled the customary portraits of Fr. de Montfort.

"Convinced that he was in the presence of a genuine portrait and one painted by an eyewitness, he did not hesitate to ask Madame Dupleix for the old painting.’ ‘Never!’ she replied, ‘It is a painting that has been in my family for more than 150 years and must belong to the eldest of my children. I must leave it therefore to my eldest son, who is an officer. You may offer me many gold pieces for it, but I will never give it up, since our family cares about it so much.’ ‘But, Madame, you can’t refuse. I think it is the portrait of Fr. de Montfort, who has just been beatified. Would you know the origin of this painting?’ ‘Undoubtedly it is by a family member, since we are so attached to it.’ ‘If you are willing to give it to me, I will pay for a beautiful statue of Blessed Louis Marie for the church in Beauvoir, and I would come and preach a triduum for its installation.’ What the pastor had to say sounded like Montfort speaking, and soon Madame Dupleix gave in, saying that the replacement would please her son. The priest took away the treasure. It is what is called the ‘Rome picture,’ the most venerable and authentic of the portraits, since it is a barely retouched copy of the canvas. It shows the actual features of Fr. de Montfort as they were on the last day of his life."24

3. Grotesque iconography and statuary

Up to the beginning of the twentieth century, no one dreamed of being offended by the pictures of Montfort that today seem so grotesque to us. It is quite odd to note that there were fewer of the engravings and holy pictures inspired by the Rennes canvas in circulation than copies of the first pictures preserved in the Biblio-thèque Nationale, which had been so badly recast. When there was a need to provide the areas that had been evangelized by Montfort with statues of his likeness, sculptors outdid themselves in the art of ugliness and caricature. In the Vendée we can still hear the expression "ugly as a Grignion." Proof of such distortions can be found in the ugliness of Montfort’s statue in the Mervent grotto and the gruesome painting by Michel Poussin in the hermitage of Saint-Eloi in La Rochelle.

4. The evolution of the Montfort image in the twentieth century

Today painters and sculptors have attempted to give Montfort a "better face." The results have been uneven. There have been different interpretations of the image of Montfort, based on the artistic taste, spirituality, and cultural period of the artists and those for whom they are creating. The richness and complexity of Montfort’s personality lend themselves to varied and almost contradictory images.

Several artists, especially at the beginning of the century, portrayed Montfort as a contemplative who lived for Wisdom and who consecrated himself totally to Christ through Mary. Typical in this regard were the two Carrara marble statues from the chisel of the famous sculptor Paolo Bartolini. One is placed in front of the great Gothic chapel of the Daughters of Wisdom in Saint-Laurent-sur-Sèvre. The other is the Mary Queen of All Hearts statue, venerated in Rome at the shrine on the Via Romagna. The same attitude of ecstatic contemplation can be seen in the statue of Montfort, sculpted by H. Elström, in the church of Mary Mediatrix in Louvain and in the painting by G. Pranovi (1964) in the Montfort Marian Center in Rome. It depicts Montfort in solitude at the rue Pot-de-Fer in Paris. The colossal statue of Montfort in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome deserves special mention. The sculptor Galileo Parisini (1948) translated into marble TD 114, on the fate of the "little book," in which with a motion of his hand the saint stops the devil from tearing it up.

From a popular perspective, another statue remains noteworthy. It is in the house where the saint was born in Montfort-sur-Meu. It depicts Montfort walking along, singing his famous hymn: "So it is, throughout the world I run . . . / To save my poor neighbor" (H 22:1). In the same house, the Montfort artist Alessandro Leidi (1980s) depicts in his magnificent ceramic work a young Louis Marie with common but pleasant features. Jap Min created a cycle of paintings in 1953 for the chapel of the Montfort scholasticate at Oirschot in Holland. We see Montfort taking his pen from Mary’s Heart in order to write TD. Another shows the saint carrying the poor man of Dinan, who bears the features of the crucified Christ. Another depicts Montfort as the apostle of the latter days as he moves forward into the fire to destroy the reign of Belial and restore that of Jesus Christ.

During the 1990s something new was introduced into Montfort art, the use of the icon. Following the rules of Russian and Greek icon painting, Vittoria Paravicini Bagliani produced an icon of Montfort in front of the grotto of Mervent; it leads into the interior world of the saint and into the mysteries he lived and proclaimed (1992).

Lastly, the so-called Montfort Canada statue, at the entrance to the Montfort Marian Center in Montreal. The Austrian artist Josef Zenzmaier, who conceived it in 1966, "deviated deliberately from the usual models. He made him rough and peasant-like. . . . But he especially wanted his work to be in motion and to have the walk of a resolute man charging into the wind. . . . But as if to counteract this animation, . . . his tilting head stops and centers on tormented shapes, expressions of his most secret contemplation."25

In the future, we expect to see interpretations of Montfort by artists from the young Churches of Africa or Asia. The new images of Montfort will certainly succeed in their purpose of remaining faithful to the prototype while inculturating him within their own context. No doubt they will still retain, however, a profound connection with Montfort’s spirituality, which now belongs to the universal Church, to the Church of all times and places.

M. Sibold


Notes: (1) Let us note that the Huguenot Grignions of London (cf. article Family/marriage), who came from Loudun like the Montfort Grignions, during the eighteenth century excelled in the arts of watchmaking, engraving, and painting. We have a portrait of two of them. They show a striking similarity to Montfort’s features in the Rennes painting (cf. below). (2) Alain Robert (1653-1735), who was sacristan of Saint-Sauveur de Rennes when he died. (3) Blain, 5-6. (4) Ibid., 19. (5) Ibid., 19-20. (6) Grandet, 67. (7) Also buried in the Campbon church were a great uncle of Fr. de Montfort, Pierre Grignion (1612-1640), his wife, Françoise Bécigneul (1613-1704), as well as one of their sons, Eustache Grignion (1638-1643). (8) Grandet, 311. (9) Le Crom, 229. (10) Blain, 166-167. (11) M. Sibold, Le Sang des Grignion (The Blood of the Grignions), Rome 1987, 82. (12) Mathurin Rangeard (1687-1760), who died at Saint-Laurent-sur-Sèvre as a tonsured cleric. (13) Gabriel Grignion (1682-1717). (14) Since La Rochelle had a large Protestant minority, Fr. de Montfort wanted to give prominence publicly to the Scriptures. (15) Archives of Charente-Maritime, Ms. B 501. (16) Le Crom, 279. (17) M. Laurentin, Le bienheureux Père de Montfort statuaire. Le bienheureux Louis-Marie Grignion de Montfort est-il l’auteur de statues que la Vendée lui a attribué? (Blessed Louis Marie Grignion de Montfort, Statue Maker: Is He the Sculptor of the Statues Attributed to Him in the Vendée?), L.-J. Biton, Saint-Laurent-sur-Sèvre 1936, 30-31. (18) This statue, mentioned since 1726 and hidden during the Revolution, is today in the oratory of the house of his birth in Montfort-sur-Meu. (19) Besnard II, 161. (20) Histoire de la Compagnie de Marie (History of the Company of Mary), Saint-Laurent-sur-Sèvre 1914, 1920. (21) Henri- François de Racappé, marquis de Magnanne (1664-1750), had a definitive influence in placing Montfort’s religious communities in Saint-Laurent- sur-Sèvre. He died there in 1750. He was buried in the chapel of the Blessed Virgin opposite Fr. de Montfort. (22) A. David, Le Père de Montfort par ses meilleurs historiens (Fr. de Montfort by His Best Historians), Librairie Mariale, Paris 1947, 9 (23) A. David, Le Père de Montfort, 11. (24) Ibid. Under the signature of Th. Ronsin, a typed article is to be found in AGCM: "Quelques détails iconographiques relatifs au Bx Louis-Marie Grignion de Montfort de sa mort (1716) à l’année 1850 (Some Iconographic Details Relating to Bl. Louis Marie Grignion de Montfort from His Death (1716) to the Year 1850)," 6 pages. He mentions the following portraits of Montfort: 1. Montfort on his deathbed; 2. the Rennes picture; 3. the picture in Holy Spirit refectory in Saint-Laurent-sur-Sèvre; 4. an engraving by E. Desrochers; 5. an engraving by J. Massard; 6. an engraving done in Rome (1835-1836); 7. an engraving made after that of Rome; 8. a picture of Blessed de Montfort, of the Massard type; 9. an engraving by Bouasse-Lebel, no. 220; 10. a portrait of Montfort at Charpentier in Nantes; 11. a picture of Montfort, after the picture of Rennes and Saint-Laurent; 12. an engraving by Charles de Chergé; 13. a popular image, souvenir of the Mervent grotto; 14. a popular image, an announcement or remembrance of a mission. There follow four pages of Montfort correspondence. (25) B. Papàsogli, L’homme venu du vent. Saint Louis-Marie Grignion de Montfort, Editions Bellarmin, Montreal 1984, 7. English translation, Montfort, a Prophet for Our Times, Edizioni Monfortane, Rome 1991.

 

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Taken from: Jesus Living in Mary: Handbook of the Spirituality of St.
Louis de Montfort
(Litchfield, CT: Montfort Publications, 1994).

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