La revue «L'Art sacré»: Le débat en France sur l'art et la religion (1945-1954). By Françoise Causse. (Paris: Les Éditions du Cerf. 2010. Pp. 683. euro58,00 paperback. ISBN 978-2-204-08891-6.)
This exhaustive work investigates the dominant personalities, artistic projects, and theological controversies surrounding the highly influential periodical L'Art sacré in the wake of World War LLAs its subtitle indicates, the contentious debates were framed in terms of reconciling religion and art. Today, we can see the conflict as a flashpoint within larger battles over relationships between Catholicism and modernity, Christ and culture, grace and nature. L'Art sacré was of a piece with other postwar phenomena: biblical renewal, liturgical reforms, social engagement (e.g., worker-priests), the nouvelle théologie.
Françoise Causse arranges her vast study under three large tents. Part I surveys L'Art sacrées inception and evolution. By starting out with late-nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century invented qualifiers of art- for example, "sacred,""religious,""Catholic,"and"Christian"- Causse situates the"art versus religion" opposition within the broader context of European secularization and, more particularly, French anticlericalism. After noting earlier ventures such as sacred art ateliers, Causse moves on to the launch of L'Art sacré in 1935. An ambitious project in the midst of the depression, it was soon suspended with the outbreak of world war in 1939.
Following the 1944 liberation, L'Art sacré resumed publication under the formidable directorship of Dominicans Marie-Alain Couturier and PieRaymond Régamey. By 1949, however, awareness dawned that the war had been a watershed. Old formulae would no longer suffice, and changed conditions required new perspectives. "The haunting problem was the divorce between the Church and living art: the works for the church needed to stop 'crying out mediocrity, timidity'"; the periodical needed to shed its "overly didactic" tone (pp. 141, 142). For the next five years, L'Art sacré engaged in daringly bold projects. In 1954 Couturier's untimely death at age fifty-seven dealt this enterprise a critical blow.
Part II surveys "Protagonists, Places, and Highlights." After biographical overviews of the two main actors (Couturier and Régamey), Causse considers their visionary projects in detail. Three especially stand out. Prominent modernists (including Pierre Bonnard, Marc Chagall, Fernand Léger, Jean Lurçat, Henri Matisse, Germaine Richier, and Georges Rouault) created pieces for the Alpine church of Notre-Dame-de-Toute-Grace at the Plateau d'Assy. Matisse lovingly and lavishly adorned the Dominicans' convent chapel at Vence. Le Corbusier designed the Chapel of Notre-Dame-du-Haut at Ronchamp, dedicated a year after Couturier's death. These and other works actualized a prophetic vision of the Church in the modern world. …