Sacred art: seek out six artists’ chapels

Financial Times | Jan Dalley

In 1941, when Henri Matisse was recovering from cancer surgery, his advertisement for “a young and pretty nurse” was answered by Monique Bourgeois. An unusual friendship grew, and several years later, when Bourgeois had entered the order of Dominican nuns at Vence, in the south of France, she asked the 77-year-old Matisse for help in designing a chapel that the nuns wanted to build for their school. The result, the Chapelle du Rosaire, finished in 1951, is a small, white, L-shaped building whose fiercely plain interior is flooded by glorious light from Matisse’s stained glass windows, created in just three colours — blue, yellow, green — that evoke the Mediterranean setting. Working obsessively on the project, for which he designed every detail (down to the bronze crucifix on the altar and the priests’ vestments), Matisse called it his masterpiece.

The intimate links between art and religious sites stretch back to the very beginnings of western cultural history, and culminated during the Renaissance in such jewels as Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel. But perhaps it is more surprising to be reminded that even in a secular modern age, when art has rebelliously cast off any remaining religious shackles, artists are often drawn to creating work for sacred buildings. Small chapels, especially, provide a powerful locus for an artist’s eye, and a perfect showcase for their work. Visiting these chapels can often be a more vivid experience than a mighty cathedral — perhaps because, like Matisse’s chapel in Vence, many came into existence through a particular set of emotional circumstances…read more

Image: Mark Rothko’s non-denominational chapel in Houston, Texas © Getty