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  Two fine paintings hang in the choir of Brux church, a Virgin and Child from the workshop of Van Dyck (1599-1641), and The Dream of Joseph, modelled on an original by Simon Vouet (1590-1649), now known only from an engraving by his son-in-law Michel Dorigny dated 1640 (a copy of which hangs in the Musée des Beaux Arts in Nancy).

  The paintings have been the subject of professional restoration and their return to the church early in 2012 was marked by both civil and religious ceremonies. Since 1993 they had been transferred to the workshop of conservation studies in rue Tolbiac, Paris 13e, part of the University Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne, where under the expert supervision of Professor William Whitney the very dirty and damaged canvases were cleaned, re-backed , repaired and retouched, in places quite extensively, before being lightly varnished to protect the fully restored artwork. Following their discreet removal back to Brux in November 2011they were reframed in the workshops of artisan craftsman Bernard Rousseau, in frames based closely on the original models, one gilded, the other in a bronze patina finish.

   The first painting shows the Christ child standing on the lap of the Virgin, his head turned towards the viewer and his arm outstretched; while the head of Mary is turned upwards to heaven in grateful ecstasy. In the painting devoted to Joseph's dream the composition is dominated by the wings of an angel who touches Joseph on the shoulder in order to advise him to accept the divine origin of the child Mary is carrying (Matthew -I, 20). Prior to restoration, the wings and outline of the angel were the only parts of this painting still clearly visible under the grime of centuries, while the Van Dyck canvas Dream of Joseph was badly discoloured and had suffered at least one tear in the fabric. The St Joseph was placed on a new stretcher, cleaned and varnished; the Virgin and Child was also placed on a new sub-frame, masticated and retouched. Thanks to the work of Professor Whitney and his students, these restored pieces may now be appreciated by a much wider audience, having played their part in the instruction of future restorers of other works of art.

   Little is known of the history of these paintings, but they are of such quality that they must have come into the possession of the church from a distinguished source, and (following the suggestion of an anonymous writer in the Affiches du Poitou dated 5 April 1913) it is widely assumed that they hung originally in the Château d'Épanvilliers, and were given to the Curé of Brux for safe keeping at the time of the French Revolution. The same source indicates that a member of the Montalembert family of Épanvilliers was at one time 'Chef de la Garde Écossaise', and may have obtained the Madonna directly from the workshop of Van Dyck during a period spent in England, where Van Dyck was an appointed court painter to King Charles I. Certainly the painting now hanging in Brux isVan Dick closely comparable to authenticated versions by the master himself, to be seen in the respective galleries of the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge and of Dulwich College in south London. However Daniel Bourdu, Conservateur délégué des Antiquités et Objets d'Art at the Direction régionale des Affaires culturelles de Poitou-Charentes, an expert who has taken a close interest in the history of these works, has expressed the opinion that both paintings are more likely to be copies made in the second half of the 17th Century.

   The earliest clear record of their presence in the church is a photo of the Van Dyck sent in 1938 by the then Curé, Abbé Bisson, to a local parishioner as a greeting card. Neither painting appears on the inventory of 1905, suggesting that at this time they were still held privately (probably by the Curé rather than the Montalembert family, who had been dispossessed of their riches in 1792). This means that the question of their present ownership cannot be established beyond doubt: suffice to say that they belong to Brux and form an integral part of its ancient church's heritage.

Click to enlarge the pictures                                                                    Text established by Gavin Brown - 2012
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