September 5, 2018
The day is spent enjoying the last moments of my 2 1/2 month-odd bike trip through Europe, savouring the minor moments of grace that make particularly small-town France so memorable. I chance upon a group of students from a local college celebrating their graduation in a raucous hazing-style ceremony, which involves trooping in paint-spattered clothing to the gardens of the cathedral, then in random groups getting their heads dunked in pails of water. There seems to be more to their ceremony than meets the eye, but I try and keep my distance to not risk get sprayed with water or paint myself.
The Quadrilateral adjoining the cathedral is a combination exhibition, performance and creative space, intended to focus on modern art that incorporates the Gallo-Roman ramparts of the city. From the culture.beauvais.fr website: “Resumed by the City in 2013, the Quadrilatère now offers a program that extends to all artistic disciplines, while enhancing the links between heritage and contemporary creation. Since 2018 and as part of the City of Art and History label, the new heritage area invites you to live a unique experience through new mediation tools. Discover more than 2000 years of history of Beauvais and its urban evolution and discover the uniqueness of the building that incorporates a tower of the ancient walls, archaeological remains and Gallo-Roman ramparts. The heritage space is a crossroads open to the outside, the city, its history echoing the programming of the Quadrilateral.”
The Musée de l’Oise (MUDO) is housed in the former palace of the Bishop of Beauvais, who was also the Count of Beauvais and a peer of France. The original palace was built on a Roman wall below the Beauvais Cathedral by Henry of France (c. 1121–75), son of King Louis VI of France and Bishop of Beauvais from 1149 to 1161. Following a riot in the 14th century, the bishop built a fortified entrance guarded by two towers. In the 16th century, Bishop Louis Villiers de l’Isle Adam (1497–1521) rebuilt the palace in Renaissance style with Gothic decoration. The clock tower in the facade holds a stairway leading up to a belfry with three bells, one of them made in 1506. After the French Revolution, the palace was made the seat of the prefecture in 1800, then returned to the bishopric in 1822. In 1846 it became a courthouse.
The historian Louis Graves and the Société académique de l’Oise began the museum collection in 1841 to preserve objects of artistic or historical interest. At first, the collection was stored in various municipal offices, but it steadily outgrew the available space. In 1908 the town of Beauvais and the Société académique de l’Oise offered the collection to the departmental council of the Oise. In 1909 the department acquired a large building to the north of the cathedral.
The museum opened after a major renovation in January, 2015. The collection includes works by artists such as Camille Corot, Alfred Sisley, Paul Huet, Prosper Marilhat and Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres. There are decorative works by Alexis-Joseph Mazerolle and Pierre-Victor Galland, and ceramics by Jules-Claude Ziegler. The huge unfinished canvas Enrôlement des volontaires de 1792 by Thomas Couture is displayed in the old courtroom, along with many preparatory sketches. The museum also stages temporary exhibitions several times each year dedicated to specific artists or artistic movements, stages lectures and holds children’s workshops.
Given the fact that the day is sunny, I return to the spectacular cathedral next door that is intimately linked to the identity of the town of Beauvais, and also arguably one of the most outstanding monuments of the Middle Ages in France. The elaborately carved doors are framed by soaring coffered arches studded with evenly-spaced sculptural embellishments or busts of saints, then above, the structure soars towards a gigantic elaborate rose window whose stained glass produces a brilliant array of luminosity and colour in the interior.
Arched buttresses radiate from the body of the stone behemoth, a succession of slender, angular columns towered by delicate spires, behind which lie partially submerged enormous pointed arched windows that illuminate the massive interior in radiant colour. In the interior, the giant arched windows come to life with the enactment of biblical stories in Technicolor, the experience augmented by the vast scale of the windows and the fact that the rest of the interior is bathed in darkness.
On the streets of Beauvais, life is far more mundane, oblivious to the historic import and bulk of the cathedral towering over the centre of town. Now that the summer vacation is over and school has begun again, the streets abound with young people, carousing in groups, riding bicycles, chattering and lining the fountains on the central squares. Industrial-era brick townhouses are offset by rambling gardens rich in floral offerings. Locals concentrate in the gardens closer to the train station, either returning to Beauvais from the capital region, or en route back to Paris.
Then one last visit to the Place Jeanne Hachette, my first stop two days ago, when I arrived in the evening darkness in the town centre, with little idea as to where I was. The elegant cafes and restaurant sprawl onto the ample square, complimenting the single calibre hotel, focusing on the statue of the town’s medieval heroine at the centre and the imposing Louis XV-era city hall that dominates the lower side of the square.
I am enchanted by the counterpoint between the explosions of colour offered by the modest floral patches set among the charming squares, the unassuming urban landscape reflecting a range of epochs over time. Inquisitive locals are intrigued by my presence, as foreign tourists, particularly from North America, are a rare sight in this area, no matter how compelling the attractions may be or the vicinity to Paris.
(Narrative excerpted from Wikipedia and culture.beauvais.fr)