In casting about for a Christmassy theme for this week’s blog, I thought about angels. Angels have prominent roles in the Christmas story, and I had photographed lots of them in Paris, hadn’t I? Or had I?
Well, yes and no. There are winged creatures aplenty in Paris, but not all are angels. The golden figure on top of the Colonne de Juillet is the Spirit of Liberty. The Winged Victory of Samothrace in the Louvre is pre-Christian. The Pont Alexandre III is graced with winged horses. And the winged being in the statue that greets those entering the Petit Palais is the Gloria Victis – the spirit of fame carrying a dying soldier.*
But angels, hm.
Then I remembered a funny little shop in Montmartre we had seen during a visit in December 2010.
La Boutique des Anges sold angel-themed items, but pictures of its front window showed that most featured what I’d call putti – chubby babies with wings, found in both religious and secular art, and sometimes depicted in the role of Cupid (who was, after all, a Greek god).
Putti are everywhere, I found as I looked through my photos. There is a stout pair in the 16th arrondissement on rue Raynouard that Norman calls the “sumo cherubs,” because they appear to be wrestling.
There are quite a few on facades – here are two in need of a good cleaning.
Putti also appear on the front of the mairie of the 7th arrondissement.
And a putto hugs an unimpressed-looking lion in front of the Palais de la Découverte. The lion appears to absent-mindedly chewing on the putto‘s garland of flowers.
Putti are everywhere in Paris. This image from the Raphael Sistine Madonna, glued to the front of a Vespa, seems to sum up a certain Parisian attitude to art.
But I wanted to find a herald angel, like Gabriel in paintings of the Annunciation.
That made me think of the rue de l’Annonciation in Passy. Sure enough, just over the door to the church of Notre Dame de Grace de Passy on that street, there is an image of Gabriel making the announcement to Mary.
And I thought of the photographs of Pamela Williams and went looking in my images of Père Lachaise. I found another angel.
The Val-de-Grâce, about which we have written before, is filled with angels. They are in the ceiling…
…playing musical instruments on the doors of confession boxes…
…and guarding secret doors to who knows what.
The Cluny Museum has angels with trumpets.
We even found one on the façade of the Hotel Roblin near the Place de la Madeleine.
Angels grace the blackened fragment of the façade of the Tuileries that has come to rest behind the Hotel Carnavalet.
But what pleased me particularly was to find one on the roofline of a building just off the Avenue de la Grande Armée, because the building had been designed by Gustave Rives, about whom I have written in more than one previous blog.
I’d inventoried the buildings designed by Rives for a Wikipedia entry and photographed many of them in Paris, but it was only when I went through my photos that I spotted the angels, high up where few might see them, gazing over the rooftops.
But these are just the stone angels that anyone can see. We have met many real angels in Paris. They are the people who help us find places to stay, who recommend places to visit, who help us in our our research quests, who invite us into their homes. Our Paris is full of living, breathing angels.
We are not in Paris this Christmas,but we think of the many angels who have helped us during previous visits there. We have been blessed many times over by angels who make our visits memorable.
Merry Christmas to all, and to all, a good visit to Paris, whenever you are there. May you also find Paris angels who contribute to your visit and help you understand more about this extraordinary city.
Text by Philippa Campsie. photographs by Philippa Campsie and Norman Ball.
* This bronze by Antonin Mercié was a memorial to those who lost their lives in the France-Prussian War.
Rosemary Flannery has filled a book with images of angels in Paris, which sounds like a delightful project and an interesting way to learn about the city’s history.