Ingres and Catholic France

From Ingres, 19th Century France ...

Ingres: that great French painter from the time and place that so clutches at my heart: Nineteenth Century Catholic France!

The Nineteenth Century. It is not so long ago. My grandfather was born in the Nineteenth Century. He even saw the Queen: Victoria, Monarch of the British Empire upon “which the sun never set” …

But Ingres belonged to Nineteenth Century Catholic France

St Joan of Arc by Ingres

Such a completely different universe to the Protestant England of my Victorian Grandfather!

Yes such a different universe – also to the secular, materialistic wasteland that is France today.

Nineteenth Century France: a culture in which the great artists still honoured Our Lady, the Eucharist, St Joan of Arc …

Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres (1780-1867) was from Montauban. It is a place that has precious memories for my beloved and myself.

One can still feel Catholic France a little in Montauban, with its great Cathedral in the centre of the town.

By Szeder László (Own work) [GFDL ( or CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (

Yes there was a time when my beloved and I went to Holy Mass in that vast space.

The French of the past would have filled it – this great Cathedral.

But now we were relegated to a little side chapel, with but a handful of the remaining faithful … Now like everywhere else, it is commerce which dominates the centre of Montauban.

France is no longer a different universe to Protestant England. She pioneered secularism. She succumbed to secular globalisation – global materialism. Yet her Cathedrals stand in testimony to what once was.

Yet of course, in the empty vastness of the Montauban Cathedral, you can still find Him there. He is there still in the tabernacle. And a few still even remember Him there …

And there also in the Cathedral hangs the masterpiece of Ingres. The masterpiece which commemorates the fact that King Louis XIII once consecrated his realm, consecrated France to the Blessed Virgin. This is what we see high on the wall of Montauban Cathedral.

Ingres rendering the vow of King Louis offering his kingdom to the Virgin in Heaven …

Photo by Notabene

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  1. Posted 29 March 2011 at 18:47 | Permalink

    great piece of writing as usual!your catholic faith sustains you and it is evident that we need to regain much of what you are talking about with regards our rich catholic faith. god bless. philip johnson.

    • Posted 29 March 2011 at 19:05 | Permalink

      Well thank you so much once again, Philip. I do appreciate it.

      I suppose one thing I am conscious of is that many English speaking people may know little about Catholic France and thus relate little to her.

      Providence led me to France for a while … I was changed forever by the experience, by the spirituality of His Most Sacred Heart that came to the world through France.

      I am trying to find ways to communicate this. This new weblog with photos is another attempt.

      And I always wonder how it reaches people and how people will relate to these images.

      (I should say though that the new weblog will not simply be about France, but will feature other aspects of Catholic culture, too.)

      Again my warm thanks to you …

  2. Victor Sandblom
    Posted 23 February 2012 at 15:42 | Permalink

    Thank you for such a thoughtful article. Ingres has always struck me as an excellent painter, but one reflecting the times in which he lived, and as a result, less interesting to me than per-revolutionary painters.
    My own thickheadedness keept me from seeing the obvious and it had never occurred to me that his paintings were a meditation on his own Catholic faith. In such light I have a new appreciation for them and a greater admiration for his efforts.
    Thank you again for sharing your insight.

    • Posted 9 March 2012 at 14:15 | Permalink

      Well, thank you indeed Victor.

      I am surprised and a little humbled by this. For I am no student of art and I imagine you may know more about the wonderful Ingres than I do …

      What I am somewhat a student of however, is immediate post-revolutionary France, Nineteenth Century France.

      From studying that, it is clear that French Catholicism rebounded and resurged in the most powerful way after the Revolution.

      Millions identified with massive French cultural movement that loathed the Revolution and felt that a hideous, soulless dead materialistic ethos was being brutally imposed on them. This culture embracing millions called itself La Vraie France – the true France.

      There is much more about this at this site – much of it under the label (below) Catholic France – and although I do not really know so mch about Ingres, it is clear to me that his sympathies were with that Catholic France, La Vraie France, which has now been so brutally repressed.

      (I’ll be also writing more about repression which even a century after the massacres of the Revolution was still using very heavy tactics, exiling priests and indeed whole orders e.g. the Jesuits, appropriating church property to the State, closing down Catholic schools etc. Much of that will also be in my upcoming book Cor Jesu Sacratissimum, as well.)

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