Angers is the prefecture of the department of the Maine–et–Loire now, but it has always been the seat of great power in France. Home of the powerful dukes of Anjou who became the Plantagenet kings of England, the city was built to demonstrate the power of its rulers. From the founder of Angevin power, Foulque Nerra who had to make three pilgrimages to Jerusalem to atone for his earthly sins to Henry II and Rene of Anjou, the rulers of this province have been among the most powerful in France and England.
The medieval city represents that power completely, from the massive fortifications that still surround the old city to the great Cathédrale Saint Meurice d’Angers and the Episcopal Palace that was the home of the Bishop of Angers, everything reinforced the image of power and prestige.
And there is nobody who better understands this power and prestige today than our guide from the office of the Conseil Général of the Maine-et-Loire, an intelligent and passionate advocate for the medieval arts of Angers and its surrounding areas. This man took a great deal of time to introduce us to the wealth of sumptuous Romanesque art in the region. The offices of the Conseil Général are located in the ancient Abbaye de Saint Aubin.
The cloister of the Abbey is a fragment of the original, but what a fragment! It features deep arches composed of five and six echeloned columns, each topped with beautifully carved capitals.
The centerpiece is a tympanum that combines superb sculpture with a fresco that interact in the story-telling.
In the following shot we can see one of the magi in the painted section offering a gift to the Virgin and Child above in the center of the sculpture.
As we were shooting, our guide asked if we knew about the refectory of the abbey, which we did not. When I asked if it was as impressive as the cloister, he could only roll his eyes. “Better?” I asked. He nodded. A few hours later we were taken to the refectory and we understood his enthusiasm. It is one of the most unique and powerful sculptural ensembles that PJ and I have ever seen from the Romanesque world.
The elements of the sculptural ensemble were superb and filled with evocative details like the demons assailing an almost feminine-looking knight. It is also possible to see the wonderful remnants of polychrome from the original painting of the piece, which have survived only because the tympanum is indoors.
The next day, we were introduced to the extraordinary Palais du Tau, the Bishop’s Palace behind the Cathédrale Saint Meurice. This deserves a post of its own and we’ll follow up in a few days.
✚ We were introduced to our guide in Angers by Marie-Laure and Jean-Gaël Cesbron, our very kind hosts at the Chambre d’Hotes where we stayed, the Manoir du Bois de Grez. The Manoir is a lovely site about ten miles from Angers and the ideal place for us to call home while we explored the region. When we go back next year, we shall surely return. ✚