Thou shalt not commit adultery

Thou shalt not commit adultery by Baron Henri de Triqueti (1803-74). 1837. Bronze bas-relief panel on the door of the Madeleine Place de La Madeleine, Paris. Photograph and text by Jacqueline Banerjee, 2009. You may use this image without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose as long as you (1) credit the photographer and (2) link your document to this URL.

Triqueti is best known in France for these powerful bas-reliefs on the huge bronze doors of the Madeleine in Paris, and in England for the Triqueti Marbles in the Albert Memorial Chapel at Windsor (c.1863 onwards). He was commissioned to work on the doors in 1834 and spent seven years working on them, with the assistance of Etienne-Hippolyte Maindron (1801-84). The doors were installed in 1841. They created a sensation at the time, but seem less often noticed now:

Few people can claim to have never passed through the doors of the Church of the Madeleine. But who really stops to look at them? Does anyone even know the name of the artist who created these bronze panels? And yet they were Triqueti's first masterpiece, strongly influenced by the doors of the Baptistery in Florence but also those of Saint Peter's in Rome. This prestigious influence however is never overwhelming. The sculptor, with the help of the founders Richard, Eck and Durand, creates a work clearly belonging in his time and place. It is important to see it on site since no preliminary plaster cast remains and only small models for heads along with other drawings are shown, giving only a flimsy idea. [Rykner]

Jonathan Ribner explains that the individual panels are "devoted to crime and punishment" and have "a vehement emotional rhetoric." He continues,

Here are stern demonstrations of the 'law of fear and terror,' as Jewish legislation was characterized in a popular religious digest. On the lintel, the first two commandments (the proscription of idolatry and blasphemy) are represented by such emphatic demonstrations of anger and fear that a critic writing in L'Artiste mistakenly identified the subject as the Last Judgment (85).

According to Ribner, in the panel featured above, illustrating the commandment against adultery, Triqueti has

condensed the aftermath of King David's seduction of Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah the Hittite (2 Samuel 12). David, seated beside Bathsheba, is overcome with remorse as the stern prophet Nathan confronts him. Nathan reveals David's crime through the parable of a rich man who steals a poor man's only lamb, narrated in a subsidiary zone. As a sign of divine wrath, David's illegitimate son lies lifeless before his guilty parents. [86]

Thus Triqueti shows unregulated passions subject to stern spiritual directives. The point was, apparently, to illustrate the might and power of the law, in an attempt to shore up the monarchy of Louis-Philippe, the "Citizen King" (see Ribner 85-9). In the long run, the attempt was unsuccessful. See Triqueti's life. However, these are much more than propaganda pieces. Triqueti was a devout Christian who soon afterwards converted from Roman Catholicism to Protestantism. In his history of French Protestantism, Les Premiers Jours du Protestantism en France, he writes of God's wish that society should be governed by the law, and his own feeling (evidently from the heart) that it is wrong to throw the establishment into confusion "et renverser l'ordre de justice" (278).

Related views

References

Rykner, Didier. "Henry de Triqueti (1803-1874)." This site, relating to a major exhibition of Triqueti's work in France, also has small images of the doors when shut, as well as of the wonderful Triqueti Marbles.

Ribner, Jonathan P. Broken Tablets: The Cult of the Law in French Art from David to Delacroix. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993. Available offsite here.

Triqueti, Henri de. Les Premiers Jours du Protestantism en France. Paris: Librairies Protestantes, 1859.


Victorian Web Homepage Visual Arts Sculpture Henri de Triqueti next

Last modified 30 March 2009