We discover in Haute-Savoie an enchanting heritage of Baroque churches which reflect the spirituality of the Council of Trent and of Saint Francis de Sales.
Savoy is located in the famous “baroque crescent” which extends from the Iberian Peninsula to Italy, southern Germany, Austria, Bohemia and Slovakia, passing through certain regions of France and Flanders. . As in the rest of Savoie (Tarentaise and Maurienne), this joyful and colorful art unfolds there in the 17the and XVIIIecenturies as the finest fruit of the Council of Trent.
The Haute-Savoie altarpieces, like their Savoy brothers, are in sculpted wood, polychromed in bright colors and gleaming gold leaf. The artists are local or come from Italy, in particular from Valsesia, north of the Aosta Valley. The facades are austere, and it is inside that the Baroque magnificence unfolds.
The steeples, on the other hand, are very different from the sober stone steeples of Tarentaise and Maurienne. Triumph of the know-how of the boilermakers, they stack their superimposed bulbs in slender arrows covered with zinc, which gives them a particular metallic shine in the sun.
Let’s start our journey in Les Houches, near Chamonix, at the foot of Mont Blanc. The Saint-Jean-Baptiste church is quite unremarkable on the outside. We push open the door and, in the half-light, the gold of a splendid Baroque altarpiece above the high altar shines: the Baptism of Christ, surrounded by a people of statues and twisted columns, sky blue and gold. Two other Baroque altarpieces find their place in this small church.
Les Contamines-Montjoie is a pretty village of chalets at the foot of Mont Blanc. The facade of the parish church is painted, as well as the roof canopy. It has three altarpieces in blue, green and gold. Not far away, the pilgrimage chapel of Notre-Dame-de-La-Gorge is a marvel with its painted facade set in the fir trees, and its three gleaming altarpieces.
The village of Cordon can be found at the end of a small secondary valley in the upper valley of the Arve, between Sallanches and Combloux. The bulbous bell tower of Notre-Dame-de-l’Assomption looms over Mont Blanc. The Baroque interior was painted by the Swiss Léonard Isler and its altarpiece sparkles with gold and cherubs. Baroque art abhors anything flat, as well as symmetry. The altarpieces of the high altars rise in a powerful concave and convex swell, as in Saint-Nicolas-de-Véroce, one of the most beautiful churches in the whole region.
Further west, Combloux stands out with its bell tower with two silver bulbs on Mont Blanc: a real postcard… Further north, the altarpiece of Saint-Pierre d’Argentière shines in cheerful and dazzling colors – vermilion, emerald green – , above a magnificent golden tabernacle. The gold leaf shines softly; gold is the color of divinity and eternity. The twisted columns are one of the signatures of the Baroque, which refuses the straight line and uses them instead of the ancient Doric, Ionic and Corinthian orders. They are called “solomonic columns” in reference to the Temple of Solomon.
Find the full article in our special issue dedicated to Saint Francis de Sales.