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Pictogram of the introduction of the visit

Why painted chapels ?

Very numerous in the hinterland of Nice, painted chapels staked out the roads from the Alps to the sea.

Var/Southern Alps map

Their location, that can be surprising today, was set according to the roads' network of that time. : mule tracks joining two valleys, salt roads going up to Piedmont or Savoy, transhumance tracks going West ...

The chapel was often built very near the col or ford ; fairs and markets used to get installed near places of pilgrimage.

As medieval roads followed the line of crests, the chapel could be seen from a long distance. It was a guide mark in the landscape, a stop to meditate, a refuge for the night.

This function of refuge coupled with a measure of prevention : very often, the chapel was situated at the entrance of the village, but apart from the agglomeration. The community was thus protected from the plagues that travellers could bring with them.

As people were supposed to see them from a long distance, and then pass alongside, the chapels were often painted on the outside.

Chapel Notre-Dame of Benva, Morgues - Exterior view -

Without entering the building, without even stopping, the passer-by could address a sign of the cross or a short prayer to the characters painted on the fronts.

Chapel Saint-Sébastien, Saint-Etienne-de-Tinée - Exterior view -

These characters are often protector or healing saints, which reinforce the prophylactic role of the chapel.

Indeed, if the location was not due to chance, the choice of the represented themes was not either.

Wall paintings were a means of evangelization and moral improvement ; they thus reflected both the clergy's guideline and the parishioners' yearnings, the belief and devotion of rural people.
These people expressed their wish for the creation or addition to a painted decoration.

The donor, who would assume the execution costs, was very often nothing more than the representative of his community, syndic or priest. Donor - La Brigue -

Medallion - man's face -

Medallion - man's face -

Most of the time, the sleeping partners were groups : communes, penitents' confraternities or corporations, convents.

They had many motivations :
Glorify God, Virgin Mary and the saints, prepare their salvation, thank for the received blessings, assertion of the community, wish to embellish the church ...

Medallion - man's face -

Medallion - man's face -

The low cost of wall painting made it accessible to all.

Villages thus willingly welcomed itinerant painters passing from one side of the mountain to another, from one valley to another.

Trained in Piedmont, they came and went on the territories of the House of Savoy or emigrated in Provence.

Var/historic Southern Alps map

Coming into contact with brilliant artistic centres (the court of Savoy, the marquisate of Saluces, the coastal bishoprics' centres, the great ligurian convents ...), Those painters had a composite culture.

Willingly perpetuating workshops' traditions, they were open-minded and accepted exterior contributions.
However, going from the centres to the periphery, from cities to rural zones, their manner could become repetitive.

On mountain tracks, they had no ambition to create " works of art ", but to come up to the spiritual expectations of people by doing their job.