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Musée des Beaux-Arts

Former monastic building
Salle des Mays: see also NEW PAGE
19th century paintings & local history

The Museum is in the former Abbey of Saint Vaast, which was rebuilt in the 18th century
A preserved fragment of the 15 century medieval tapestry: "Saint Vaastet l'ours" . It tells the legend of how in the 6th century St.Vaast tamed the wild bear that had driven people out of the old ruined Roman city on the site of Arras.

Origins in the French Revolution
Like many other French provincial art galleries and museums, the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Arras was started in this time of turmoil. Great works of art, previously hidden in the mansions of the aristocracy and bishops were confiscated and brought to the Louvre in Paris. The Republic wanted to show them to the people and towns were invited to "take their pick".
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Housed in a monastic building
The revolution also destroyed many of Arras' religious buildings, including the medieval cathedral. (see town model 1716) The Abbey of St.Vaast in the town centre was confiscated by the state, and the monks sent away. Earlier in the 18th century, the old abbey had fallen into disrepair. The fine new building and church were nearly finished in 1789.

When Napoleon reached an understanding with the Pope, the new Abbey church became the town's cathedral. In 1832 the town bought part of the buildings from the state for a museum.
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The adjoining cathedral was completed in 1833

Arras is the market town for the grain-growing farmlands around - some of the most fertile in Europe. In the 14th and 15th centuries it was also a thriving textile town, specialising in fine wool tapestries which were sold to decorate palaces and castles all over Europe. Few survive, hundreds were burnt in the Revolution to recover the gold thread was often woven in them. The Musée has just one example that was made in Arras (pictured above)
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"Saint Peter Raising the Widow Tabitha" - the 1652 May, by Louis Testelin (1615-1665).

Salle des Mays
Between 1630 and 1707, the goldsmiths of Paris made a yearly gift of a huge religious painting to Notre Dame cathedral in Paris. This was the time of the Counter-Reformation, a triumphal re-assertion of Catholic values in the face of Protestantism.

Artists' paintings had to be at least 11 feet high; to portray scenes of the apostles and saints in classical dress, in clear bold colours with no distracting background detail. By 1707 the custom had to be stopped because the cathedral had no more room.

In the Revolution the Mays were dispersed. 14 went to Arras Museum. Seven have now been restored and are displayed in the biggest gallery, the "Salle des Mays".
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Stone tomb which was originally painted, dated 1446 - during the Hundred Years' War. It shows a half decomposed, worm-eaten figure, with a scroll coming out of his mouth, saying"By the mercy of God alone, I hope for my salvation". The Musée's archaeological displays show how much has been discovered about the Arras' earier history: the Roman town, nearby Roman villas, and Gallic settlements - as well as the town's prosperity in the Middle Ages.
19th century artists wanted to capture the feeling of an old town that history had passed by - Arras was then a rural backwater, far from Paris with little industry. The Musée has an extensive 19th century collection, including the local "Arras School" of painters who worked in the area.
"The Old Bank in Arras" 1875 artist unknown - showing grain barges on the river.
2. "Grand'Place on Market Day" 1878 - Charles Desavary, Arras
3. "A road near Arras" - Camille Corot 1853-58
town model
Model of Arras made in 1716 to help French military engineers plan stronger defences. Now restored, it's a record of the old town before the upheavals and destruction of later years. You can clearly see the two squares, the old medieval Abbey of St.Vaast, and the Cathedral which was demolished in the Revolution.

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Background information
Medieval Art
Regional Art Galleries
- and Art MENU
Flemish Art

Vauban & 17th century fortications
Retables - Baroque altar pieces

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Location: Musée des Beaux-Arts, 22 rue Paul-Doumer, 62000 ARRAS

Information/ reservations:
Tel: 00 33 3 21 71 26 43




Salle des Mays © Copyright 1999-2000 Invicta Media. Last updated 12th April 2000