Between Saint-Méry and Blandy-Les-Tours (France) in the middle of the woods the meeting of a contemporary sculptor with a restored chapel.

That the chapel Our Lady de Roiblay, snuggled up in the heart of woods, was reconstructed in 1803, after the plunders of the French Revolution (so replacing a chapel from the 12th century) is on the whole a common event at this time.  That we decide on a day that the road map of hiking path number one (GR1 in France) crosses there, is stemming from a little bit more noteworthy coincidence.  But at this ending of the 20th century, considered as being sordidly materialist, the City Council of Saint-Méry (led by the Mayor Madam Glikson) decides to restore this chapel. So this event deserves that we have a look on it.  All the more when the restoration comes along with an order seeming to take up with the purest medieval tradition: a Blessed Virgin Mary with the Child, partially financed by Esso Petroleum who so resumes the initiative of middle-class person’s brotherhoods or other corporations, sponsors of ancient days. Thus an exceptional event both by its rarity and by its quality; so what! We would have been able to indulge ourselves with some copy of Virgin Mary as the 19th century knew to supply with. And indeed not! We did not hesitate to make an appeal to a contemporary artist, Michael Levy.

We still remember with emotion the exhibition from this sculptor, held at Melun, (Saint Jean Space for Exhibitions) during winter 1993-1994; the quality of the work and its display had made the big cultural event of the region. Michael Levy’s workshop belongs to Blandy-les-Tours, just a step from the chapel of Roiblay; so he could become completely soaked with the spirit of the site.  A place which facilitates the meditation and a talented sculptor with spiritual concerns are ideal conditions for a masterpiece. Madam Glikson did not regret her choice when Michael Levy quickly proposed her the model of the Virgin Mary.

Today we can appraise by ourselves in front of this sculpture. At first the choice of the subject: a breast-feeding Virgin. Rather original indeed, especially in sculpture. In paintings we already find an image in the second century on the walls of the catacombs from Priscillian in Rome (Italy); the subject becomes more frequent in the Byzantine icons; but in sculpture, representations came essentially from 14th and 15th centuries…. Let us leave the art history there and let us come back to our Virgin at Roiblay.

What beautiful idea this choice of a Mother feeder, in the middle of woods! It is all the strength of mother nature, the materialism which we find in the conception of the base of the coat of the Virgin which seems to spring from the ground and become confused with her. We have the sensation to see the sculptor’s fingers working this clay with harshness and energy.  A feeling left intact by the remarkable quality of the cast iron of the bronze but also by the green rust which stresses admirably this effect.

Brought out of the ground, the coat becomes refined as the eye of the spectator rises up. The sculptor begins to master the raw material, making the tool intervene with the most subtle way for a polished surface more and more precise which allows to play completely its role in the top of the artwork,  O! how much symbolic role in this ascent towards the spirituality to reach the perfection for the veil’s folds!

And there is the Child, fragile in his nudity, quite occupied with sucking, with so much greediness and kind disposition as the nose and the fist sink into the breast.  How to think of the Christ when we see this touching image? And nevertheless! Look at the general movement of the Virgin and this graceful swing of the hips, counterbalanced to the left by a flight of the coat’s edge and by a hand which rebalance the whole. An oval is so created, a shape in almond, what we call the Christophany, which usually surrounds the triumphing Christ in the iconographic tradition. Now everything here returns to the Christ and seems to protect him: the Virgin arm roundness, the veil flying away over the head of the Child, the certainly softened glance of the Mother, but with the head full of nobility, serenity, worship.   This nobility, this watchfulness go on in the curve of the right hand, so symbolically long and which in a last gesture full of elegance protects again the Child from the outside world and pushes aside the unwelcome visitor. Because beyond the search for balance, beyond the religious representation we reach a profound reflection.  We see that through Michael Levy artworks, roughness and polished surfaces, shade and light, peace and movement, material and spiritual….  everything is duality as in the rest of his artworks moreover…  everything is deeply thought with such a character!

But I did not describe everything to you: I spoke to you about this breast which shivers under the tissue of the dress, these hair which… No, I won’t say furthermore. This is your turn to discover artworks with enjoyment.  I wish you have the same emotion as me; this emotion which sets in the throat and prevents from saying a word; this emotion which increases us, which is so difficult to explain and from which we smell how much it is a privileged moment, that will never be repeated again because it is about a work of art, unique !

An emotion made possible because an artist put all his skill in it, his experience, his knowledge, his imagination and his sensibility. All this talent transforms a handled subject in artwork, irreplaceable!

Thanks to Michael Levy to prove to us, in the lineage of Bernin, Carpeaux and  Rodin, that it is still possible to create Beauty.

Annette GELINET

October, November 1995