Tis the season of angels – angels on Christmas trees, in the Nativity, in holiday carols and films. So it is a perfect moment to write about the newest addition to the large repertoire of books on Paris: Angels of Paris: An Architectural Tour Through the City of Paris. This beautiful volume by Rosemary Flannery has just been published and provides an unexpected and fascinating look at les anges visible throughout the French capital.

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Rosemary is an American art historian and writer who has lived in Paris since 1989. Over lunch recently, she shared with me the story behind the book. For the past several years, she had begun to notice angels depicted on buildings, signs, fountains and monuments everywhere in the city. “At first I had thought of doing a series of cards with photos of various angels," she said, "but I became more and more intrigued by the history behind them, and how they expressed the various art currents of their times, and why there were so many angels all throughout Paris. I thought about it for a while, and wrote a first chapter to test the idea. The chapter on the Angel of the rue de Turbigo was posted in a popular Parisian blog in December 2009, and the positive response encouraged me to move forward. I wrote the book proposal in 2010.”

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The book is arranged by arrondissement and covers 70 sacred and secular representations of angels on architecture throughout Paris. Each entry includes several paragraphs describing the location, the angel(s)’ story and even the neighborhood. Gorgeous photos complement the text – all were taken by Rosemary herself in various lights of day.

I asked her which angel she likes best from all the ones in the book. She responded, “My favorite angel is one engraved on the facade of a 15th century house in the Marais. Most likely carved by Nicolas Flamel, a prosperous entrepreneur who lodged gratis poor laborers who came from the provinces to work the nearby fields, this smiling angel musician – as well as the three others which together flank the entrance doorway – is finely drawn, with a lot of humor and love. It is perfectly authentic, wearing the cowled clerical robe of its time, and holding a mandolin. I also love the architectural detail of the bevelled columns which frame it.”

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I was also curious about which angels proved to be most difficult to research and to photograph. According to Rosemary, the most difficult part of the book project was the adorable duo atop the Théâtre du Châtelet. "How I would have loved to give credit to the ornamentalist sculptor who made them!," she said. "They are so charming and expressive. But no luck, even after inquiring at the theatre itself, researching in the Archives de Paris, at the Bibliothèque Historique de la Ville de Paris, la Commission du Vieux Paris, and every other possible source. I could only obtain confirmation as to the year they were put there – 1862 – and that they were indeed made of lead and holding a lightening rod. I also was very curious as to why this theatre, and not the Théâtre de la Ville, directly across from it – constructed in exactly the same style, in the same year, by the same architect, Gabriel Davioud – did not also have a duo of lightening rod angels. Maybe one day these secrets will be revealed to me!"

Chatelet

In terms of photography, she noted that the Armed Peace Angel of the Parc Montsouris presented the most challenges. "It is located in the 14th arrondissement, on the other side of Paris from where I live (it took a while to get there!) but I returned again and again, at various hours of the morning and afternoon, in a quest for the perfect shot. This sculpture dominates the entrance to the park, and faces mainly north west. In the early morning I hoped to get a close-up of the face which turns toward the east, but because of the way she is designed, it is impossible to get the entire face. I shot it a various times of year as well, and realized that this statue, with its imaginative pose and movement, requires several views to be really understood."

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In my opinion, Angels of Paris is an enchanting new look at a very old city. First-time tourists, seasoned visitors and permanent residents alike will discover something fresh about Paris while meeting these angelic personages from centuries gone by. Reading this ‘guidebook’ made me realize that angels are indeed everywhere in Paris, both outdoors as Rosemary so wonderfully illustrates, and also indoors. Perhaps the interior versions could be the subject of  a new book? The Chapelle des Saints Anges (Chapel of the Holy Angels) in the church of Saint Sulpice featuring paintings by Delacroix might be a interesting place to start…

Delacroixanges

Angels of Paris is available at local booksellers and also online at amazon.com (ISBN 978-1-936941-01-8). It is published by The Little Bookroom, New York.

French Take-Out ~ La France à emporter

During the recent "Christmas in France" class at SMU in Dallas, we listened to several Christmas carols in French. For a bit of holiday angels à la française, the Christmas carol "Angels We Have Heard On High" has a French version as well ("Les Anges dans nos campagnes"). Here are the French lyrics that accompany the familiar tune:

Les anges dans nos campagnes
Ont entonné l’hymne des cieux,
Et l’écho de nos montagnes
Redit ce chant mélodieux :
Gloria in excelsis Deo (2x)

Bergers, pour qui cette fête ?
Quel est l’objet de tous ces chants ?
Quel vainqueur, quelle conquête
Mérite ces cris triomphants :
Gloria…

Ils annoncent la naissance
Du libérateur d’Israël
Et pleins de reconnaissance
Chantent en ce jour solennel :
Gloria …

Cherchons tous l’heureux village
Qui l’a vu naître sous ses toits
Offrons-lui le tendre hommage
Et de nos coeurs et de nos voix :
Gloria …

Bergers, quittez vos retraites,
Unissez-vous à leurs concerts,
Et que vos tendres musettes
Fassent retenir les airs :
Gloria …

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Mary and the angel Gabriel from the Annunciation at the Cluny Museum in Paris (stained glass from Alsace, 15th century)

Joyeux Noël to you and yours this holiday season. Thank you for being part of French Affaires – I look forward to seeing you in 2013! Elizabeth New Seitz