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The vault

Cité épiscopale d’Albi

The paintings on the vault, by painters from Emilia in northern Italy, do not have the precision or finesse of a traditional painting on canvas simply because they were made to be seen from a distance of 30 metres. In this context they represent a masterpiece of monumental art work.

The decorative paintwork of the vaults of the Cathedral of Sainte-Cécile constitute an unrivalled masterpiece. The virtuosity of the artists, working in extremely difficult conditions, and the skill shown in fulfilling the task required of them, shows true genius.

Just as the depictions of hell inspire fear and the hatred of sin, the paintings of the vaults and the tribunes clearly evoke paradise. They magnificently represent lightness, felicity, jubilation and glory and constitute an absolute success; a unique early Renaissance French masterpiece. A sublime expression of the truths and mysteries of Christianity combined in a tableau which remains coherent even in its minor details.

On a blue background, Old and New Testament images combine to make up the largest ensemble of Italian painting in France.

There is a stylistic contrast between The Last Judgement and the vaults which constitute the second part of a diptych of the catechism1 and the pastoral2. After anguish, follows hope. Their meaning is clear: they represent paradise and we see in the apse a representation of the second coming of Christ at the end of time. In order to evoke celestial bliss and the mystical body of the Church the painters eschewed naturalism, avoiding representations of the Garden of Eden with its perpetual springtime, fountains and verdant vegetation.

Flat colours, gold and blue, without depth, were used to suggest paradise. The light emanating from God and filling the sky is represented by the gold which makes the nave sparkle.

In the vaults we see a veritable Te Deum3 where the angels, seraphim, cherubim, prophets, apostles and martyrs sing praises to the God. The underlying theme of all the representations is that of redemption.

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