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Number 20, rue Peyrolière

Cité épiscopale d’Albi

This building is one of the residences which surround the church of Saint Salvi in a ring of commercial streets. The area covered by these commerces corresponds to the ancient bourg, heart of the merchant town. The name “Peyrolière” recalls the activity in this street of the coppersmiths who made cauldrons from copper (payrols).

The houses encircling this quarter are known collectively as the “canourgue” a term designating the residences of the secular canons (in Occitan known as canouge). Number 20 occupies a lot that stretches from rue Peyrolière to the place du cloître Saint-Salvi.

This residence, like its neighbour at number 22, houses on its first floor a magnificent 15th century painted ceiling. The heraldry shows these buildings to be Canonic lodges.

The residence is constructed in brick laid over a regular foundation. The building forms a single body in which the only difference between the principal façade overlooking rue Peyrolière and the rear giving onto place du cloître is that the principal façade comprises two storeys and a half-storey beneath the eaves whilst the rear comprises only two storeys.

At the rear of the house, the ground floor therefore corresponds to the first floor of the principal façade. The ground floor, giving onto the street, would have accommodated a commercial space opening into two large galleries which are partially visible today and would once have covered the entire façade.

The arcades were separated by brick tympanum the thickness of which would probably have compensated the absence of a solid stone tympanum, or supporting column; this arrangement is found in other buildings from this era. The rear, face giving onto the place du Cloître, is covered up to the first level. The main entrances of the canons’ houses in this quarter would have given either onto this square or onto the cloister of Saint Salvi allowing an easy access to the collegiate.

This residence, like its neighbours, illustrates the functionality of a canonical quarter opening onto the collegiate and situated at the centre of a ring of commercial streets whose names remain a strong evocation of past activities. These two characteristics clearly delimit the district of Saint-Salvi within the city.

On the first floor is a remarkable painted ceiling dating from the end of the 15th century, the oldest known example in Albi. The paintings were uncovered in 1972 during restoration work and were listed, on the 28th of September 1972, as historical furnishings.

The ceiling covers a large room (35m²) giving onto the passage Saint-Salvi via two doorways. The paintings cover the whole ceiling, beams, joists, wood panels and metopes. In 1973 works were undertaken to clean them. The similarity between the scenes depicting the ‘Danse Macabre’ and reproductions found in a book by Guyot Marchant published in 1475, evoking the same theme, as well as a study of the crests, costumes and characters, allows us to place this work in the second half of the 15th century. The paintings on both sides of the beams cover diverse motifs including a representation of ‘Danse Macabre’ (Dance of Death), one of the few still in existence. Beneath the arches of one of the galleries a procession of couples including a skeleton, a clergyman and an advocate is depicted. The ceiling opposite this grisly scene displays pastoral fêtes with images of dances reminiscent of those often held in May and during the carnival season. The images are accompanied by Occitan texts in Gothic lettering amongst which we find the following quote:

“Madame Death, you are utterly devilish; you never pardon the good any more than you do the wicked... You ceaselessly ruin nature... You are disgusting with an ugly face...”

The various scenes depicted in these paintings contain many characters dressed in period clothing. By their dress we distinguish a bourgeois or merchant, a Bishop with his cross or even a peculiar Janus wearing a cowl with asses’ ears.

There are also many floral and animal decorations; a hunting dog at rest, showing the mastery of the artist, two dogs fighting, fish, birds... This ceiling and others in the protected zone are part of a magnificent collection in which we can follow the artistic evolution of painted ceilings from the 15th to 18th centuries.

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