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Wednesday, July 31 2019
Royal Monastery of Brou presents Veiled | Unveiled  -- The veil in art. Antiquity. 21st century.

Exhibition from 15 June to 29 September 2019
Royal Monastery of Brou - Bourg-en-Bresse

A subject that has often attracted considerable political and social attention in recent years, the veil, an accessory worn by women and sometimes men, dates back to classical antiquity. In the lay world it symbolises mourning or modesty, but also flirtatiousness and even seduction. In religion it has different uses and meanings, in all the great monotheistic and polytheistic traditions. It is ever present, in art and literature, in myths and in the street. The Royal Monastery of Brou is dedicating this exhibition to the subject of the veil in order to bring contemporary debates into perspective and to restore some of its historical truth through its representation in art.

(Images, left to right, Marie-Denise Villiers, Portrait présumé de Madame de Soustra, 1802, huile sur toile, Romans, musée de la chaussure, dépôt du musée du Louvre, © RMN Grand Palais - Gilles Berizzi. André Suréda, Étude pour l’enterrement d’un rabbin à Fez, vers 1920, dessin à l’encre, lavis et rehauts de gouache, © Autun, musée Rolin. Pierre et Gilles, Fantôme (Zuleika), 1979, Photographie © Paris, galerie Templon.

The exhibition unveils around one hundred works from all eras (from antiquity to the modern day) and of all types (paintings, sculptures, objets d’art, prints, photographs, artistic and documentary video installations, etc.) portraying secular and religious veils by theme. The works have been divided into four themes.

Customary veils
First of all, customary veils, worn on a daily basis, generally by women, for cultural, (depending on the era and geographic areas), social (to indicate their marital status, mature age, etc.) and circumstantial reasons (to keep out the cold or as a fashion trend). The veil worn by the Cypriot woman in the 4th century modelled in clay (musée du Louvre), by young Egyptian women photographed around 1900 (Musée d’Orsay), and by Rembrandt’s mother engraved by her son (Fondation Custodia, Frits Lugt collection), by the peasant from Picardy painted by Julien Dupré (Reims, musée des Beaux-Arts) and, more recently, by Sharbat Gula, “The Afghan Girl” photographed by Steve McCurry. (Image: Harmenszoon van Rijn Rembrandt, Petite mariée juive (Saskia en sainte Catherine), 1638, eauforte et pointe sèche © Collection Frits Lugt, Fondation Custodia, Paris)

Sacred or allegoric veils
Next come sacred or allegoric veils, whether denominational (worn by clergymen or saints), ritual (communion, marriage, mourning, other religious ceremonies) or symbolic (representing the concealed or the law, for example). The veil worn by the vestal virgins painted in 1827 by Jean Raoux (Lille, Palais des Beaux-Arts), as well as those of our communicants, or the veil of the bride captured by the photographed Guy Le Querrec (Magnum photos). But also the veil of the Virgin Marys sculpted in the 15th century or that of catholic nuns, like Saint Catherine of Siena by Cristofano Allori (Amiens, musée de Picardie). It becomes allegoric in the sculpted medallion The Silence by Auguste Préault (musée du Louvre) and the statuette The Secret by Pierre-Félix Fix-Masseau (Musée d’Orsay). The donning of a veil is often more circumstantial for men: Jews wearing a tallit during prayer at the synagogue, painted by André Sureda (Autun, musée Rolin) or weeping at a gravestone in Burgundy (Lyon, musée des Beaux-Arts).

The veil on stage
The favoured artistic approach has given veils a place of honour on stage. First of all as a performance accessory, used in theatre and particularly dance, from the antique Theban dancer (musée du Louvre) to Loïe Fuller (who became famous for her Serpentine Dance), as well as statuettes of Ouled-Naïl dancers cast in bronze by Pierre-Marie Poisson (Niort, musée Bernard d’Agesci). Artists seeking to depict drapery sculpt translucent veils in clay (Carrier-Belleuse, Laon, musée d’Art et d’Archéologie) or marble (Giovanni Strazza, Nice, musée des Beaux-Arts Jules-Chéret), or photograph Moroccan women posed as antique statues (Gaëtan Gatian de Clérambault, Chalon-sur-Saône, musée Nicéphore Niépce). What they all have in common is their power of seduction and spectacle, differentiating them from a true fabric accessory to become scenographic and/or visual instruments, that uncover rather than cover. When worn by men they are considered fancy dress, like Pierre Loti photographed wearing the keffiyeh in ‘the mosque’ at his home in Rochefort. (Image: Giovanni Strazza (Milan, 1818-1875) ou atelier, Femme voilée, le silence, ca 1850-1880, marbre de carrare, socle et piédouche © Nice, musée des Beaux-Arts.)

Finally, in the form of an epilogue, the last section will look at the parallel notion of unveiling, whether voluntary or endured, ritual, daily or seductive. Orientalist artists, like the painter Léopold de Moulignon (Rochefort, musée d’Art et d’Histoire), or photographers like Rudolf Lehnert and Ernst Landrock (private collection) pander to colonial fantasy by exhibiting women with their faces hidden behind a veil but their bodies on display. In contrast, art also showcases women’s hair, ostensibly accentuated, as in the 17th century Persian miniature (Lyon, musée des Beaux-Arts) and the dual faces of the portraits photographed by Iranian artist Lida Ghodsi. The exhibition comes to a close with the appearance of Truth in the form of a nude and unveiled woman depicted by the painter Jean-Jacques Henner (Paris, musée national Jean-Jacques Henner) and the long-haired woman by Man Ray (Chalon-sur-Saône, musée Nicéphore Niépce). (Image: Lida Ghodsi, Intérieur, extérieur Téhéran, 1970 photographie sur Dibond, Lyon, musée des Confluences)

Additional Information

Learn more about the Royal Monastery of Brou  at For additional information on the exhibit please contact Monastère royal de Brou, 63 boulevard de Brou 01 000 Bourg-en-Bresse FRANCE -33(0)4 74 22 83 83 /

Source: Content, including images, provided by Alambret Communication and Monastere Royal de Brou.

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