The commentary of the cover

To Such as These by Pierre-Marie Dumont

In his day, Noël Hallé († 1781) was at least as celebrated as his contemporary Jean-Honoré Fragonard. At first sight, Hallé’s work Jesus and the Children stands out as the fullest expression of French classicism. His composition draws on all of its canons.

The subjects’ hand gestures speak louder than words; the interplay of their gazes is like a veritable conversation, while, at the same time, their lines of sight structure the space toward the earth-heaven diagonal formed by the body of Jesus Christ. It is here that color comes to life in this movement of transcendence and, notably, manifests the supernatural through the extraordinary blue of the Lord’s cloak, a blue that had been “invented” for this purpose by Philippe de Champaigne a century earlier.

In Champaigne’s work, color had become an explicit metaphor for the ineffable, moving us from contemplating the joys of earthly realities to heavenly realities. Also classical is the color of the shawl draped over Saint Peter’s shoulders. The burnt sienna makes of this cloth the stole of the vicar of Christ on earth. However, the play of light in its folds shades this earthy color to pure yellow, the color of betrayal (Judas is always clothed in yellow), retracing the journey of the head of the Apostles from his triple denial to the triple Do you love me?…Tend my sheep. The three children whom Peter, with a firm hand, tries to stop from approaching the Lord are clothed in the three cardinal virtues—the red of charity, the white and blue of faith, and the green of hope—clearly showing that the Apostle can make no further mistake. Yet, if Hallé borrows the composition and color palette of classicism, he does not seek to elevate the viewer toward some spiritual and moral ideal; he seeks rather to communicate emotions in a manner that was to become the basis of romanticism.

The great classical artists rejected all expression of sentiment, all dramatization in favor of reflection and interiority. Hallé sought to touch sensibilities. For him, the golden age of souls was a thing of the past. He dared to give a voice to his faces, to touch hearts to the point of sentimentality. Jesus appears almost exasperated by Saint Peter’s incomprehension of the things of the Kingdom of heaven. The mother and little children, on the contrary, reveal that they have understood all. They elicit our tender sympathy: praying, trusting, adoring, loving, they don’t doubt for a second that the Kingdom of heaven belongs to such as they, and that the God of love cannot but open his arms to receive them.   

Christ and the Children, Noël Hallé (1711-1781), Saint Sulpice Church, Paris, France.

© COARC / Roger-Viollet.