With watercolors, brushes, ink pens, and paper in hand, Dominique Mathez walked the boulevards of her home town, documenting the architectural details that make the city unique in its Parisian flourishes. She beautifully captured the sculpted arabesques, bows, spirals, interlacing forms, and curves that ornament the windows, doors, and balconies that proliferate. The book produced to celebrate her artistry, The Façades of Paris published by Rizzoli, is a true gem.
Parisian Flourishes in The Façades of Paris
Proving that a scientific mind can be just at home in the creative realm, Mathez is a French doctor and clinical researcher known for her pioneering contributions to treating HIV and AIDS. This is the first publication to celebrate her work as an illustrator. Accompanying her compositions is text by Christophe Averty, a French art journalist; and Joël Orgiazzi, a French ironmaster who has been awarded the prestigious title Meilleur Ouvrier de France. Their introduction, as artful as the visuals in the book, opens with: “Imperious and unmoving, they rise before us. Unfurling their silent tales down streets and boulevards, the façades of Parisian buildings draw the city, sketch its perspective angles, and narrate its history, harmony, and poetry.”
The first three illustrations in the book capture the house in which Héloïse and Abélard began their tragic love story on the Quai aux Fleurs—the door to the building shown above. My essay about these medieval intellectuals, published in The Modern Salonnière, is also in a previous post here on the blog. I first became fascinated with the couple when I was in college. My poetry professor Tom Absher wrote a series of poems about them that held some of the most captivating lines I had ever read so I thought I’d share some of his lyrical language with Mathez’s art, which pairs so well because there is a medieval quality to the drawings given many of them hold symbols of chivalry and heraldry.
In his book, The Calling, his second chapter is titled “Héloïse, Abbess of the Paraclete.” After a brief introduction that states Abélard was first her tutor, then her lover, then the father of her child and her husband—in that order, he points out that they spent much of their lives in separate monastic communities where they wrote letters to each other until Abélard died. It is from the nunnery into which Héloïse withdrew that she offers her perspective in his poems in this particular book. In the poem titled “The Calling,” she says “I am content to sit at my window / and breathe the air coming off the garden. / Sometimes after a long period, the silence / inside the soft bell of the tulip’s mouth / is so like my own it overwhelms me.” In the poem “Logos,” she declares, “The buried life behind these walls / is not what you think. / We are not ecstatics lost in the deep rapture / of visions. Our chief pleasure here / is simply with language, holy language.” Absher ends the poem, “…Always / the same word presents itself within me: Sanctus. / I speak it aloud to the sleeping dog.”
In “The Soul Among Women,” Héloïse is remembering the earlier time as her life was being turned upside down: “I tried to turn away. But in your eyes / I was so alive in the curve of myself / my heart gave up its argument.” In “Night Vigil,” she explains that the nuns are allowed to spend entire nights in Profound Silence during which, “One gives up her sleep / in praise of God and the constellations.” She then says, “I prefer to give thanks to the Virgin / riding in her basket of moon / and to listen to the nightbirds / until even they are asleep.”
In the book Forms of Praise, Absher has the couple writing to each other. The poem “Separation” is a letter from Abélard to Héloïse, “I never know who I am any more until I write to you.” He tells her, “On warm days I walk under the tall oaks / letting sunlight flash over me through the leaves / until I feel like a jewel.” She writes to him, “From my window I can watch the earth / waking from its long sleep like a she-bear, / browns and grays waiting to be washed clean / when the first rains come, everything poised between / seasons.” I love the stillness Absher captured in his exploration of the two and I felt the quietude of Mathez’s compositions was a creative echo of his voice. I hope you’ve enjoyed the beauty both have created intertwined.
Parisian Flourishes © Saxon Henry, all rights reserved. Saxon is an author, journalist, poet, and strategist whose books include The Modern Salonnière, Anywhere But Here, Stranded on the Road to Promise, and Four Florida Moderns. She received a review copy of this book from the publisher but her comments were in no way swayed by this fact and are authentically true. You can find it on Rizzoli’s site or buy it on bookshop.org. If you haven’t followed me on Instagram, please do so, as I share highlights of the second book in The Modern Salonnière series, which will debut early next year, there.