Ex-voto of 1662

Ex-voto of 1662

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Title: Portrait of Mother Agnès Arnauld and Sister Catherine de Sainte-Suzanne, known as L’Ex-voto.

Author : by CHAMPAIGNE Philippe (1602 - 1674)

School : French

Creation date : 1662

Date shown:

Dimensions: Height 165 - Width 229

Technique and other indications: Oil on canvas

Storage place: Louvre Museum (Paris) website

Contact copyright: © Photo RMN-Grand Palais (Louvre Museum) / Franck Raux

Picture reference: 07-524396 / INV1138

Portrait of Mother Agnès Arnauld and Sister Catherine de Sainte-Suzanne, known as L’Ex-voto.

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais (Louvre Museum) / Franck Raux

Publication date: January 2014

Academy Inspector Deputy Academic Director

Historical context

A miraculous cure

At the time he painted this painting, Philippe de Champaigne was a known and recognized artist. Marie de Medici, then Richelieu and Louis XIII, as well as Anne of Austria under the Regency, appreciated his talent and made him an official painter of the court.

In 1656, the taking of veil from his daughter Catherine strengthens the links he forged a few years earlier with Port-Royal1. Paralyzed in her legs for two years, Sister Catherine says she was spontaneously healed on January 6, 1662, at the end of a final novena2. After the disappearance of two other of his children, Philippe de Champaigne perceives this healing as a miracle and offers the painting to the community of Port-Royal, an ex-voto which could also appease the threats weighing on the convent.

This healing occurs in a context of crisis in Port-Royal. The female community adheres to the Jansenist theses3 - according to which man only derives his salvation from divine grace, of which he must nevertheless prove himself worthy by conquering his own concupiscence - and she refuses to sign the form of 1657 condemning five propositions of Jansenius, on the grounds that the work of the theologian published in 1640, theAugustinus, does not contain them. In this context, Sister Catherine's healing resonates as a sign of divine grace and as God's support for the resolution of the nuns.

Image Analysis

An intimate and stripped down scene

Philippe de Champaigne's work is a double portrait which testifies to his perfect pictorial mastery. On the right, seated with extended legs, Sister Catherine de Saint-Suzanne; on the left, mother Agnès Arnauld. The two women do not observe each other, but their gazes rise and calmly converge on a non-frame of the canvas. In a praying position, each wears a religious accessory, a rosary for the mother, a medallion reliquary for the sister. The wooden cross nailed to the wall stands out against a gray background that partially cracks under the effect of decay. Her presence is an echo of Sister Catherine's resurrection as well as a reminder of the ultimate sacrifice which testifies to the insurmountable power of divine grace.

The room is dark and dimly lit. A ray of light without a visible origin falls on Mother Agnès Arnauld and on the legs of Sister Catherine, the object of the miraculous cure. However, the faces of the two nuns also seem to carry an interior light. Cutting edge in this universe in shades of beige and gray, the red of the crosses and the black of the sails frame the two faces and reinforce their enhancement.

The humility, the bare bones and the austerity of the place correspond to those of the nuns, who have dedicated their lives to God: bure robe, nailed floor, bare wall, crack in the wall. The furniture is very simple and consists of an armchair, a stool and a chair, on which rests a book, probably Sister Catherine's prayer book.

In this setting, time seems suspended in an absolute present to which the nuns' state of stasis responds. At the top left, attributed to the doctor of Port-Royal, Hamon, or to the theologian Arnauld, and written by Philippe de Champaigne's nephew, Jean-Baptiste, a Latin inscription however clarifies the object of the scene by serving as a caption on the board: “To Christ, the only doctor of bodies and souls. Sister Catherine Susanne de Champaigne, after a fever of fourteen months which by its tenacity and the magnitude of the symptoms had frightened the doctors, while half of the body was almost paralyzed, that nature was already exhausted and that the doctors l 'had given up, having joined with mother Catherine Agnès by her prayers in an instant having recovered perfect health, offered herself again. Philippe de Champaigne, this image of such a great miracle and a testament to his joy presented in the year 1662.4 »


A Jansenist painting?

The gaze of the nuns draws the reader to a contemplative and spiritual elevation. The absence of a background introduces the viewer into the picture, where everything is in the foreground, and the absence of any superfluous detail accentuates the essentiality of the scene: the effective grace allowed the healing of the sister, while that the intercession of the mother underlines the importance of the praying community. While the nuns give thanks to God, the work itself fulfills an identical function and reflects the spiritual intensity of monastic life in Port-Royal. Philippe de Champaigne painted a religious camera in which the “hidden presence” of divine grace is revealed. The painting would therefore be both an offering by the painter for the healing of his daughter and the testimony of a Christian in favor of the visible manifestations of invisible grace. In this sense, the canvas illustrates a theme developed at length by the Jansenist theologian Antoine Arnauld.

The resulting serenity contrasts with the turmoil the community has suffered in recent years. As much as an offering to God - an ex-voto - this painting would therefore be an offering to the community and a support for Port-Royal, the main center of French Jansenism and a pole of attraction for French people in love with a profound renewal. spiritual. The persecution of which Port-Royal was the victim however redoubled between 1664 and 1669.

  • Bourbons
  • Catholicism
  • Clergy
  • women
  • monastery
  • Paris
  • religion
  • Religious life
  • Great Century
  • religious conflict
  • Jansenism
  • persecutions
  • Royal Port


· Monique COTTRET, “La querelle janséniste”, in Jean-Marie MAYEUR, Charles PIETRI, Luce PIETRI, André VAUCHEZ and Marc VENARD (eds.), History of Christianity from its origins to the present day, volume IX "The age of reason (1620-1750)", Paris, Desclée, 1997.

Bernard DORIVAL, Philippe de Champaigne (1602-1674): life, work and the catalog raisonné of the work, Paris, Laget, 1976.

Louis MARIN, Philippe de Champaigne or the Hidden Presence, Paris, Hazan, coll. "35/37", 1995.

Alain TAPIÉ and Nicolas SAINTE-FARE GARNOT (dir.), Philippe de Champaigne (1602-1674). Between politics and devotion, Paris, R.M.N., 2007.


1. At that time, the monastery of Port-Royal was a hotbed of Catholic reform; he becomes one of the symbols of political and religious protest, in the face of nascent royal absolutism. 2. Prayers repeated for nine consecutive days. 3. Religious movement, then political, which developed in reaction to certain developments in the Catholic Church and to royal absolutism. 4. Translation by Louis Marin, in Louis Marin, Philippe de Champaigne or the Hidden Presence, Paris, Hazan, 1995.

To cite this article

Jean HUBAC, "Ex-voto of 1662"

Video: Ex-VoTo I Can See Right Through You