The Chapel of Vence: Art and Enlightenment
Best known for his use of color, Henri Matisse cleverly cultivated his status as a modern artist using many different styles of painting from Impressionism to Fauvism. The artwork of Matisse has been a milestone in the history of painting. Henri Matisse’s self-proclaimed masterpiece, however, a chapel in Vence, France, is a small, minimalist building. The amalgamation of modern art and the sacred creates a unique spiritual experience in that it welcomes Christians and non-Christians alike to appreciate the artist’s religious symbolism. The elegantly simple architecture of the chapel, the use of light in the space, and the binary of colors on opposite walls have a calming, cleansing, and transformative effect that is undeniable.
Matisse’s design takes a new turn into the modern technique, with clean lines and new influence of nature. A tall structure decorated with crescent moons that simultaneously resembles a steeple and a bell tower greets the visiting pilgrim from afar beckoning through sight and sound. Upon approach, the cross at the top of this extremity indicates the building’s religious affiliation. The interior of the chapel is not particularly ornate nor very large, but the white stone walls create an enormous sense of space. The chapel is L-shaped and the altar is placed at an angle where the two portions of the structure meet. This minimalist aesthetic in which the design is reduced to the necessary elements creates an impression of extreme simplicity by enlisting every feature to serve multiple functional and visual purposes, such as the windows that provide light and color to the chapel.
Architecture, when used as a means of personifying principles of harmony, can turn an ordinary place into a haven. The geometric form in addition to the building’s relationship to landscape aspires to be nurturing rather than strenuous or exhausting. By creating an environment that is supportive of both inner and outer senses, Matisse enhance the visitor’s ability to alienate the human link with nature. The minimalist elegance combined with brightness and natural symmetry establishes a rhythm which provides a enjoyable religious experience.
The relationship between light and architecture occurs inevitably. Light or the absence of light can transform a space in every moment as it has the ability to change the spatial context, creating pleasant or disagreeable, sublime or mysterious sensations, the sensations of enlarging or minimizing a space, or simply emphasizing aspects of the space that interest us. The play of light in Matisse’s chapel certainly makes the space more agreeable, comfortable, habitable as well as visible. A canvas painting can also have this effect, however, that type of light is often stationery and representative of a particular form of interpretation where as the use of light in the chapel is three-dimensional and experiential.
In most modern constructions,...