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Divine, Illuminated light

I followed in the footsteps of the monks who were the first illuminators.

My paintings are in homage to them.’ Mathilda de Carpentry has fingers as fine as the delicate lines she paints on her glass canvases. In choosing illumination, she has not chosen simplicity and, being a perfectionist she spends from three hundred to a thousand hours on each subject. From medieval scenes to sacred art, Mathilda finds her inspiration in an imagination fed by reading and travelling.

Miniatures in ivory from Morocco, temples and saris from India, medieval and persian iconography as well as the books on art she came across during her applied and graphic arts studies. These have allowed the artist to collect a multitude of images now put on the glass which acts as their support as well as their protection. Scenes from the bible, the Koran or other religions are an expression of a quest that Mathilda lives from day to day. ‘ My painting is both a perpetual prayer, a quest, a calling out and an acknowledgement. I have always painted Christ and each time I feel emotions that are difficult to define.’ We can understand her when we stop in front of her ‘ Descent from the Cross ’ witnessed by a roman who first watched Christ die and then saw his resurrection. ‘ He is there, an involuntary witness as overcome as I was, ’ say Mathilda.

Why does she paint ‘ Hell ’ up in the sky and on a blue background (her favourite colour and one she uses magnificently) when it is usually represented in red ? ‘ To leave the souls a chance, a ray of hope. The monks that are also found in the painting titled ‘ Purgatory ’ , are filled with all the sins of the world and atone for them on behalf of all men... and guide them towards salvation. A lot of priests are saints for the same reason ; they carry our sins. ’ Mathilda searches and questions. She wrong-foots all the cliches, be they aesthetic or religious, but not without difficulty, ‘ There is so much to learn, both in art and theology ! Each one of my paintings is the result of a number of encounters - artistic or religious - which have taken place in Europe, Asia or elsewhere. I am influenced by those images or texts which accumulate in my imagination until one day a painting appears. ’ It is thus that we can find ourselves in front of ‘ The Angel that appeared to Toby ’ with oriental features ! It does not matter.

The bright colours, the splendour of goldleaf, the sheets of glass (in carbon fibre so as to avoid breakage and of reflection), nothing detracts from the spirituality of these sacred scenes that ‘everyone can see and understand as they wish . ‘ Like the ‘Plague of Saint Gregory the Great ’.

Time has abolished, nothing indicates that the scenes takes place in Rome: each person has to place the scene in his own imagination. The tabernacle carried by the monks is surrounded by a crowd, the Pope and the cardinals. A text in Latin tells of the tragedy. ‘ The plague could be contemporary, it could be AIDS, ‘ the artist say, ‘these paintings are medieval in their inspiration but remain topical. ‘Be it in London, Paris, Beaugency - a perfect medieval city - Sarlat or Strasbourg, Mathilda de Carpentry exhibits for her own pleasure, crossing both centuries and countries with talent. After five years - from 1982 to 1987 - of reflection and patient work in her studio in Lavandou she finally decided to show to the public her meticulous, perfect work.

She uses a very ancient technique mastered by the Bysantines who used it for eight centuries before passing it on the Venetians in the XIII century.

Mathilda uses oil paints applied to the reverse side of a sheet of glass. Each subject is superimposed on the previous one thus excluding any possibility of correction. ‘ To find a solution to the fragility of glass I had to use new materials as well as new cutting and framing techniques. ‘Goldleaf is used in a lot of works and the glass Mathilda uses come from the fashion house Hermès. ‘ When I use goldleaf, which is so difficult to stick on glass I have to hold my breath as I work so as not to destroy the image.’

When the painting has been completed, it’s interpretation is far from being fixed. It varies with the way in which one looks at them: historically, religiously or simply artistically.

There is also a strange phenomenon; among the many sacred scenes she paints those which evoke the Moslem religion (mosques or prophets) are the most successful. Mathilda cannot explain why but it in no way affects her fervour in her quest for Christ, far from the critics.

She often thinks of Rainer Maria Rilke who said so rightly, ‘ Works of art of an infinite solitude ;

Criticism is the worst way to approach them. Only love can grasp them, keep them and be just to them.’


Isabelle Sadoux. Valeurs Actuelles, August. 1993