France – Nancy

It was near Nancy that the story of Burgundy began; with Nancy properly it should finish. Nancy has fulfilled its destiny. It is the sort of city that Gondicaire, the blacksmith king, or Charles the Bold, the iron-plated duke, would have wished it to be —a place of forges and foundries and steel-mills. Not so long ago it was girded with all its medieval trappings and battling for its advanced bastions with all the skill that comes with centuries of practice. An enemy was at the gate, and enemies were no new experience in Lorraine. Now it has gone back to its routine manufacture of loco-motives and has forgotten that it was ever singled out for greatness. But it is still Nancy, city of kings, still mysterious and still beautiful.

Nancy [says Andre Hallays] has received all of its beauty from the men who constructed and ornamented it. Nowhere else, even as far as Bordeaux, is one able to discover an ensemble of architectures in which is manifested so clearly the style of an epoch. Elsewhere the turn of events has frequently interrupted work already begun, and one sees where later the task was taken up by unskilful artisans with no thought for discrepancies. In other places, also, under the pretext of modernization, vandals and experimenters have altered the plan and decorative schemes conceived by the artists of former epochs. In Nancy the work was carried out as undertaken and what is more has been respected. It has suffered, during the Nineteenth Century, some additions and some damage, but the arrangement of streets has not been modified. They have in no case demolished the triumphal arches which span the boulevards of the little capital. They have conserved the contours and the perspectives of the three great public squares of which each is a pure masterpiece by reason of the nicety of its proportions and the harmony of its facades—more beautiful still by reason of the ingenious contrast of their individual aspects : The long Place de la Carriere which is the magnificent terminus of the colonnade of the governmental palace; The Place Royale, called to-day the Place Stanislas, majestic as an emblem of monarchy but enlivened by the caprice of its grills and fountains ; and finally the little Place d’Alliance, like a cloister, silent, shadowy, hedged in by sober and noble buildings, a place whose silence is troubled only by the splashing of the water which bearded river gods allow to trickle into their urns of lead. . . . In brief, we have to-day before our eyes the city created by the Dukes of Lorraine and finished by Stanislas, the perfect work of a troupe of admirable artists : Boffrand, Here, Guibal, Cyffle, Girardet, Lamour, and others.

We speak frequently nowadays of “the art of city-building.” Behold the model.

Behold the originality of Nancy. Behold the sort of beauty which at once strikes the stranger. The memory which it graves upon our memory is the image of a city regular and spacious where engineers, architects, sculptors, and decorators have realized one of the marvels of French taste. Nancy is above all the city of Stanislas. Its charm was given it by the art of the Eighteenth Century.

Nancy, as nearly as can be discovered from very meager sources, is totally the product of the new civilization which replaced that of Rome. It was just about the time of the collapse of the Rodolfian kingdom of Burgundy that the dukes of Lorraine established their capital here. They built a chateau not far from the Meurthe on a high point between two swamps. Monasteries came to the neighborhood. The Knights of St. John established a commandery near the chateau and built a fortress abbey of their own. A tower of it may still be seen in the suburb to which they gave their name. The monks of St. Bernard came to found a monastery, of which nothing remains to-day save an ancient well.

In the thirteenth century the Duke Thibaut of Lorraine had a pretentious but somewhat useless war with the Holy Roman Empire, in which Nancy was burned.

A hundred years later the city had spread outside the square of its original ramparts and was extended and re-fortified by Duke John I. The walls that he built were pierced by the Porte St. Nicolas and the Porte de la Craffe, both of which remain as startling monuments in the principal thoroughfare of the steel city.

In the middle of the fifteenth century the population of the city itself was five thousand. About the walls sprang up another community of warriors, seigneurs, workmen, and monks. This was the Nancy which, as the fortified capital of Lorraine, aroused the cupidity of the dukes of Burgundy and brought sundry woes to the two Renes.

Lorraine was given a national unity toward the end of the fifteenth century by the patriotic reaction that followed the defeat of Charles the Bold. Before that time it had been in effect what Charles wished it to be in title, a link between the two isolated territories of French Burgundy and the Netherlands.

Nancy the victorious developed a civic pride that was the vital principle of its artistic progress. The present-day city has not forgotten the importance of the event that was the turning-point in its history. A tablet in the pavement of the Grande Rue marks the site of the old house of Georges Marquiez where the body of the duke of Burgundy was first taken after the battle. On two of the ancient city gates are bas-relief bronzes depicting the victory of Rene. And in the Faubourg St. Jean, former territory of the knights who left only their name there, one sees the simple Lorraine cross that stands over the spot where Charles was found, face down in the slush-ice of a pond. The little lake, described by witnesses of the battle, has long since disappeared, and a well kept residential section of the modern city covers the ancient parade-ground of the knights. The present cross is a reconstruction of the monument torn down during the revolution.

Under Rene II began the period of Nancy’s embellishment. Provence had passed into the hands of Louis XI. The phantom crowns of Sicily and Jerusalem were no more tangible than they had been in the bloody days before the elder Rene claimed them. And Rene II had little mind to go adventuring for the pots of gold that lie at the end of distant rainbows. He devoted all his energies and in-come to the strengthening of the duchy that had cost so much effort and pain in the gaining.

Within a century Nancy was what the capital of a border duchy should have been—then as now—as formidable a collection of masonry and guns as could be found in Europe. It brought to Orphee de Galean a reputation as a remarkable designer of fortification, and it brought to the dukes of Lorraine the usual woes that follow top-heavy armament.

The Duke Charles IV quarreled with Richelieu, and so the French came into Lorraine. The city was made free again by the peace of the Pyrenees, which concluded the fighting between France and Spain in 1660—a free city without walls. Louis XIV retook it and attempted to re-store the fortifications; but his efforts to win over the nobility of Lorraine were without result, and the people remained hostile until the treaty of Ryswick concluded the war between Louis and the rest of the world and brought Leopold I to the ducal throne with a power almost regal. In 1729 Duke Francois Etienne, who had married Marie-Therese, daughter of the Emperor Charles VI, settled the war of succession in Poland by trading Lorraine to Stanislas Leczinski, King of Poland, for Tuscany. So came another king, quite unlike the others who had dabbled in the affairs of Lorraine, to play with a duchy and build a city.

Stanislas found his new capital to be not one town but two, a physical situation the more noticeable in that the fortifications built by de Galean had nearly all disappeared. Louis XIV, ambitious for the return of the duchy to French domination, had prevailed upon Leopold to tear down such of the walls as had been restored. Nothing had been done by succeeding dukes to repair this ruin, and so Stanislas found an unbeautiful, weed-grown open space between the twin cities that had once been citadels.

Nancy at this juncture might readily have been ruined artistically. It was plain that the two portions of the capital should be connected but the sort of arrangement that would effect the union with symmetry and grace was problematical. Stanislas solved the difficulty by laying out the Place Royale that now bears his name.

The art of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries finds a varied expression in this square. There is probably no finer ironwork in Europe nor more delicate fountains. And modern Nancy appreciates its treasures. Here on the night of a festival the entire town gathers for an impromptu dance or to sit before the cafes that line the square and to listen to the playing of a military band. On such occasions the facades of the public buildings are hung with perforated gas-pipes connected by hose to the city mains. These crude fixtures are lighted at a thousand jets by means of a long torch and provide a flickering, scintillant illumination that electricity with all its advantages cannot duplicate.

King Stanislas looks down a short street between two pavilions toward the arch of triumph. Immediately beyond that is the Place de la Carriere with its center parking of cubical trees leading to the wide portico of the govern-mental palace. The Place de la Carriere itself ends in an oval colonnade that gives access at the left to the old town.

The Church of St. Evre, a modern Gothic structure which fails of effect through lack of harmony with its medieval surroundings, and the Palace of the Dukes, a work of Rene II, are the most important monuments on the square beyond the colonnade, but what the other buildings lack in individual charm they supply in atmosphere. The age of this portion of the town is unmistakable. Here are the streets of the White Horse, the Deceitful Moor, and the High and Low Bourgeois. Here are arcaded passage-way and arched doors, ancient tourelles and overhanging gables. “The facades, the doorways, the courts of the private homes,” says Hallays, “evoke the life and tastes of old Lorraine.”

The palace of the dukes is a structure that reminds one somewhat of the Hotel Dieu at Beaune. Rene brought more than the “Lorraine cross” from Anjou to Nancy. The Burgundian motif is not far to seek in everything he did. The exterior of the palace is a plain wall surmounted by a high-pitched roof and poorly lighted. Its only attempt at ornamentation is the entrance, which is pure Gothic. It is now used as a museum for the historical and artistic treasures of the duchy.

Within, it is a palace worthy of independent dukes, whose magnificent history is legible in scores of paintings, tapestries, and decorated windows. Read the pomp of the dukes in Claude de la Ruffle’s engravings of the funeral of Charles III.

In old Lorraine it was traditional that Europe’s most magnificent ceremonies were the coronation of the head of the Holy Roman Empire at Frankfort, the consecration of a king of France at Rheims, and the funeral of a duke of Lorraine at Nancy. Claude de la Ruelle’s artistic record shows that in one of its clauses, at least, the legend was not without foundation.

The Duke Charles III died on the fourteenth of May. The body was embalmed and laid in state while men-at-arms in the mourning garb of the palace kept watch day and night and tended the forest of wax candles that burned in the chamber. Constantly psalms of mourning were being sung by choirs from the cathedral.

This portion of the ceremony went on for three weeks to permit the merchants of Nancy to gather all the materials necessary for the mourning garments required by the court. On June 8, when these preliminaries had been completed, an effigy of the dead duke was laid in his bed, and the gentlemen of the court took up their part of a strange mummery. They entered the chamber accompanied by prelates of the church and officers of the army and solemnly chanted the vigils and thurifications. As soon as they had finished, a page appeared at the door and called:

“Lay a cover for his Highness !” The stewards pre-pared a table.

“Food for his Highness,” ordered the page, and waiters brought a complete meal, which they placed course by course before the duke’s vacant chair. The ducal alms-distributer then said grace and carried out the untouched food to be distributed among the poor.

From June 9 to 13 these meals were served daily at the accustomed time, the periods between the Barmecide feasts being occupied with chants and prayers. Then the body was brought to the funeral chamber, where offices were said according to a prescribed ritual for two days.

On June 16 three hundred paupers carrying torches, three hundred burghers carrying candles, and all the knights, nobles, and ecclesiastics of Lorraine escorted the coffin to the Collegiate Church of St. George, where, after lying in state another day, it was finally buried. A dead duke must have been something of a care in those days.

Probably the most important of the art treasures of the Palace of the Dukes are the tapestries said to have been found in the tent of Charles the Bold after his re-pulse and death by the lake of St. Jean.

There has been considerable controversy over the origin of these panels. They are obviously of Flemish workman-ship and have been attributed by some authorities to Pasquier Grenier of Tournai, furnisher to the court of Philip the Good. Whatever their origin, these tapestries have a distinct story-interest. They are history and poetry and romance as well as art. They are the perfect prototype of our cartoon strips, which attempt to convey a narrative through a series of pictures. In a lesser degree they are the motionless cinema of the Middle Ages.

Here, stated a bit differently from the manner of the Middle Ages, perhaps, but adhering in all respects to the original, is the scenario of the Great Flemish Feature Picture as it is unfolded panel by panel on the wall of the Galerie des Cerfs:

THE CONDEMNATION OF BANQUET

A Drama Written by Nicolas de la Chesnaye (?) Photography by Pasquier Grenier (?) Subtitles by de la Chesnaye (?) Produced by Charles le Temeraire (?) Distributed by Rene II

THE CAST DINNER, the poor but honest hero of the piece. BANQUET, an overfed villain. SUPPER, his bloated accomplice.

And their followers: GOOD-COMPANY HABIT. I-DRINK-TO-YOU. I-PLEDGE-YOU. PASTIME. DAINTINESS.

And other noted actors from that great Opera Comique of The Medieval Mind.

SUBTITLE:

The worthy DINNER entertains a few friends.

SCENE I. DINNER, a commonplace, democratic sort of soul, has invited to his table GOOD-COMPANY, I-DRINK-TOYOU, PASTIME, GLUTTONY, DAINTINESS, and a number of other gentle companions. Three musicians are playing in-audible airs on a tapestry flute, and all seems to be merry. . . . Here enter the villains. At the door are seen the leering countenances of SUPPER and BANQUET, jealous that the noble guests are neglecting them for the poor simple DINNER. Obviously they are plotting his ruin. One would be sure of it, even were it not for the subtitles woven into the scene.

SUBTITLE: The Betrayal

SCENE II. BANQUET IS shown in his own hotel, out-doing DINNER in the entertainment of the distinguished assemblage. His table is decorated with voluptuous statuary. The napery is the finest. The vessels are of gold. There are no after-dinner speakers. The guests are smiling their approval of the good BANQUET’S prodigal munificence. But look behind them. Once more the villains are at work. At a signal from the traitorous host there enters a horde of unexpected guests: APOPLEXY, FEVER, GOUT, COLIC, and their near relations.

SUBTITLE:

The Massacre

SCENE III. Same as Scene II. The terrible horde called by BANQUET rushes in upon the unfortunate guests and slaughters them. Of the group only GOOD-COMPANY, PAS-TIME, and HABIT come forth unscathed.

SUBTITLE:

The Complaint

SCENE IV. In the court of DAME EXPERIENCE. The Good Dame receives the survivors of the plot and accedes to their plea for vengeance. She orders that her servitors,

FIRST-AID, CLYSTER, PILL, REMEDY, and DIET, bring the guilty ones before her.

SUBTITLE: The Trial

SCENE V. The tribunal of DAME EXPERIENCE. DAME EXPERIENCE Sits as judge. GALLIEN and AVER-ROES, the learned physicians, argue the case. The clerk writes the sentence.

SUBTITLE: Censored.

SCENE VI. Probably this panel showed the execution of BANQUET and SUPPER amid a number of tapestried horrors. The censors of the revolution or of some earlier period lost this reel of the picture, and so one can only imagine the villains going to their just deserts while the humble DINNER profits by his sturdy honesty and is re-stored to the faith and respect of his neighbors.

THE END

So runs this ancient cinema. It is an interesting picture of life in the time of the Burgundian dukes, not in what it actually shows but in what it implies. It is a naive, childish story, spun through five vast tapestries, and worked out with gorgeous opulence. Between its threads one sees some-thing of the Mind of the Middle Ages.

It is typical, as Hallays says, of the laughing good nature of the times. It throws a bit of light on the tastes of the ducal courts in the twilight of feudalism. For all its luxurious surroundings, the noblesse was content to amuse it-self with the same things that had amused its ancestors.