2 Jul 2010

An Attention to Detail (Part 1)

To some of us, rusticity may conjure up images of simple - even primitive - countryside dwellings close to nature, yet with limited/ basic home comforts and no luxuries. We picture them in an unpolished, unrefined, unfinished, unattractive sort of way, in need of a Kevin McCloud Grand Designs make-over...

We couldn't be further from the truth. Maybe it is that our modern conception of rusticity has widened to incorporate any 'ancient' (old) building that is found in the country and that has been left untouched by expectations of a modern lifestyle. Yet in these 'rustic' properties, I have found rough diamonds: self-contained households that paid an incredible attention to detail, the kind that, transposed to our modern days, would elude the average architect and home designer. I have discovered skilled building crafts excelling through competence and ingeniosity, mastering difficulties imposed by the terrain, the logistics and the technological advances (or limitations) of the time. I have marvelled at the fact that it seemed no expense, no effort were spared to construct public and private buildings, from the sacred to the profane, that would stand the test of time and offer their users a domotics solution that would transcend the fickleness of trends and fashion.


Any examples? Let's start with our humble 'rustic' chapels scattered in the mountains, celebrating popular religious icons, from la Madonna (Marie) to St-Pierre, Ste-Claire, Ste-Anne, St-Pancrace, St-Roch, St-Jean, St-Marc, St-Côme & Damien, and others... Places of worship that also acted as social points, as this is testified by the ubiquitous built-in stone benches, with parishioners and non-parishioners alike congregating outside the main gates (parvis) for a spot of chit-chat and to put the world to rights.

Some country chapels (including those now sadly ruined) illustrate attention to detail through plasterwork, whitewashing, painting, stencilling, cornicing, carving, paving, woodwork and metalwork. This involved the skill of craftsmen, tradesmen and 'minor' artists from local areas or further afield, sometimes from as far as Italy.


To historians and the ever-more blasé public, these may not be works of art compared to the Sixtine Chapel, yet to me, they embody art in its pastoral sensitivity and sensibility. At the same time, they send out a red alert that if we just carry on accepting loss and decay and look for art and the sacred within the obvious rather than within the more mundane, those testimonies of a lifestyle gone will one day blur into the collective psyche before disappearing without a trace and without a care... (to be continued)

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