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Cahier, Charles

    Full Name: Cahier, Charles

    Other Names:

    • Charles Cahier

    Gender: male

    Date Born: 1807

    Date Died: 1882

    Place Born: Paris, Île-de-France, France

    Place Died: Paris, Île-de-France, France

    Home Country/ies: France

    Subject Area(s): decorative art (art genre), French (culture or style), French Medieval styles, iconography, Medieval (European), and sculpture (visual works)


    French iconographer of medieval sculpture and decorative arts. Cahier studied at the College of Saint-Acheul. He joined the Jesuit order, ordained as priest, in 1824. Cahier lectured at the Jesuit colleges in Paris, Brieg (in the Swiss Canton of Wallis), Turin, and in Belgium at Brugalette. In the pre-photography days, Cahier began “collecting” medieval monuments, noting their location and iconography with the idea of documenting the Christian (i. e., Roman Catholic) faith via art of the middle ages. Around 1840 he and another Jesuit, Father Arthur Martin (1801-1856) began organizing the material Cahier had collected for publication. Martin was an excellent draftman; he provided the numerous drawings necessary to publish an art book. In 1841 they began issuing their first folio, a book on the thirteenth-century stained glass of the cathedral at Bourges, Monographie de la cathédrale de Bourges, première partie. Vitraux du XIIIe siècle (continuing through 1844). Their analysis was quickly subsumed in famous artistic hagiography by Louis Jean Gue´nebault (1789-1878) Dictionnaire iconographique des figures, le´gendes et actes des saints of 1850. In 1848 the pair began to publish Mélanges d’archéologie, d’histoire, et de littérature (to 1859) a treatise on decorative arts and furnishings of the Carolingian and Romanesque era. Caractéristiques des saints dans l’art populaire, a treatment of the most popular saints in French culture, was issued in 1867. The first volume of their Noveaux mélanges d’archéologie, d’histoire, et de littérature sur le moyen-âge was published in 1874. Martin had died by then and Cahier provided a touching memoir of his colleague. His specialty topic the people’s calendar, common local practices connected with the liturgical life, was collected in his “Calendrier populaire du temps passé” was published in the Revue de l’art chrétien in 1878. Cahier was first and foremost a priest writing about “the age of Faith” as he saw the middle ages. He was broadly versed in medieval myths and customs, especially the “people’s calendar.” His documentation, classification, and interpretation of the widespread medieval minor arts encompassed France, Belgium, and Germany. However, he ignored style, careful dating and the other basics of art history. His writing style, with its numerous asides and diatribes, was closer to the generation before his own. Cahier formed part of the group of prominent19th-century medieval iconographers whose ranks included Adolphe Napoléon Didron. Émile Mâle wrote that “No one in the nineteenth century knew the art of the Middle Ages better than Father Cahier.” Mâle characterized Cahier’s works as solid learning marred, unfortunately by their polemical tone and artificial style.

    Selected Bibliography

    and Martin, Arthur. Nouveaux mélanges d’archéologie, d’histoire et de littérature sur le Moyen Age, par les auteurs de la Monographie des vitraux de Bourges. 4 vols. Paris: Firmin Didot, 1874-77; Monographie de la cathédrale de Bourges, Première partie. Vitraux du XIIIe siècle. Paris: Poussielgue-Rusand, 1841; Caractéristiques des saints dan l’art populaire. Paris: Librairie Poussielgue Frères, 1867; Mélanges d’archéologie, d’histoire et de littérature, rédigés ou recueillis. 4 vols. Paris: Mme Ve Poussielgue-Rusand, 1847-1856.


    “Preface.” Religious Art in France: the Thirteenth Century: a Study of Medieval Iconography and its Sources. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1984, p. viii; Catholic Encyclopedia 3 (1908); Polybiblion: Revue bibliographique universelle. I, Paris: Aux bureaux de la revue, 1868, pp. 264-65.

    Contributors: Lee Sorensen


    Lee Sorensen. "Cahier, Charles." Dictionary of Art Historians (website).

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