Placed on this wall in 1987 by the artist Jean-Pierre Yvaral, this work of art is a portrait of St Vincent de Paul. It is a fantastically clever installation, not painted or stencilled but in fact a very careful arrangement of blades of metal. Yvaral was fascinated by the possibilities offered to artists by the digital age, and he used computers to experiment with form and structure. In this example, machines could define the necessary form to make the installation work, then ensure that the blades were cut to exactly the right shape. It is only when you get very close to the installation that you see how it was constructed and the eyes stop following you! (Try looking at this point on Google Street View - roughly 105 Rue du Faubourg St Denis).
Who though was Saint Vincent de Paul, and why was this wall chosen? The name Vincent de Paul is one that pops up regularly in the city; a chapel in the 6th arrondissement, a hospital in the 14th, but here he overlooks what was his home. This spot was previously a marshland, a boggy wasteland alongside an old stretch of the Seine, and had since the early middle ages provided a refuge for lepers. Comfortably for the residents of Paris, it was situated just the other side of the city walls, but slowly it fell into abandon. Vincent de Paul was therefore able to purchase the land and remaining buildings in 1632 for a good price and create his own mission, known as the Lazaristes, looking after the sick and needy.
Vincent de Paul was involved in the creation of many charitible bodies, and he quickly grew in renown, so much so that the king Louis XIII requested his presence on his death bed and was to die in his arms. With so many good deeds to his name, he was made a Saint 70 years after his death, in 1737. His creation at this spot remained a hospital after his death until the French revolution when it was requisitioned and turned into a prison. Later, and until 1999, it was turned back into a hospital, but today, it is simply a ramshackle collection of buildings waiting to be renovated or pulled down. That history though is another story or collection of stories!
Next: Prisons, prayers and prostitutes.Note: Google Street View gives a very good idea of this interesting area. If it does not display below, search for 105 Rue du Faubourg St Denis.
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