Started in 1648 and completed nine years later, the Couvent de la Visitation functioned as a base for the religious order of the Visitation until it was abandoned in 1792, following the French Revolution. At the beginning of the 19th century, the building complex assumed a second life as the first Lycée de France, an institution that still operates on the site, though in a separate building from the chapel. The couvent, or convent, designed by Claude Collignon, an architect from Lorraine, exhibits two particularly notable architectural elements: a mausoleum, built in Paris and moved to Moulins in 1653, and a series of religious paintings by the artist Remy Vuibert, a pupil of Simon Vouet, including a depiction of the life of the Virgin Mary on the ceiling. The mausoleum was commissioned in honor of Henry II, the last duke of Montmorency in Toulouse, and features portraits of the duke and his wife, who sponsored both the mausoleum and the chapel.
How We Helped
In 2004, WMF began its work at the convent by commissioning extensive studies of the various structural threats to the building. Subsequently, a conservation team addressed dangers to the chapel’s façade, which had developed a vertical crack, and its roof, which suffered from serious problems with its central dome and lateral walls. Conservation efforts also corrected chipped stone surfaces and broken roof slates. Once these structural concerns were addressed, WMF began an in situ restoration of the building’s impressive interior paintings. The results of that and other projects were exhibited to the public in 2008. Additionally, WMF’s efforts have encouraged the municipality to undertake further conservation projects, including restorations to the nave and liturgical choir, and replacement of a missing ornamental iron grill, which originally divided the nuns’ choir from the main chapel.
Why It Matters
WMF’s work at the Couvent de la Visitation has refocused attention on the site and served as a catalyst for renewed interest in its artistic and historical treasures. Currently, the chapel hosts weekly tours, monthly masses, and seasonal concerts, all open to the public. The building is also used by local schools for educational purposes. Restoration of Remy Vuibert’s ceiling paintings has led to further study of the artist’s work; at a 2009 workshop in Moulins, specialists, including Claude Mignot and Alain Merot of the Paris-Sorbonne University, presented the results of research on the ceiling paintings and their artists. Conservation work at the convent continues, with participation from the local community and the municipal and national governments.