Following the steps of the “Master of Cabestany”: Cabestany village (Southern France)

Cabestany Roussillon

Old times in Cabestany

In the beautiful Roussillon, very close to the French-Spanish border, between the Mediterranean Sea and the Pyrenees Mountains, there is a little village named Cabestany. It’s almost a suburb of Perpignan, once the capital of Roussillon, and definitively it’s difficult to spot it on any touristic map of Southern France …

Perpignan

But the tiny village of Cabestany is very special for the author of this blog. Hence, taking into account that freedom rules the Internet, and taking into account that this is my blog, and taking into account that I post here whatever I want whenever I want, today I feel like beginning a series of posts devoted to a Medieval genius who worked many centuries ago in said little village: The Master of Cabestany.

So, if you don’t like Romanesque Art, you’d better fly away from here. If you do like it, follow the Master of Cabestany’s steps with me.

Now, let me introduce to you this great artist: The “Master of” or “Maître de” Cabestany (XII century) was a mysterious, anonymous, errant and sublime sculptor (most probably cathar) who worked in the very same geographical area which I cover in this blog: the Latin Arch (Do you see the parallelism?)

Master of Cabestany fish

Master of Cabestany: Detail of “Christ’s appearance to the Disciples” (originally in the Sant Pere de Rodes monastery, now in the Mares Museum, Barcelona, Spain)

Obviously, he did his job far better than I do mine, but that is not the point at this moment.

He is known as the “Master of Cabestany” (his real name is incognito) because of a tympanum made by his hand, found in the St. Marie church of Cabestany. The tympanum is devoted to the Dormition of Marie and her Assumption. There are other sculptures around Western Mediterranean churches and monasteries, that have such characteristics in common, that they are considered to be by the one and only Master of Cabestany.

The Master’s sculptures are extremely original. Human figures seem to come from an exo-planet recently discovered. Hands are big. Fingers are long. Eyes are almond-shaped. Ears are weird. Face expressions are 50% love 50% hate …

Mestre de Cabestany

Master of Cabestany: Detail of the Sarcophagus of St. Saturnin (Abbey of St. Hilaire, Southern France)

The Master’s powers can place together many wild figures, all of them skillfully detailed, on a very little surface:  No empty space is left.

So, my virtual friends, this is post number one of a series devoted to this great sculptor from the Middle Ages. But don’t worry. I don’t pretend to bore you with art theories or technical data in my blog. Actually, I am not able to bore you properly, as I am not a professor, scholar or something like that. I only pretend to give you just a glimpse of the Master’s talent and of the beautiful Mediterranean surroundings where he worked some 9 centuries ago.

Nevertheless, if you are interested in further information (outstanding information) about this old genius, I have some suggestions for you:

1.- If you speak or understand French or, at least, you understand b/w photography, a very good book is “Le Maître de Cabestany” (Éditions Zodiaque, various authors). You can get it in the Romanesque Sculpture Center of Cabestany (more about this later). This is the cover:

Zodiaque Cabestany

2.- If you speak or understand English, and don’t want to spend a penny, you can download this fabulous pdf about the Master.

That’s ok for today’s Art History class.  Now let’s deal with the little villa of Cabestany.

What can you do in Cabestany?

Well, in first place, if you are interested in the Master and you love touching everything, you can go to the Romanesque Sculpture Center (Centre de Sculpture Romane) of the village. There you’ll find replicas of the most outstanding works of the Master, made from resin and reconstituted stone. You can touch them, “feel” them and learn a lot of facts about the man and his work.

Centre Cabestany

Romanesque Sculpture Center in Cabestany

You can visit the Centre´s webpage here: www.maitre-de-cabestany.com

It was inaugurated in 2005. I was there …

Romanesque Sculpture Center 2005’ opening

Of course, in Cabestany you have to visit the St. Marie church, and stare in awe in front of the Master’s tympanum.

If you end up in a state of ecstasy after viewing so much mastery, you can do two things in Cabestany, just to recover your spiritual peace:

a)    You can listen some music/lyrics by another illustrious son of Cabestany, a Medieval “trobador” (singer), named Guillem de Cabestany.  There is a gloomy legend about him: It says that his girlfriend ate his heart …

In the wonderful compact disc below you could listen the complete story of that ancient crime (that of the poor Guillem de Cabestany), and enjoy some songs by this author and his fellow trobadors from the XII & XIII centuries. This ancient music is masterly sung and directed by the great tenor Antoni Rossel, and edited by the audacious Columna Musica.

trobadors catalans

Guillem de Cabestany’s sufferings are displayed in this compact disc

b)    But if Medieval music is not enough for you, in Cabestany you can buy & drink some good wine from Roussillon …

Roussillon wine

Vignerons de Cabestany et Alenya

We’ll be following the steps of the Master of Cabestany any other day, who knows where …

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About Covetotop

A Mediterranean blogger
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13 Responses to Following the steps of the “Master of Cabestany”: Cabestany village (Southern France)

  1. Trish says:

    Ok, I’m following your series. The photo of Perpignan caught my eye because I’m going there for a few weeks, soon. I’ll add Cabestany to my list of places to visit while I’m there.

    • Covetotop says:

      Cabestany is really very close to Perpignan (it’s almost another quarter of the city), and it is very little. The Maître de Cabestany Centre is very interesting if you like this old artist …
      Perpignan is a very beautiful city. By the way, Sant Pere de Rodes is barely an hour drive from Perpignan …

  2. trevwhitton says:

    I’m currently researching a book of speculative fiction centred on the Master of Cabestany. I’d be very interested if you or any of your readers have an opinion as to the origins or nature of the artist. I’m especially interested in any theories relating to why he adopted such a singular style (eg could he have been influenced by the middle east or north Africa?).

    • Covetotop says:

      As far as I know, nobody knows anything about this mysterious artist. His real name, his birthplace, where he learnt, all these data are incognito. We only have his masterpieces, which leaves us an open door to speculate …

      • trevwhitton says:

        Thanks Covetop. I am aware that there are no firm facts known about the The MoC – just fishing for other’s speculations to feed off. Any theories (however spurious) would be welcome. Really just hoping to open a dialogue. If you come across anyone with any opinions, I’d be grateful if you could introduce us. In the meantime, I’ll try trawling amongst some academics.

        Many thanks for your reply.

        Trevor Find my books at http://www.trevorwhitton.com

      • I have written a novel based on his artwork called, Heaven Walker: The Story of the Master of Cabestany. Obviously, its fiction. But I so loved his art, and then grew to understand the importance of the 12th century, intensively read the book by Andre Bonnery et al., visited all the sites in France and Spain, and could not contain myself from inventing a life for this great stonecutter. The book will be published this fall. I enjoyed your discussion of the Master. We have lived during the summers in Banyuls for the last 20 years, and this is the first time I have seen your blog. Great work.

      • Covetotop says:

        First of all, sorry for the delay in replying your comment. It has been a great surprise for me to get news from an accomplished author who has written a novel about this mysterious artist known as the Master of Cabestany. As an art lover, a Romanesque fan and -somehow- for personal reasons, I have been interested in the Master for years. From now on, Heaven Walker is in my must-read list. I’d be very grateful if you drop me a line whenever the book is available.

      • trevwhitton says:

        My website (if you’re interested):

        http://www.trevorwhitton.com/

        Trevor

      • trevwhitton says:

        What an astonishing coincidence! I guess that makes my project somewhat redundant. Thank you for keeping me in the loop – I’ll look forward to reading Heaven Walker. Just in case you were interested, I was intending to make the “Master” a Christian woman from from Persia (accounting for almond eyes, complex bas reliefs, etc) who produced the works in secret through a benefactor. Why a woman? Why not? My stories all tend to have that kind of twist.

        Kind regards

        Trevor Whitton

      • Covetotop says:

        My must-read-list is increasing. Great! 🙂

  3. trevwhitton says:

    3 years on since my last post and I just wanted to reiterate how useful your site was. My wife and I have visited the fabulous museum in the meantime and really enjoyed it. By the way, I finally have my own site up and running on WordPress (you inspired me!).

    Kindest regards

    Trevor

    • Covetotop says:

      Trevor, thank you very much for your kind comment. I am glad (and proud) to know that my site has been some kind of source of inspiration for creative and sensitive people like you. By the way, you have written quite a lot of books. What a task. I have just visited your WordPress blog and liked it very much. The sarcophagus of Saint Sernin makes a great background for its title. I hope you’ll find “that spark that will urge” you on to your next novel soon.

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