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St. Christopher School Chapel

Dobbs Ferry, NY

Painting

St. Christopher Carrying the Christ Child, 1936

Commissioned by: André FouilhouxMedium: oil on canvasExecuted by: Hildreth Meière

St. Christopher Carrying the Christ Child

St. Christopher Carrying the Christ Child

An unexpected commission occupied Meière in 1936, when she painted a large oil on canvas of St. Christopher Carrying the Christ Child “for a school of that name, up the Hudson.” It kept her “very busy” during the time that she thought she had lost the commission for St. Charles Borromeo Church in Newark, New Jersey. Meière painted St. Christopher Carrying the Christ Child in soft blues and burgundies. The large scale of the painting (10 feet by 5 feet 4 inches) accommodated the size of the chapel for which it was intended.

Meière referred to the painting in an autobiographical sketch in which she expressed her preference “as a Catholic” to “work in Catholic churches,” although she was

responsible for the mosaics at Temple Emanu-El in New York City, various reredoses in Episcopal churches throughout the country, and a painting of St. Christopher, in St. Christopher’s school chapel, a Methodist undertaking. . . .1

Meière worked out three possible compositions in a series of studies before arriving at the final version.

Study in charcoal

Study in charcoal

Study in ochre on masonite

Study in ochre on masonite

Color study in oil

Color study in oil

In the final study in oil that Meière eventually enlarged, the Christ Child leans his head against St. Christopher’s and gently rests his right hand on St. Christopher’s hair. A nimbus surrounds each of their heads. Their pose is relaxed and naturalistic; their expressions, idealized. Meière’s billowing drapery adds movement and lends weight to the composition. Her depiction of the Christ Child grasping St. Christopher’s hair and resting his own head against the saint’s portrays an emotional connection between the two figures.

Meière was familiar with Italian Renaissance representations of the same theme. The pose is reminiscent of Giovanni Bellini’s fifteenth-century rendering of St. Christopher on the left panel of the polyptych of San Vincenzo Ferreri at the Basilica dei Santi Giovanni e Paolo in Venice. Meière’s use of billowing drapery was also inspired by another Venetian painter, Titian, who painted the same subject a century after Bellini.

Giovanni Bellini, St. Christopher Carrying the Christ Child,1464-68

Giovanni Bellini, St. Christopher Carrying the Christ Child,
1464-68

Titian, St. Christopher Carrying the Christ Child, 1524

Titian, St. Christopher Carrying the Christ Child, 1524

During one of the several restorations of the school chapel, the painting was removed, rolled up, and stored in a basement workshop on the St. Christopher campus. Not knowing where it came from, the superintendent of grounds nonetheless preserved the rolled-up canvas for more than twenty years, despite other employees’ various attempts to discard it. When the school was asked whether they had the painting, the superintendent retrieved it from the basement. Now that Hildreth Meière has been identified as the artist, St. Christopher’s, Inc. hopes to be able to raise funds to restore the painting.

1

Hildreth Meière, unpublished manuscript, c. 1936-37, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., Hildreth Meière Papers.

Additional Resources

Commission Location

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St. Christopher's, Inc.
71 South Broadway
Dobbs Ferry, NY 10522

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