May 21, 2021

Dominique Plancolaine, La belle roche / The beautiful rock

picture (2009) by lapin88
licensed under Wikimedia Commons

One of the art environments created by non-professionals in France, well known to the general public, is the complex of sculpted rocks in Rothéneuf, Brittany, created by Adolphe-Julien Fouré (1839-1910).

On the other side of France, in the Vosges, there is a small community 
with about 200  inhabitants, named Relanges, which like Rothéneuf is located at 48 degrees north latitude. 

Both places can boast of a collection of rock sculptures in their vicinity, and on top of that, these are -so far- the only two places in France with art environments in the quality of rock sculptures.

Compared with Fouré's art environment the one in Relanges is much smaller in size, because housed in one large piece of rock. It's also much lesser known than Abbé Fouré's creation. Both artworks were  made in earlier times, and somehow have stood the test of time. 

That is to say, the sculptures in Rothéneuf can still be visited, the creations are still present, although they have lost color and much of their shape due to coastal wind and rain. From the site in Relanges a number of sculptures has disappeared, probably stolen, but the remaining ones still look good, this also because in recent years some maintenance has been carried out, probably thanks to the municipality.

picture (January 2016) by Syrdon licensed under 
Wikimedia Commons

Relanges' large sandstone rock with small-scale sculptures is located in a forest north of the community and the sculptures were made in the 1790s by Dominique Plancolaine (1745-1804). Except that he was a local stonemason from the neighbouring village of Thuillères, there are no biographic data about this self-taught artist available. 

The site is known as la Belle Roche (the beautiful rock). but also as la Roche des 12 apôtres (the rock of the 12 apostles).

The front of the rock, parallel to the forest road, covers a plane 6.5 m long and 2.5 m high. The side of the rock, on the right-hand side as seen from the road, is 6 m long and descends from a height of 6 m to 0.5 m.

The panel at the front side has a number of niches, some of which are still filled with sculptures, some of which are empty. The side panel mainly has sculptures in high relief.

picture (October 2014) by Espirat
licensed under Wikimedia Commons

The theme of the sculptures is the life of Christ, especially the Passion.

The picture below has a number of scenes that depict moments from the Passion, such as Christ carrying the cross, the entombment and the resurrection.

On the front of the rock, parallel to the road, at the right side of the plane there is a scene in high relief with Roman soldiers nailing Christ to the cross, and more to the left there is, also in high relief, a sculpture depicting Christ on the cross with some grieving persons underneath.

In this front plane there are also a number of niches, which are partly empty because the sculptures have been stolen, and partly have scenes which probably portray some apostles, as can be seen in the image at the bottom. 

picture (October 2014) by Espirat
licensed under Wikimedia Commons

The field of art environments in Europe has only a few sites with sculpted rocks. In addition to the two sites in France, there are seven similar sites elsewhere in Europe.. That is to say, as far as is known today.

Czechia tops the list with four sites, those of Vojtech Kopic, Václav Levý, Stanislav Rolinek and Ernst Wahr. Spain has two sites, those of Mariano Ros Martinez and Longino Ayuso. And finally, there is Italy with the creation of Domenico Mengozzi.

picture (October 2014) by Espirat
licensed under Wikimedia Commons

* A tourist website about Relanges includes a page with a number of photos of the sculptures in the rocks
* Review of the site (with pictures) on the website Lieux insolites, which also has a review and pictures of the ruins of the former Bonneval priory, located not far from the Belle Roche
* Review of the site (with pictures) on the website Lunetoile

Dominique Plancolaine
La belle roche
Relanges, dept Vosges, region Grand Est
located along the walking path GR7,  
that runs north-west of the village through 
the forest, to follow for about a kilometer.

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