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Presqu’Ile de la Perfection

  • Author: ANONYMOUS
  • Date: c1850-60
  • Dimensions: Sheet : 89 x 61.8 cms


Mid 19th Century French manuscript map of the “Peninsula of Perfection”, a template for Catholic religious & moral education

About this piece:

Presqu’Ile de la Perfection

Pen & ink on single sheet of heavy stock paper, with additional colouring in thick grey washes and outlines. Traces of original underlying pencil work. Two elaborately decorated shield-like cartouches to upper left and right. Fine spiral design border with concentric floral lozenges corners, all superbly executed in pen and ink. Occasional minor edge nicks and three or four short unobtrusive tears at sheet edges, notably at upper centre and lower left, all in blank margin and not affecting border or image. Traces of old pinholes at corners. A little light foxing and soiling but generally a remarkably fine and well-preserved example.

This wonderfully designed and striking large-scale French manuscript map is a rare 19th Century survival from the era before the Franco-Prussian War in which the influence of Catholic religious teaching held a powerful sway over the personal & moral education of the young people of France, through local schools as well as an extensive network of Catholic convents, monasteries and seminaries across the country.

This map of the Presqu’Ile de la Perfection (The Peninsula of Perfection) appears to have been an integral element of the religious education, a template and design that was readily utilized as a means of religious and moral instruction and as a focal point for religious contemplation and meditation which young students appear to have regularly copied and replicated by hand with the greatest care and attention, as this example clearly testifies.

Examples of this map are noted by several 19th Century French sources on the walls of the classrooms of Catholic schools and religious institutions from the 1840’s right through to the turn of the 20th Century.

Indeed in October 1846, a devout Catholic journal published in Lyons, L’Etoile du Matin, Tablettes Pieuses de la Jeunesse, publiées sous les auspices de Marie, included in its pages a description of two Cartes Spirituelles, a map of the Presqu’Ile de la Perfection and a second of the Ile du Vrai Bonheur. As the editor of the piece notes in a short preamble :

The allegorical descriptions which we provide here will not be read without interest by our pious subscribers : these are two items discovered by us in the hostel of the most holy and most worthy of monasteries. There, where the focus is on religious parents bringing their children to stay. Oh Happy House ! It is here that we will find the “Peninsula of Perfection”, the “City of Happiness”. The hostel itself is already a long way from the “Continent of the World”; also nothing which is not sacred does not degrade this place, and the two tableaux attached to the chimney piece of the hostel are always read with great edification…..

The description that follows, replicates, almost verbatim, the description provided on this manuscript map in the two cartouches upper left and upper right each entitled “Déscription Allegorique“. The latter descriptions read as follows :

The Peninsula of Perfection is situated to the East of the Continent of the World to which it is joined by the Isthmus of Charity. It is washed on its northern and eastern shores by the vast Ocean of Divine Love, and on its southern shores by the Sea of Self-Doubt. Cape Perseverance is to be found at its most southerly point, The Cape of Holy Defiance at its most northerly, and in the east, Cape Mortification. The principal rivers are that of Divine Consolation, which has its source at the foot of the mountains of Generosity, provides water for the City of Happiness and flows into the Ocean of Divine Love. The River of Peaceful Heart emerges from the Mountains of Neglect of God’s Wishes and disappears into the Sea of Self-Doubt, close to the Isle of Wisdom, which has as its capital the City of Reason; its vice-regent is Faith and its principal ministers are Justice and Moderation. The approach to this place would be inaccessible were it not for the fact that travellers, having come close to the sharp rocks of Fear, visited the Isle of Wisdom, passed the Cape of Perseverance, come close to the Rocks of Self-reflection, of Troubles, Anxieties, finally discover the Gulf of Confidence and throw down their anchor in the Port of Divine Love. The soil of these lands is very fertile and commerce flourishes greatly. From here they export into the neighbouring Continent, Zeal for the Salvation of Souls, Compassion, Love of one’s neighbour, Pardon for Injuries etc etc and they receive in exchange, solicitudes and crosses, from which the inhabitants know how to gain a very large profit. After long years of toil and struggle, the Fervent Christian becomes Master of this flourishing Country : the City of Happiness which he built soon becomes its Capital; by his care the sovereign Charity of the Kingdom and its two principal Ministers, Inner Calmness and Humility, establish their home in the new City which is situated on the small hill of Self-denial. It includes several academies, two of which are particularly remarkable; one is established to propagate the High Sciences of how to learn self-control, to love God, and to recognize the nothingness of the World; in the second they cultivate, with great success, the Sciences which deal with the recognition of True Happiness and the examination of the Wonders of the Creator, to which is added the pleasant study of Wisdom. 

It is interesting to note that the Territory of the Continent of the World, to which the Peninsula of Perfection is attached, is full of features and names that were clearly seen by those within the Church to represent the very basest of human instincts, emotions and sentiments. So we have Lacheté (Cowardice), Infidelité (Infidelity), Infamie (Infamy), Vengeance (Vengeance), Médisance (Slander), Agitation (Agitation), Jalousie (Jealousy), Sensualité (Sensuality), Haine (Hatred), Ennuis (Boredom), Contradiction (Contradiction) and Trahison (Betrayal). This worldlywise landscape is completed by the Mountains of Pride and Ingratitude, the Hills of Frivolity and Rivers of Self-Esteem and Caprices.

The popularity and longevity of Carte de la Presqu’Ile de la Perfection can be seen in two further references.

In the newspaper Le Gaulois, in its first year of publication, in its edition No.81 of 23rd September 1868, Monsieur Alfred Litton of the Siècle newspaper describes a calque fidèle (faithful tracing or reproduction) of an allegorical geographical map which the nuns of the Convent of Saint-Sacrement at Bernay in Normandy give to their pupils to copy. [The Sacrementine Convent and associated boarding school has been founded at Bernay by six nuns from Aix en Provence in 1859. The Saint-Sacrement was a closed religious order, within the Dominican fold, dedicated to perpetual devotion of the Blessed Sacrament. The Convent and school at Bernay were forcibly closed down by the French government in 1903 and its nuns went into exile in Belgium and England]. The text describing the map again reproduces almost verbatim the description given on this map.

A second, later reference, interestingly dating from April 1903, appears in the Bulletin municipal officiel de la Ville de Paris, and relates to the visit of M Lucien Lambeau (and others, including the famous cartoonist & deputy, Victorien Sardou, on behalf of an official commission) to the ancient & vast edifice of the convent of the Ladies of Saint Michel, at No.193 rue Saint Jacques in Paris’ 5th Arrondissement in February of that year. The Convent was officially known as Notre-Dame de Charité de Paris. It was also about to be vacated by its community of nuns and sold off and the Paris commission wished to assess the state and condition of the buildings & gardens and also to take photographs of the site to be preserved as an historical record. The Convent had originally been established in the late 18th Century with the aim of providing, throughout many of France’s major cities, a place of refuge where vulnerable young girls, prostitutes & “fallen” women might find a home and receive religious instruction and support that, after their lapses, would eventually facilitate their return “aux bonnes moeurs“.

Lambeau describes the visit to the Convent site, in the course of which the group enters the salle capitulaire (chapter house / meeting room) of the community…..”which had no other decoration except a set of twelve or fifteen portraits in oil of former Mother Superiors of the Refuge of St.Michel, painted with no great talent and by unnamed artists, and depicting the nuns in profile, wearing their customary habits of white flannel with black headscarves….amongst other curiosities shut up in this room, we find a geographical work relating to religion, the product of some idle young novitiate, within which one sees the Isle of Wisdom, the Cape of Perseverance, the Peninsula of Perfection, the Isthmus of Charity etc. The refectory is cold & sombre, as suited to a closed order….” 

In several examples of the map, allusion is made to St. Francis de Sales (Francois de Sales) [1567-1622], Bishop of Geneva, known as the “Gentleman Saint”, and much venerated for his patience and gentleness. He is perhaps best known for his Introduction to The Devout Life, a book addressed to lay people which encouraged personal charity rather than penance as a means of developing one’s inner spiritual life. His was certainly a model of saintly spirituality and devotion well-suited to a Catholic instructional map of this genre.

In March 1879, soon after the election of Prime Minister Jules Ferry, this map became a central prop in a increasingly heated debate on the state of France’s primary schools and primary school teachers in the Paris National Assembly. The proposition before the Assembly was to approve the creation of nearly eighty new teaching colleges (écoles normales primaires), eight for male teachers and seventy for female teachers in the Departments of the country where the provision of such teaching colleges was completely lacking. According to the subsequent report by Abel Ronjat published in the Journal Officiel of July 29th 1879 (No.356), by this date, France only had 79 teaching colleges for men and 19 for women and the recruitment of women teachers remained particularly difficult. The law for the creation of these eighty new colleges was finally adopted by  on August 1st 1879.

During the initial debates in the Chambre des Deputés in March 1879, An example of the map was brought into the debating Chamber and displayed by the deputé for the Yonne Department, M. Paul Bert [1833-1886], to considerable amusement & ridicule. To Bert and many like-minded anti-clericalists, the map was a patent symbol of everything that was wrong with French religiously-based education at the time. Catholic religious education was viewed with growing suspicion by sections of an increasingly vociferous secular and anti-clerical political class. Evidenced by what was seen as a blinkered and outdated religious paradigm, they were eager to see the education of the nation’s children taken out the hands of Catholic priests and nuns and placed firmly under the more enlightened, rational, progressive umbrella of laicised & secular state control.

Edouard Lockroy writing in the newspaper Le Rappel on 22nd March 1879 in an article entitled “Cartes, Tableaux et Presqu’Iles”  noted :

M Paul Bert has shown clerical education in all its stupidity when he brought to the speaker’s sample rostrum the map of the “Peninsula of Perfection”. This sample of clerical geography made all the Chamber laugh, and will make all the Country laugh. But without any doubt, having laughed, one will feel saddened in considering that instead of teaching pupils normal lessons all about France, Europe, Asia, Africa and America, they teach them these things….have you ever known such nonsense. Assuredly not. Unfortunately clerical nonsense is rational & systematic nonsense. It has a well-defined objective, which is despicable but not witless. The geographers who draw up this map of the Peninsula of Perfection think of this map in just the same way as we do. They find it, as we do, ridiculous. However that does not stop them from drawing up the map and forcing their students to copy it. In fact exactly the opposite. It is precisely because the map is ridiculous that they impose it upon their pupils.

Clerical teaching never attempts to develop a child’s intelligence. It works to destroy it. The clerical teacher starts from this idea, that Reason is the enemy of Faith, and that he must “enslave” Reason. The method of enslaving Reason is easy : it consists of preventing intelligence to function. One obtains this result by removing from the child every correct idea, every serious thought, amusing them with mysteries and filling them up with twaddle.

A young man or young woman spends a year studying the “Peninsula of Perfection” and the other pictures that M. Paul Bert showed to the Chamber. During that year, they lose their taste for what is true, their intelligence slumbers; their heads become full of dangerous nonsense. The goal has been achieved.

Then the clerical teacher claims victory. He has “enslaved” Reason. The unfortunate being whom he has just assassinated morally has been conquered for the Faith. He no longer reflects, no longer thinks, no longer studies. He is a sort of living cadaver, who belongs only to the Church.

This is where “little maps” and “fanciful geographies” lead. This is where little pious pictures and lists of Purgatory’s “condemned” leads as well.  Oh ! When one thinks about it, these latter things no longer seem amusing, they are disgusting. You almost feel as if you have in front of you a weapon that that has been used in a crime. 

Several 19th Century printed examples of this map are known, one such being published by Imprimerie Pichon in St.Etienne in 1856, and another in Strasburg around the same date, as illustrated in the Gazette des Beaux Arts in 1977.

A similar but much smaller manuscript example, dated 1857, is preserved in the Bibliothèque Nationale de France.

However this remains a remarkable and highly decorative large-scale manuscript example of this exceedingly unusual & uniquely controversial allegorical map.

Refs: L’Etoile du Matin, Tablettes Pieuses de la Jeunesse, publiées sous les auspices de Marie [Lyon, 1846] p.344; Revue anecdotique des lettres et des arts, Volumes 2 [Paris, 1856] Description of printed map of same title (Imp. Pichon, St.Etienne, folio) pp.174-176; Charles Sauvestre : Mes Lundis [Paris, 1864] Ch. XI, pp.69-76; Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Ref GeD 28629 – Presqu’Ile De La Perfection: smaller example in ink & watercolours, dated 1857.