The Statue du Beau Dieu that graces the exterior of the north transept of Rheims Cathedral has been restored to its full majesty thanks to the sponsorship of the House of Taittinger.
Fascination for an exceptional statue
Champagne Taittinger President Claude Taittinger is well known for his commitment to the cathedral, which came through loud and clear in an ARTE historical documentary that raised the possibility of restoring the Statue du Beau Dieu — a project that immediately captured Claude Taittinger’s imagination.
"Why shouldn’t God be handsome? Why shouldn’t He be young?", asked Claude Taittinger. As a seasoned historian, the president took pleasure in evoking the various representations of the All Powerful across history. Reluctant to represent God in the flesh, the Christian religion traditionally resorted to symbols: a hand reaching through the clouds, a sovereign pontiff or emperor with the Globe in his hand or sometimes a venerable old man. The notable exception is the Statue du Beau Dieu. Centrepiece of a door on the northern façade, the statue is clearly the work of original and somewhat “rebellious” artists who defied conventional canons and dared to give God young and attractive features! Moreover statues of this kind are very rare. "There exist only a few in France, maybe two or three, including one in Rheims and one in Amiens," notes Claude Taittinger.
Sadly, the statue was not spared from bombardment in the First World War. The robes were scarred by shellfire and the head of the Beau Dieu took a direct hit. However those fragments that survived the blast were carefully conserved and later used in restoration work, which was supervised by historian Bruno Decrocq and executed by sculptor Leandro Berra, basing himself on old photos of the statue.
With the Beau Dieu decapitated, the scene of the Last Judgement had rather lost its evocative power, seriously weakening the sense of artistic freedom that once emanated from the composition. Now fully restored to its former glory, the Beau Dieu statue surrounded by the apostles is once again the focus of attention — a work that commands respect from onlookers and also, of course, its discreet sponsor Claude Taittinger. (Florianne Prévot Juillet 2004)