contemporary art / history of art

Artwork of the Month / September 2023

Ars Curandi, Beaune
(The Art of Caring, Beaune)
Elena Franco

Giclée print on Canson Platine Fiber Rag paper
60 cm x 90 cm
Edition of 3

With Elena Franco’s photography, “Ars Curandi, Beaune” (The Art of Caring, Beaune), we are looking from a dark room through an open two wing leadlight casement window with a centre mullion. The view opens out on natural stone buildings and particularly to their rooftops and turrets, which are covered with polychrome glazed roof tiles, or, on the right hand, the building is slated. As the title suggests, the architectural ensemble is in Beaune, France. Additionally, the Latin term “Ars Curandi” refers to the original purpose of the edifices. They are the Hospices de Beaune or the Hôtel-Dieu de Beaune, a former charitable hospital. More precisely, the photo guides our view to the rooftops of the inner courtyard. Around this is a rectangular patio, the various constructions of the complex are grouped.

“Ars Curandi, Beaune” is part of Elena’s series “Ars Curandi”, where she photographed three ancient hospitals: Notre-Dame à la Rose in Lessines, Belgium and Santa Maria della Scala in Siena, Italy and indeed the one in Beaune. All these institutions are today museums. It is the – at present – last chapter of the artist’s project “Hospitalia”, where she investigated in ancient and contemporary hospitals and their archives in different countries of Europe, to find evidence of social aspects and community responsibility in medical care. In “Ars Curandi” she points at the correlation between the environments of care and art, which is regarded as a humanising element. Accordingly, there are images of artworks in the structures at the same time as pictures featuring outlooks on the architectural ensembles. Like in our case, these photos often include a window to underline the angle of the observer. Herewith she adopts an artistic practice, which is recurrent in art history.

The present outlook could have been chosen randomly, like one looks out of a window while visiting a building. However, with this view to the roofs of the inner courtyard Elena narrates the history and tradition of the place. It was founded in 1443 by Nicolas Rolin, Chancellor of Duke Philip the Good, and his wife Guigone de Salins, to give a hospital and refuge to the poor. Correspondingly, there is the oldest part of the institution with the “Hall of the Poors”, at the right side of the image. Inaugurated in 1452, it was dedicated to the poor and sick people. Nevertheless, at the time of the construction its slate roof was more prestigious than the polychrome tiles since it was not much used in the region in this period. Whereas the edifice in the middle is the most recent one. The “Hall Saint-Louis” is an extension from 1661. Like the polychrome roof of the former pharmacy left-hand, its glazed tiles are a reconstruction from 1902 until 1907, because the originals had been lost. Even though the refurbishment was made after personal creations by Louis Sauvageot, they reflect the traditional technique from the region of Burgundy. Furthermore, the viewpoint from the inside of the opposing building should be in the “Hall Sainte Anne” or more likely in the “Hall Saint Hugues” (ca. 1645). Both rooms were dedicated to accommodate nobles (the smaller Hall Sainte Anne) and wealthy people (Saint Hugues).

While the photo shows the beautiful Burgundian architecture from the 15th to the 17th century and refers to its restauration in the beginning 20th century, the function becomes only accessible by knowledge. This is because the purpose of the structures is not reflected on the outside. For example, one might not expect a hospital for the poor under prestigious slates. On the other hand, all patients had a roof over their head and could be cured, if possible. Even though the social system was evident in the separation of the social classes.

Seemingly, Nicolas Rolin and Guigone de Salins and their successors, had not only a sense for fine architecture, which the one or the other patient could have appreciated. Moreover, the artistic décor is impressive: inter alia there is a polyptych altarpiece by Rogier van der Weyden and paintings by Isaac Moillon. This refers to a holistic approach by nursing body and spirit. The art of caring “Ars Curandi” was practised.


Elena Franco

Born in 1973 in Turin, Italy, Elena Franco studied architecture and restoration at the Politecnico in her hometown. She works in the field of urban and territorial valorisation. As author of articles and essays about urban revitalisation for Il Giornale dell’Architettura, she often is invited as lecturer at congresses and workshops in Italy and abroad. Additionally, Elena is artistic director of the Fondazione Arte Nova, which is destined to enhance the Liberty culture and Art Nouveau.

In conjunction with her commissions from local communities, photography is essential to her for research and documentation. Hence, Elena developed in 2012 “Hospitalia” – her first artistic photo project. Therefore, she investigated in ancient hospitals and their archives in different countries of Europe, to find evidence of social aspects and community responsibility in medical care. The result is a photo series of historic care facilities, today abandoned, transformed or still in use. Presented in different solo shows or as part of group exhibitions in many Italian cities and in France, the series entered in public and private collections. In 2015, the artist was awarded for it with the Premio Mediterraneo and in 2016 selected as finalist for the Combat Prize and the Premio Streamers. Published by ARTEMA, Tiziana Bonomo edited a book with the pictures of “Hospitalia”. Moreover, the project was object of several single publications.

As currently last series of the project “Hospitalia”, Elena photographed in 2020 the architectural ensembles of Notre-Dame à la Rose in Lessines, Belgium, Santa Maria della Scala in Siena, Italy and the Hospices de Beaune, France. These institutions are all former charitable hospitals, which are in nowadays museums. Here she researched for points of correlation between environments of care and art as a humanising element. The resulting series “Ars Curandi” shows single artworks in the structures or outlooks on the buildings and their surroundings. United as solo exhibition in 2021, the images were on view in the gallery Studio Cenacchi, Bologna and in the Galleria Visioni 47, Alessandria, accompanied by a bilingual publication. In September 2023, the photo “Ars Curandi, Beaune” is our artwork of the month.

During her research for “Hospitalia”, Elena discovered depictions of the Imago Pietatis (Christ of Pity), devotional images, intended to stimulate compassion and pity in the contemplator. In the Bolognese Archivio Storico del Monte di Pietà (Historical Archive of the Mount of piety) she studied the iconography of these pictures. The archive bears 138 administrative volumes from the period between 1473 and 1808. This was the time, when the Foundation of Mounts was active in the allocation of affordable microcredits for small craftsmen and traders. The book’s edges are decorated with the Imago Pietatis. They are referring to solidarity of caring in the largest sense. Depending on the time of origin, the embellishing elements vary.

Elena created several oeuvres related to the archive and its depictions. In 2020, the result was presented in the Premio New Post Photographyexhibition “Imago Pietatis” at the Bolognese gallery Studio Cenacchi. On this occasion, the artist published an artist book in the edition of three, with 414 photos of the 138 archival images and many details. These volumes are following the design of the administrative books. Moreover, there are series of posters, where single photos are featured on coloured ground. Two of them are forming the word “Love” with the signature letters of the tomes. The series 1 was our artwork of the month in April 2020. However, the artist didn’t limit herself in the reproduction of the originals in a new context. She also printed details on cloth. Additionally, she highlighted the passionflower by creating processed depictions of the plant. The series “Passiflora #1” shows it in different states of appearance: the flower itself, a leaf, the fruit from the outside and a cut-open fruit to show the inside. A catalogue with commenting essays referring to these oeuvres and the archive of the Mount of piety was also published. In 2020, she won the  from the MIA Fair, whose presence show had to be cancelled due to the pandemic. Hence, the scheduled special exhibition with the presentation of “Imago Pietatis” could not take place.

With her research and artistic echo to archives and architecture, Elena enhances the awareness of the focussed cultural heritages. For this purpose, she employs the media photography, but also borrows from different fields like advertising and traditional or recent art history. Herewith, she uses an artistic language, which – deciphered by the contemplator – could inspire personal reflections.

Elena lives and works in the province of Turin.