This essay aims at a re-evaluation of Henri Matisse’s Chapel at Vence. It accounts for all major elements of the chapel’s decoration, including the celebrated windows and tile drawings, but also probes a little-known liturgical object: the ciborium, the container of the hosts, which Matisse designed as a goldfish bowl. Whenever the ciborium is placed on the altar during Mass, it transforms the chapel space into a three-dimensional version of Matisse’s paintings of artist’s studios. The result is a space that transcends the familiar divide between secularism and reenchantment. By placing his own surrogate at the chapel’s center as the beholder of its decoration, Matisse gave form to a modern subject position for which boundless self-empowerment is indistinguishable from solipsism.
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