Art: With Thanks

Paintings of splintered ships, overturned buggies, dying patients, collapsing floors and falling chandeliers line the walls of many a South-of-France chapel. In each picture the Virgin Mary or a patron saint also appears, serene and smiling above the disaster. Done in the 17th, 18th and 19th Centuries, the paintings are "ex-votos" (thank offerings) by parishioners who were grateful for narrow escapes from death. No one knows who painted most of them; the donor—not the artist—usually got his name in the corner.

Last week, 57 of the best of France's ex-votos (sponsored by the American Federation of Arts) were on exhibition in Manhattan....

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