The Chapel of the Rosary, which Matisse designed in the late 1940s, is on an unprepossessing street in the town of Vence in the hills above Nice. One’s first view of the building is of something tucked away; from the entrance at street level one walks down a flight of stairs to reach the Chapel, and all that’s visible from the street is a few walls, two small ceramic mosaics, a bit of the Chapel’s blue-and-white tile roof, and its wrought-iron cross. Matisse’s building works with the scene at a distinct but not irreverent angle: the blue-and-white, zigzag pattern roof makes a modest dissent from the inevitable red roofs of Provence, and the cross gains authority from the luminous vistas beyond. As with the rest of the buildings in this neighborhood of comfortable suburban villas, what creates an impression here isn’t architecture but the way the architecture fits into a landscape full of spectacular plunging vistas.

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