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Art and the Court of Burgundy



Death and Ritual
Jean de la Huerta and Antoine Le Moiturier<br><i>Mourners from the tomb of John the Fearless and Margaret of Bavaria</i>, 1443-70<br>Alabaster<br>© Musée des Beaux-Arts de Dijon. Photo François Jay
  Jean de la Huerta and Antoine Le Moiturier
Mourners from the tomb of John the Fearless and Margaret of Bavaria, 1443-70
Alabaster
© Musée des Beaux-Arts de Dijon. Photo François Jay

 

Medieval French royalty were given elaborate funerals that lasted for several days. Ceremonies began the night before the burial, with vigils and psalms. The next day, the main funeral services were held, and then the casket was lowered into a vault. The funeral of John the Fearless was followed by a feast. Women usually did not attend princely funerals. However, at the duchess of Burgundy's request, John's funeral was repeated the next day for the ladies of the court.

The statues on the tomb of John the Fearless portray the traditional funeral procession of a high-ranking person. First came the clergy-a priest, two choirboys, a cross bearer, a deacon, a bishop, three cantors, and two monks-and then the casket and the duke's family and successor. Following them were torchbearers and officers of the court and the nobility and, finally, people representing the cities ruled by the deceased duke. Wearing black mourning robes, the mourners would all have looked similar, aside from the occasional gilded prayer book, rosary, or cross.

The painstaking portrayal of the mourners' procession and the amount of space devoted to it on the tomb show the importance of this ritual of grieving. Even in death, the dukes of Burgundy used art and architecture to proclaim their political importance, god-given power, and religious piety.


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1. The duke's coat of arms appears on this chair back. The same motif would have embellished the black and gold cloth that hung over the coffin.
Jean de Liège, Seatback with coat of arms of John the Fearless, 1399-1400, oak, © Musée des Beaux-Arts de Dijon. Photo François Jay
2. Their robes conceal the wealth and rank of those in the procession.
Jean de la Huerta and Antoine Le Moiturier, Mourner number 56, 1443-70, alabaster. © Musée des Beaux-Arts de Dijon. Photo François Jay
3. The hat, staff, and liturgical robes indicate that this figure is a bishop.
Jean de la Huerta and Antoine Le Moiturier, Mourner number 45, 1443-70, alabaster. © Musée des Beaux-Arts de Dijon. Photo François Jay

 

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January 2011