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Art and the Court of Burgundy



An Enduring Legacy
Jean de la Huerta and Antoine Le Moiturier<br><i>Tomb of John the Fearless and Margaret of Bavaria</i>, 1443-70<br>Black marble, stone painted black, partially polychromed and gilded marble<br> © Musée des Beaux-Arts de Dijon. Photo François Jay
  Jean de la Huerta and Antoine Le Moiturier
Tomb of John the Fearless and Margaret of Bavaria, 1443-70
Black marble, stone painted black, partially polychromed and gilded marble
© Musée des Beaux-Arts de Dijon. Photo François Jay

 

About four hundred years after Philip the Bold founded the Chartreuse de Champmol, much of the monastery and parts of its tombs were destroyed in the French Revolution. By demolishing art connected with royalty, people got rid of reminders of the rulers they had just done away with. Unfortunately, a fine example of Burgundian art at its height was lost forever.

Luckily, the tombs of Philip the Bold and John the Fearless were mostly spared, though their sculpted portraits suffered serious harm. Thanks to a few people who hid what they could, all of the angels and mourners were saved from destruction, but sixteen mourners disappeared. In the 19th century, reproductions of the missing statues were created to stand in for the originals. Eventually some of the mourners were found in museums and private collections (only three still have not been located), and most went back to their niches in the tombs. Now, because the Dijon Museum in France is renovating the gallery where the tombs are kept, the mourners are traveling to several museums in the United States, including the Minneapolis Institute of Arts.

The mourners are marvelous examples of late medieval art. Designed by the great Netherlandish sculptor Claus Sluter, their individualized faces, expressive drapery, and convincing demonstrations of grief show a new realism. These figures have a humanity that lets viewers relate to themes of ritual, religion, power, and mourning through art.


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1. These 19th-century replacement mourners were created as portraits of men overseeing the tombs' restoration.
Joseph Moreau, Neo-Gothic mourners (portraits of Claude Saint-Père, Févret de Saint-Mémin, Joseph Moreau, and Marion de Semur), 19th century, alabaster. © Musée des Beaux-Arts de Dijon. Photo François Jay
2. The mourners are sculpted in the round, an important change from the shallow bas-relief figures seen on similar tombs of that time. This Italian marriage casket is an example of bas-relief carving.
Baldassare degli Embriachi, Marriage casket, about 1395-1406, bone, wood, and bronze. Minneapolis Institute of Arts, The John R. Van Derlip Fund
3. One of the few parts of the Chartreuse de Champmol to escape destruction was the Well of Moses, another example of the new realism Claus Sluter brought to Burgundian art.
Claus Sluter, Claus de Werve, and their studio, The Well of Moses, 1396-1405, limestone, C.H.S. de la Chartreuse, Dijon

 

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January 2011