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Work Altarpiece: Martyrdom of St. Denis
Department of Paintings: French painting
The Martyrdom of Saint Denis
© 2007 Musée du Louvre / Angèle Dequier
This work was painted for the church of the Carthusian monastery at Champmol, near Dijon, dedicated to the Holy Trinity. A payment made in 1416 shows that the altarpiece was completed by Henri Bellechose, court painter of John the Fearless, Duke of Burgundy.
At the center the crucified Christ is accompanied by God the Father and the Holy Spirit. To the left St. Denis in prison receives the last communion from Christ and to the right he is martyred with his companions Rusticus and Eleutherius.
A brilliant court
In the late 14th and early 15th centuries the court of Burgundy was renowned as one of the most cultivated in all Europe. Son of King John II the Good, Duke Philip the Bold (1342-1404) was the instigator of an ambitious program of patronage that resulted, after his death, in the completion of the Carthusian monastery of Champmol, near Dijon, around 1415. Philip the Bold and, later, his son John the Fearless (1371-1419) used the services of Flemish painters such as Jean de Beaumetz, Jean Malouel, and Henri Bellechose, all of whom are represented in the Louvre.
Profundity and power
Still heavily redolent of medieval aesthetics, this altarpiece strikes us with its profound piety and sheer compositional power. An extensive color range, dominated by the vivid blue of the mantles of Christ and the saints and enhanced by the rich gold background, is another noteworthy feature. Set at the center, the crucified Christ is watched over by God the Father and the Holy Spirit, with an episode from the life of St. Denis shown to each side of the cross: on the left, the last communion, received by St. Denis from the hand of Christ himself; and on the right, the martyrdom of the saint, decapitated with his two disciples Rusticus and Eleutherius. According to Gregory of Tours, St. Denis brought the Gospel to Gaul and was the first bishop of Paris, c. 250 AD. Beheaded at Montmartre, he is often shown with the attribute of his martyrdom: holding his head, which he is said to have taken in his hands after his decapitation.
The altarpiece of St Denis was commissioned before 1416 for the Carthusian monastery of Champmol, doubtless from the Burgundy court's official painter Henri Bellechose, an artist of the International Gothic school. The work was donated to the Louvre in 1863 by Frédéric Reiset (1815-90), former director of France's Musées Nationaux and a leading collector.
Henri BELLECHOSE (documented in Dijon from 1415 to 1444)
The Martyrdom of Saint Denis
H. 1.62 m; W. 2.11 m
Gift of Frédéric Reiset, 1863
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