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Work An Angel Carrying Two Cruets
Department of Sculptures: France, Middle Ages
An Angel Carrying Two Cruets
© 2008 Musée du Louvre / Pierre Philibert
France, Middle Ages
This elegant, smiling marble angel is carrying two cruets, intended to hold the water and wine used during mass. It comes from the altarpiece given to the abbey of Maubuisson c. 1340 by Queen Jeanne d'Evreux, one of the greatest patrons of her time. The refinement of the sculpture presages the conventions of courtly art.
In 1326, Jeanne d'Evreux married the king of France, Charles IV the Fair (who died in 1328). She was one of the key patrons of the 14th century, commissioning major art works, such as her Book of Hours, illuminated by Jean Pucelle (The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York). Circa 1340, she commissioned a large marble altarpiece for the high altar of the Cistercian abbey of Maubuisson (near Pontoise). It was in this abbey that, in 1370, she had Jean de Liège erect a tomb for the remains of her husband as well as her own. Like Mahaut d'Artois, she exemplifies the decisive role played by women in art patronage to that period.
The reconstruction and symbolism of the altarpiece
Individual sculpture was developing at the time and carved altarpieces enjoyed considerable success, becoming larger and more complex. The Maubuisson altarpiece is an impressive example.
Although it was dismantled during the French Revolution, the composition of the altarpiece is known because it was described by the abbot Guillaume Milhet in 1763. It was approximately three meters long, with The Last Supper in the center (church of Saint Joseph des Carmes), flanked by four reliefs (Louvre): on the left, Moses, King David, and a Prophet, then Christ giving Communion to St. Denis in prison; on the right, Three Prophets, then the Angel Carrying Two Cruets. The altarpiece also included the now lost figures of Charles IV, Jeanne d'Evreux, and their daughters Blanche and Marie. The custom of representing patrons in the work - which in the 13th century was common only for stained-glass windows - was now spreading to sculpture. No doubt the white marble figures were set against a black marble background as was customary at the time.
The symbolism of the Eucharist is strongly accentuated. At the center is The Last Supper - the meal during which Christ instituted the sacrament of Holy Communion. On the sides, both forms of the Eucharist are symbolized: the wine represented by the angel carrying the cruets, the bread by the Communion of St. Denis.
A refined angel
In some respects (the elongated silhouette accentuated by the long robe, the curly hair lifted back from the face, the calm expression), this smiling angel is still a thirteenth-century figure, similar to the angels in the abbey of Poissy. But a new desire for elegance and joyfulness shows through as well: an amice of fine fabric adorns the collar, the cloth of the robe is lighter, a cord at the waist gathers the material into fine folds. The delicate, small face has an affinity with the precious arts.
Evrard d'Orléans was a sculptor, painter, and architect for the French royal court and a leading artist in Paris in the first half of the century. Because of similarities between these reliefs and works executed by Evrard d'Orléans for the cathedral of Langres in 1341, the altarpiece has been attributed to him: there is the same powerful neck, straight nose, and flat hands with no fingernails.
BibliographyPaul Vitry, "La sculpture française du XIVe siècle au musée du Louvre", Les Arts, n 94, Paris, 1909, pp. 22-31.
Michel Aubert et Michèle Beaulieu, Description raisonnée des sculptures du musée du Louvre, Tome 1 Moyen Age, Paris, 1950, pp. 134-135.
Françoise Baron, "Le maître-autel de l'abbaye de Maubuisson au XIVe siècle", Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres, Comptes rendus des séances de l'année 1970, Paris, 1971, pp. 538-541.
Attributed to Évrard d'ORLÉANS (Known from 1292 until his death in 1357)
An Angel Carrying Two Cruets
Part of the high-altar retable from the Cistercian abbey church of Maubuisson (Saint Ouen l'Aumône, Val d'Oise), gift from Queen Jeanne d'Evreux.
Marble, minute traces of polychromy and gilding
H. 52.70 cm; W. 14 cm; D. 8.30 cm.
Dismantled during the French Revolution.The relief of the Last Supper forming the center of the altarpiece is in the church of Saint Joseph des Carmes, Paris.The kneeling figures of King Charles IV the Fair, Queen Jeanne d'Evreux, and their two daughters Marie and Blanche, have disappeared.Four low reliefs are in the Louvre: the Angel Carrying Two Cruets was purchased by the Friends of the Louvre and given to the Louvre by the decree of 24 January 1907.
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