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Head of an Apostle

© 2011 Musée du Louvre / Thierry Ollivier

Sculptures
France, Middle Ages

Author(s):
Valérie Montalbetti

This finely carved apostle's head creates an impression of solemnity and nobility. The rather crude realism of its features blends with an elegant simplicity of volume and great interiority. It is the only vestige of the carved decoration from the chapel of the Château de Mehun-sur-Yèvre (Cher), residence of Jean, Duke of Berry, brother of the French king Charles V.

Mehun-sur-Yèvre, a prestigious project

The Château de Mehun-sur-Yèvre (Cher), near Bourges, was constructed as a country home for Jean, Duke of Berry. His brother Philippe the Bold, Duke of Burgundy, sent his appointed artists — painter Jean de Beaumetz and sculptor Claus Sluter — to visit the prestigious site. Work continued from 1370 until the duke's death in 1416. The castle chapel was adorned with twelve statues of apostles, according to the scheme inaugurated at the Sainte-Chapelle in Paris in the mid-13th century. Lightning struck the castle in 1550, and it was subsequently abandoned and fell into ruin. The statues of apostles, which had been sheltered in the local church, were destroyed during the Revolution. This apostle's head, found in a garden in Mehun, is the only known vestige.

The problem of attribution

André Beauneveu was sculptor to the French king Charles V, and author of his recumbent statue (now in the Basilica of Saint-Denis). He ended his life in the service of the Duke of Berry. He directed the sculpture program at Mehun, where he was assisted by Jean de Cambrai (who succeeded him in 1397). The impressive character and subtle modeling of the apostle's head in the Louvre indicate that it is the work of a great artist — but historians hesitate between the two master sculptors. The uncertain chronology of the Mehun project adds to this difficulty.
The face with its half-closed eyes is absorbed in deep meditation. It resembles a prophet's head attributed to Beauneveu (in the Sainte-Chapelle in Bourges). Other features, however, evoke the work of Jean de Cambrai, who sculpted the recumbent statue of the Duke of Berry (in Bourges Cathedral): the simple yet vigorous treatment of volumes, and the realistic, rather crude character of the facial features. The apostle's inner tension is expressed by his deep frown, the wrinkles on his forehead, his lowered eyelids, and the creases around his eyes with their deeply etched crow's feet — recurrent features of this sculptor's work. The fluid treatment of the hair and beard also suggest Jean de Cambrai. It may indeed be pointless to attempt to distinguish between the work of two artists who were so closely associated.

Bibliography

Paul Vitry, « Une tête d’apôtre de Mehun-sur-Yèvre », Bulletin des musées de France, n°1, janvier 1929, pp.5-6
Georg Troescher, Die burgundische Plastik des ausgehenden Mittelalters, Francfort, 1940, p.33
Michel Aubert, « Note sur la tête d’apôtre provenant de Mehun-sur-Yèvre et conservée au musée du Louvre », Bulletin monumental, 1942, pp.297-303
Michel Aubert et Michèle Beaulieu, Description raisonnée des sculptures du Musée du Louvre, tome 1 Moyen Age, Paris, 1950, pp.
Alain Erlande-Brandenburg, « Jean de Cambrai, sculpteur de Jean de France, duc de Berry, », Monuments et mémoires, Fondation Eugène Piot, tome 63, Paris, 1980, pp.143-186
Les Fastes du gothique : le siècle de Charles V, cat. expo. Paris, Grand Palais, 1981-82, n°105
Tesoros medievales del museo del Louvre, cat. expo. Mexico, Museo del Palacio de Bellas Artes, 1993, n°49

Technical description

  • Attributed to the workshop of André BEAUNEVEU (Valenciennes, c. 1335 - Bourges?, 1401-03)

    Head of an Apostle

  • Stone

    H. 0.31 m; W. 0.23 m; D. 0.21 m

  • Acquired in 1928 , 1928

    R.F. 1979

  • Sculptures

    Richelieu wing
    Ground floor
    Jean de Liège
    Room 9

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