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The Resurrection

© 2011 Musée du Louvre / Thierry Ollivier

Sculptures
France, Renaissance

Author(s):
Montalbetti Valérie

Two Roman soldiers have fallen to the ground in awe at the sight of the resurrected Christ. With head bent at a slight angle and lowered gaze, this handsome, athletic-looking, muscular-legged Christ seems to be rising upwards into the skies. The group was commissioned by the queen Catherine de Médicis for the Valois Chapel that she was having built in the abbey of Saint-Denis, but it never left the sculptor's studio during his life.

The Valois Rotonda

Catherine de Médicis, widow of King Henry II of France, had a sumptuous circular funerary chapel built on one side of the basilica of Saint-Denis (burial place of the kings of France). The Rotonda, begun about 1560, and delayed because of civil war and lack of funds, remained unfinished. It was demolished in 1719, as it was in danger of collapsing. Supervised by Primaticcio, appointed director of royal graves by the queen, Germain Pilon was entrusted with the task of executing the royal tomb, as well as several sculptures, The Resurrection among them. This group of figures was intended to overlook the two royal recumbent statues of Henry II and Catherine de Médicis, clad in their coronation robes.

Italian influence

Full of Italian references, the composition of the group seems to have been invented by Primaticcio. Hence the idea, unprecedented in France, of combining the theme of the Resurrection with a tomb sculpture, which had already been explored in Italy (notably the Brenzoni Monument in Verona by Nanni di Bartolo). The naked, athletic-looking Christ, with a powerful torso, is evidently inspired by Michelangelo's Christ in Rome (the church of Santa Maria sopra Minerva), a cast of which Francis I had attempted to obtain in 1546. It differs from Michelangelo's work through the Mannerist anatomy and pose: slender silhouette, lanky tapering legs, long thin feet, and twisting movement of the body. A drawing by Primaticcio, now in the British Museum, which depicts a head of Christ and highlights the volumes and the modeling, seems to be a preparatory study for the face of Pilon's Christ.

A weightless Christ

If Germain Pilon did not design the sculpture himself, his execution imbues the work with its moving beauty. The slender, lithe, wiry legs, which seem too frail to support the muscular torso, stride forward and barely touch the ground. They thrust the figure upwards, as if the body were weightless, a justifiable impression since this is the glorious body of Christ ascending into Heaven. The position of the body emphasizes this impression of weightlessness: bust pushed forward, head bent, lowered gaze, the risen Christ appears to be leaning forward to bless mankind who must remain on Earth. The gesture of benediction is highlighted by the size of the hand, out of proportion with the rest of the body. Christ's idealized facial features are combined with a very humane expression and gentle gaze. The lock of hair falling over his shoulder confers an almost feminine grace upon him.

Bibliography

Jean Babelon, Germain Pilon, Paris, 1927, pp. 13-14 and pp. 65-66.
Charles Terrasse, Germain Pilon, Paris, 1930, pp. 75-76.
Jacques Thirion, "Observations sur les sculptures de la chapelle des Valois", Zeitschrift für Kunstgeschichte, vol. 36, 1973, pp. 266-281.
Michèle Beaulieu, Description raisonnée des sculptures du musée du Louvre, vol. 2 Renaissance française, Paris, 1978, pp. 129-130.
Sylvie Béguin, "Le Primatice et Pilon", dans Germain Pilon et les sculpteurs français de la Renaissance, under the direction of G. Bresc, Actes du colloque du Louvre 1990, Paris, 1993, pp. 177-191.

Technical description

  • Germain PILON (Paris, c. 1525 - Paris, 1590)

    The Resurrection

    Provenance: church of Saint-Paul-Saint-Louis, 1933 (Christ); Musée des Monuments Français, 1821 (soldiers)

  • Marble

    H. 2.15 m; W. 1.88 m; D. 0.74 m

  • R.F. 2292, M.R. 1592, M.R. 1593

  • Sculptures

    Richelieu wing
    Ground floor
    Pilon
    Room 15 a

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