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Work Sculptures from the tomb of Christophe de Thou

Department of Sculptures: France, Renaissance

Funerary Monument for Christophe de Thou (died 1582)

© 2011 Musée du Louvre / Thierry Ollivier

Sculptures
France, Renaissance

Author(s):
Montalbetti Valérie

On this tomb of a high-ranking magistrate of the Valois period, Barthélemy Prieur juxtaposed different materials (various marbles and bronze) to create color effects. He also combined styles, mixing a realistic portrait of the deceased with funerary spirits inspired by Michelangelo and lissome Mannerist Virtues.

A symphony of colors for an influential political figure

Christophe de Thou, provost of Parisian merchants, president of the Parliament of Paris, and advisor to the king, was an important political figure during the reigns of Henry II and his sons. On his death in 1582, his son Jacques-Auguste de Thou, who became a celebrated historian, had his tomb placed in the family chapel in the church of Saint-André-des-Arts, Paris. An advocate of religious tolerance, he commissioned the monument from the Protestant Barthélemy Prieur. It was dismantled during the French Revolution, but its principal decorative sculptures eventually entered the Louvre.
The portrait bust of the magistrate, whose white marble head stands out against a red marble robe, was set on a yellow marble pedestal in an oval recess, flanked by two white marble Virtues. This group overlooked a sarcophagus, against which were leaning two bronze funerary spirits. The mixture of mediums gave rise to a symphony of colors, which is characteristic of Prieur's funerary monuments, including the Monument of the Heart of Constable Anne de Montmorency in the Louvre.

A stylistic medley

Stylistically, the sculpture is just as mixed as its mediums. Prieur executed a naturalistic portrait of the magistrate, showing the wrinkles on his forehead, his sagging cheeks, wart, and double chin. His head emerges from a ruff, encircled by the collar of his official parliamentary robe. His frankness and good-natured character is reflected in his wide-open eyes, slight smile, and straight nose.
On the other hand, the contorted attitudes of the elongated funerary spirits reflect Mannerist aesthetics. Their pose is borrowed from Michelangelo's figures of Day and Night on the Medici tomb, Florence, but they are far more graceful and vigorous, and their suffering can be read on their faces. So skilful is the modeling that their straining muscles are palpable. The quality of the bronze work is remarkable.
The Virtues have slim, sinuous silhouettes typical of French Mannerism. The curves of their bodies are enhanced by the so-called "wet" drapery of their flowing robes. The sculptor has mastered the art of Jean Goujon, managing to create an illusion of volume in a relatively thin slab of marble. Prudence holds her conventional attributes, the mirror and the snake. Justice holds a (broken) sword, but her other traditional attribute, scales, is missing. Instead, she carries a small branch with large leaves studded with berries: this was how sculptors of the time represented the olive tree.

Militant imagery

There was a reason for changing this attribute. In the midst of the wars of religion, two conflicting concepts of justice existed: the supporters of punitive justice (extermination of the Protestant heretics) clashed with the pacifists, who advocated a peaceful solution. For the latter, justice was a peacemaker. The presence of the olive branch emphasizes the fact that the magistrate, and above all his son, belonged to the pacifist camp.

Bibliography

Beaulieu Michèle, Musée du Louvre. Description raisonnée des sculptures de la Renaissance française, Éditions de la Réunion des musées nationaux, 1978, pp. 157-160.
Bresc Geneviève, "Justice et Paix. Le Tombeau de Christophe de Thou par Barthélemy Prieur", in La Revue du Louvre, February 1981, pp. 8-18.
Chefs-d'oeuvre du musée du Louvre. Bronzes de la Renaissance à Rodin, Tokyo, Metropolitan Art Museum, 1988, p. 226.
Nouvelles acquisitions du département des Sculptures (1992-1995), Musée du Louvre, Éditions de la Réunion des musées nationaux, 1996, p. 144.

Technical description

  • Barthélemy PRIEUR (Berzieux (Marne), 1536 - Paris, 1611)

    Funerary Monument for Christophe de Thou (died 1582)

    Provenance: Musée des Monuments Français

  • Red and white marble (bust); bronze (spirits); marble (Virtues)

    H. 0.74 m; W. 1.59 m; D. 0.32 m

  • Bust acquired in 1819: M.R. 2116
    Spirits acquired in 1818: M.R. 1684 and M.R.1685
    Virtues from Saint-Denis acquired in 1992: R.F. 4405 and R.F. 4406

    M.R. 2116, M.R. 1684, M.R. 1685, R.F. 4405, R.F. 4406

  • Sculptures

    Richelieu wing
    Ground floor
    Prieur
    Room 15 b

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