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Work St. John at Calvary
Department of Sculptures: France, Renaissance
Saint Jean de calvaire
© Musée du Louvre/P. Philibert
Barefoot, with crossed arms and bowed head, St. John, the "disciple whom Jesus loved", is standing at the foot of the Cross, grieving over the death of Christ. This simple, calm, monumental image of the evangelist is moving with its sense of inner strength. It is a precious testimony to the vitality of wooden sculpture in the Loire Valley in the late Middle Ages.
This St. John was placed in the church at Loché (Indre et Loire) in the 19th century, but its provenance is unknown (the suggestion that it came from the Cistercian abbey of Baugerais is unsupported). The apostle was a pendant for a Grieving Virgin (now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York). The two statues must have been standing by the feet of Christ on the Cross (not found), in a Calvary group. The group was probably placed on a beam at the entrance to the choir, as was customary in churches at the time.
The statue is characteristic of the grandeur of art produced in the Loire Valley. St. John, barefoot as iconographic tradition requires, is wearing a plain long-sleeved robe. Everything superfluous has been removed. The volumes are simple and strong. The drapery is restrained, lifted slightly so it falls in beautiful folds, but far from the virtuoso effects common in Burgundian art. His hair is carefully carved and cut evenly around his head in mid-15th century style. His features are pure and the hands are delicately carved. The lack of movement, the crossed arms, the bowed head, and lowered eyes give the saint a calm, sad, pensive attitude.
The meditative mood and restrained, monumental style are similar to the work of the painter Jean Fouquet, who lived in Tours. This St. John also bears witness to the vitality of wooden sculpture in Touraine in the second half of the 15th century; the names of many workshops active at the time are still known today.
The wood was certainly originally covered with polychromy, which would have permitted more expression and greater detail.
BibliographyPaul Vitry, "Quelques bois sculptés de l'école tourangelle du XVe siècle", Gazette des Beaux-Arts, tome 31, 1904, pp. 107-119.
L'Art du Val de Loire de Jean Fouquet à Jean Clouet, cat. expo. Tours, Musée des Beaux-Arts, 1952, n 92, pp. 71-72.
Michel Aubert et Michèle Beaulieu, Description raisonnée des sculptures du musée du Louvre, Tome 1 Moyen Age, Paris, 1950, pp. 208-209.
Vallée de la Loire
Saint Jean de calvaire
troisième quart du XVe siècle
Bois de noyer
H. : 1,40 m. ; L. : 0,46 m. ; Pr. : 0,39 m.
Acquis en 1904 , 1904
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