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Visitor trails Decorative Arts, The Middle Ages

Decorative Arts - Length: 1 hr 30 mins - Tour days: Monday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday Sunday

Salle Suger
Salle Suger

© Musée du Louvre/A. Dequier

00Introduction

In Europe, from the 5th to the 15th century, artists and craftsmen perfected a wide variety of techniques in fields such as enameling, ivory work, and tapestry. The Louvre's collection of medieval decorative arts provides compelling evidence of the importance of this period of artistic innovation.

The early Middle Ages were a time of great upheaval, following the major political, military, economic, and social crises that accompanied the fall of the Roman Empire and the rise of Christianity (established as the  official religion of Rome in the year 380). While the "Church triumphant" was busy building new places of worship, Rome was threatened by the Germanic tribes, who were forced to migrate west by the Huns. These invasions led to the fall of the western Roman Empire in 476, while the eastern or Byzantine Empire survived as a functioning political entity until the fall of its capital, Constantinople, in 1453. The Louvre's collection introduces visitors to the decorative arts of the Middle Ages from the 5th to the 15th centuries. This trail explores the technical innovations perfected by artists in the service of the royal courts and churches of both western and eastern Europe. Everyday objects, and items conceived for specific cultural or liturgical uses, help to trace the evolution of the decorative arts from the innovations of the Carolingian empire to Romanesque art, the early Gothic period, and the rise of the International Gothic style.

 

How to get to the next stop:

Beneath the Pyramid, follow the signs for the Richelieu wing. Turn right after the ticket check and take the escalators to the first floor. In Room 1, start at the first vitrine along the wall to the right.

Plaques de reliure du psautier de Dagulf
Plaques de reliure du psautier de Dagulf

© 1998 RMN / Martine Beck-Coppola

01Decorative arts in the Middle Ages

The reign of Charlemagne (768-814) saw the flowering of the so-called Carolingian renaissance. This term is used to describe art under the Carolingian kings, when craftsmen deliberately harked back to the techniques and forms of Antiquity. The renaissance began in the royal workshops, which employed most of the finest craftsmen of the day, including Dagulf, who made the ivory binding of this psalter. Dagulf was also a scribe who copied this collection of psalms at Charlemagne's request in 783 as a gift for Pope Adrian I (d. 795). The two ivory plaques represent David dictating the psalms and Saint Jerome correcting their text. They reflect the influence of classical models, particularly in the clarity of the composition and the carefully-modeled relief. The round heads and rather bulky bodies probably reflect the influence of later works such as the plaque depicting the Three Miraculous Healings of Christ (also in this room).

How to get to the next stop:

Return to the center of the room where you will find the vitrine containing the equestrian statuette of Charlemagne.

Equestrian statue: Charlemagne or Charles the Bald
Equestrian statue: Charlemagne or Charles the Bald

© 2000 RMN / Jean-Gilles Berizzi

02Equestrian statuette of Charlemagne or Charles the Bald

This equestrian statuette of Charlemagne was originally part of the treasure of Metz cathedral. One of the finest examples of Carolingian bronze work, it consists of three individually-cast pieces - the horse, the body of the rider, and his head. The horse may well be an Antique work re-used for the statuette, very much in keeping with the classical ideals of the Carolingian renaissance. The head fits the written descriptions of Charlemagne as well as his portrait on coins, but it also bears a certain resemblance to his grandson Charles the Bald, as depicted in illuminations dating from the second half of the 9th century. The figurine's identification as the emperor himself cannot thus be established with absolute certainty.

How to get to the next stop:

Still in Room 1, move on to the central vitrine on the left, which contains a paten or small plate used to carry the Host (Communion wafers) during the Christian mass.

Patène de serpentine
Patène de serpentine

© 1982 RMN / Peter Willi

03Decorative Arts in the Middle Ages

This paten has been fashioned from an Antique dish of serpentine stone, inlaid with gold fish and dating from the 1st century BC or the 1st century AD. In the 9th century AD, a goldsmith working at the court of Charles the Bald (823-877) set the plate in a mount of gold, gemstones, and cloisonné garnets. Charles the Bald later gave the paten to the Abbaye de Saint-Denis along with a chalice similarly fashioned from an Antique cup. The latter's precious setting has since disappeared, but the cup, known as the "Cup of the Ptolemys", is now in the Bibliothèque Nationale (the French national library). The paten's mount is decorated with three concentric bands set with cabochons and cloisonné garnets. This style of decoration was inherited from Merovingian goldsmithery and was still very common during the Carolingian period. This work is a perfect illustration of the magnificent achievements of the Carolingian renaissance during the reign of Charles the Bald.

How to get to the next stop:

Turn around and walk over to the vitrine containing a collection of objects in ivory, separating the center of the room from the wing on the right.

Diptych panel in five parts: the Emperor Triumphant (Justinian?)
Diptych panel in five parts: the Emperor Triumphant (Justinian?)

© 1986 RMN / Pierre et Maurice Chuzeville

04Leaf of a diptych: The Emperor Triumphant

The Barberini Ivory is a fine example of a Byzantine imperial diptych, each half of which consists of five plaques. The work is named after Cardinal Barberini who received it as a gift from the French scholar and lawyer Nicolas-Claude Fabri de Peiresc (1580-1637), who discovered it in Provence. The plaque represents a triumphant Byzantine emperor on horseback, probably Justinian (527-565). In the upper part, Christ and his host of winged victories seem to be protecting the emperor, while in the lower part, conquered nations are offering him their tributes. The work dates from the first half of the 6th century and indicates the theocratic underpinning of imperial power in Byzantium. It is a masterpiece that reflects all the vigor of 6th century art.

How to get to the next stop:

In the right wing, go to the first vitrine on the left which contains a gilded plaque, in the upper part of the case.

 

Reliquary plaque: the stone from the tomb of Christ: holy women at the tomb
Reliquary plaque: the stone from the tomb of Christ: holy women at the tomb

© R.M.N./D. Arnaudet

05Reliquary plaque: the stone from the tomb of Christ

The two elements of the Saint-Sépulcre reliquary were formerly part of the treasure of the Sainte Chapelle, on the Ile de la Cité in Paris. They were produced in Constantinople under the Comnenian dynasty (1081-1185). The reliquary is one of the finest examples of Byzantine goldsmithery brought back to France after the Crusades. The main plaque, in silver gilt, depicts the Holy Women being greeted by an angel on the morning after Christ's resurrection. The angel is pointing to the empty tomb. The angel's gesture, and the shock and fear expressed by the women, are typical of the almost Mannerist style of 12th-century art in Constantinople. The subtlety of the forms helps explain why western Europe found Byzantine art so compelling in the Middle Ages. Louis IX of France (also known as Saint Louis 1226-1270), admired this work and purchased it along with other reliquaries for the Sainte Chapelle.

How to get to the next stop:

Now go to the central vitrine, behind you. The detail of this magnificent paten may be examined more closely using the magnifying glass provided.

Paten
Paten

© 1997 Musée du Louvre / Martine Beck-Coppola

06Paten

This paten was made in Constantinople in the late 9th or early 10th century. It consists of a sardonyx dish trimmed with a band of smooth silver gilt with milled edges. In the center of the dish is a medallion of cloisonné enamel on gold, depicting the Last Supper. Like a number of other surviving Byzantine liturgical vessels, the paten comprises a hardstone object set in a gold mount. The tiny central medallion is a masterpiece of Byzantine art, containing a beautifully-adapted representation of an important and well-known scene from the Biblical accounts of the life of Christ. The medallion, enameled with gold cloisonné work, is remarkable both for the quality of its execution, and its vigorous drawing.

How to get to the next stop:

Move on the next gallery, the Suger Room, and the vitrine at the far end, on the left.

Openwork Panel
Openwork Panel

© Musée du Louvre / Objets d'Art

07Openwork Panel

In the eastern Holy Roman Empire, the imperial traditions of the Carolingians were maintained by the Ottonian monarchs (962-1002). Ottonian art was powerfully influenced by the Carolingian artistic tradition and by its direct contact with Byzantine art; it tended towards schematic, simplified forms. These characteristics are obvious on the two ivory plaques from Magdeburg. The first shows Christ approached by the figure of  a small child, the second the Miracle of the Loaves and Fishes. Together with fourteen other plaques, the two seen here were originally mounted on what might have been an episcopal throne, an altar front, a reliquary, an ambo, or a pair of chancel doors. The object in question was probably a gift from Otto I (962-973) to Madgeburg cathedral. The first scene is characterized by its monumental figures, highly stylized faces and flat treatment of drapery. This style, and the composition of the scene, are consistent with Romanesque art. It is strikingly different from the more classically-inspired character of the second plaque, showing the Miracle of the Loaves and Fishes. Here, the tightly knit group of figures conveys the crush of the crowd perfectly, but annihilates any sense of a spatial setting. The figures are less bulky, and the densely-pleated folds of their garments indicate the artist's familiarity with Byzantine models.

How to get to the next stop:

Return to the center of the Suger Room, where the first vitrine contains a number of objects, including the Eleanor Vase.

"Eleanor" crystal vase
"Eleanor" crystal vase

© 1990 RMN / Daniel Arnaudet

08"Eleanor" crystal vase

In 12th-century Saint-Denis, near Paris, architecture and sculpture were progressively breaking free of the influence of Romanesque art. The sumptuary arts (such as jewelry and plate) remained unaffected by the emerging Gothic style of the 1180s, however. Suger, Abbott of Saint-Denis from 1122-51, commissioned some of the finest goldsmiths of his day to produce a series of outstanding masterpieces, in the Romanesque style. Suger justified the making of these opulent items by referring to the neo-Platonist notion that magnificent, dazzling objects could enable men to reach beyond the material and attain the immaterial. The Eleanor Vase is one of a set of four crystal vases in mounts commissioned by Suger for Saint-Denis. Three are now in the Louvre; the fourth is in the National Gallery in Washington. According to the inscription, the original Sassanid crystal vase was a gift from one Mitadolus, probably an Islamic ruler of Saragossa in the early 12th century, to the grandfather of Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine (1122-1204). Eleanor later gave the vase to Louis VII, who in turn presented it to Suger. The mount is decorated with fleurons in beaded filigree. Like those of the other vases commissioned by Suger, it was probably made by local goldsmiths under the Abbott's direct supervision.

How to get to the next stop:

Now return to the left wing of the Suger Room and go to the first vitrine on the right.

Armilla: The Resurrection
Armilla: The Resurrection

© 2008 Musée du Louvre / Martine Beck-Coppola

09Armilla

In the 12th century, the valleys of the Rhine and the Meuse - under the Hohenstaufen dynasty (1138-1250) which succeeded the Salian rulers - were among the most important artistic centers in western Europe. The Meuse region was a leading center for the production of works in gold, decorated with champlevé enamels on copper. This armilla (or arm-band) was produced c.1170-80, when Rheno-Mosan enameling was at its height. It depicts the Resurrection of Christ and is one of a pair (the other arm-band, now in the Nuremberg Museum, depicts the Crucifixion). These remarkable ornaments were designed for ceremonial use, and were worn high up on the arm. They are said to have been found in Russia in the grave of Andrei Bogolubski, Grand Duke of Vladimir and Suzdal (1157-1174), who is thought to have received them as a gift from the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick Barbarossa (1122-1190). The armilla in the Louvre is remarkable for the authority of the figures of Christ and the angels, inspired by Byzantine models. The slender, precise cloisons, the fine features of the engraved faces, and the bright, varied colours - including the careful gradation of tones to imitate marble on the tomb - testify to the enamelers' extraordinary virtuosity.

How to get to the next stop:

Now move on to the second part of the Suger Room. Enter the left wing and stop at the large vitrine to the right of the stained-glass windows.

Saint Matthieu
Saint Matthieu

© 1995 RMN / Daniel Arnaudet

10St Matthew

This arched decorative plaque frames a high-relief figure of St Matthew. The plaque is one of a series of figures of the apostles that originally decorated the high altar of the Abbaye de Grandmont, near Limoges. A number of plaques from the same series are held in other museums. The figure of the saint is powerfully modeled in repoussé. The champlevé enamel plaque is entirely decorated with florid scrollwork typical of 13th-century art from the Limoges region (the Limousin). The plaques were commissioned in Limoges in around 1220-30. In the 13th century, Limousin enamelers began to incorporate unenameled gilt copper figures in their works, of which the Grandmont apostles are a superb example. They are also very similar to the statues on the north and south doors of Chartres cathedral.

How to get to the next stop:

Continue into Room 3 - known as the Jeanne d'Evreux Room - and head for the large ivory statuette of the Virgin in the central vitrine.

Statuette: Virgin and Child
Statuette: Virgin and Child

© 2001 RMN / Jean-Gilles Berizzi

11Virgin and Child from the Sainte-Chapelle

This large ivory statuette of the Virgin, from the treasury of the Sainte Chapelle in Paris, is listed in a chapel inventory dating from 1265-79. It may have been a gift to the chapel from the French king Louis IX (also known as Saint Louis, 1214-1270) or a member of his retinue. It is carved in the round and has lost its original polychrome coloring, although a few traces of the gilding have survived. The Virgin also originally wore a gold crown, which has since been lost. Her gown is draped gracefully in a series of deep folds. Her features are extremely delicate: her little pointed chin, almond eyes, and narrow mouth are typical of the statuary of the day. The piece is a remarkable testament to the talent of Parisian ivory carvers during the reign of Louis IX.

How to get to the next stop:

Still in Room 3, move on to the second central vitrine containing a gilded statuette of the Virgin.

Virgin and Child
Virgin and Child

© 1999 RMN / Martine Beck-Coppola

12Virgin and Child of Jeanne d'Evreux

This silver-gilt statuette of the Virgin was a gift from the French queen Jeanne d'Evreux (wife of Charles IV)  to the treasury of the Abbaye de Saint-Denis in 1339. It is an undisputed masterpiece of Gothic art. The silversmith who executed the statuette has shown remarkable skill in the use of repoussé work for the upper part of the Virgin's body, and in draping the leaves of silver gilt to imitate folds of cloth. The artist's sensitivity is evident in the softness of the features and the tenderness of the bond between the mother and her baby.The statuette dates from the period between 1324 - when Jeanne d'Evreux married  Charles IV, known as Charles le Bel (1294-1328) - and 1339, when she presented it to Saint-Denis, as recorded by the inscription. The figure represents an important milestone in the development of statues of the Virgin. The curving lines of her body are cloaked in a gown that forms a series of horizontal folds at her waist and vertical folds at her hips. Similarly-draped gowns are found on many statues of the Virgin and Child. The lily that Mary is holding was originally a reliquary containing drops of her milk, a scrap of her veil, and a lock of her hair. The base is decorated with plaques of translucent basse-taille enamel on silver, decorated with scenes from the life of Christ. They constitute one of the earliest Parisian examples of the technique, which appeared in the late 13th century in Italy and spread to the rest of Europe in the 14th century.

How to get to the next stop:

Continue into Room 4 and head for the central vitrine which contains Charles V's scepter.

Sceptre de Charles V
Sceptre de Charles V

©Photo RMN / Jean-Gilles Berizzi

13The scepter of Charles V

The scepter of Charles V (1337-1380) is in fact listed in an inventory of 1379-80 as part of the regalia prepared by Charles V for the coronation of his son Charles VI. It was made in Paris c.1365-80 and consists of three parts - the shaft, decorated with fleurs-de-lys set within lozenges; the knob, decorated with three bas-reliefs, and the statuette of Charlemagne. The reliefs on the knob depict three legendary episodes from the life of Charlemagne. This choice of iconography reflects the importance of the myth of Charlemagne at the Valois court, and the Valois kings' desire to reaffirm the legitimacy of their rule by depicting themselves as his worthy heirs. The statuette of Charlemagne shows him sitting on a throne, resting on a lily. The figure's sculptural power and authoritarian expression are in sharp contrast to the soft refinement of the reliefs on the knob, which are noticeably more supple and fluid. These contrasting styles correspond to artistic developments during the reign of Charles V. The great finesse of the goldsmithery and the gemstones, set in claws and ornamented with clusters of pearls, demonstrate the skill of Parisian goldsmiths of the late 14th century. Works commissioned from them by Charles V and his brothers - all important patrons of the arts - contributed to the development of an international Gothic style.

How to get to the next stop:

Now, in the same room, move on to the tapestry on the facing wall on the right.

14The gift of the heart

At the dawn of the 15th century, the style known as "International Gothic" had spread throughout Europe, and was widely embraced in tapestry-making. The tapestry known as the  Offrande du Coeur ("Offering of the Heart"), doubtless woven in Arras c.1400-10, reflects the aristocratic ideals of the early 15th century. It illustrates one of the commonest themes in the iconography of courtly love - a nobleman offering his heart to his beloved. The theme also features in courtly romances such as the Romance of the Rose and in the works of important medieval French writers such as Guillaume de Machaut and Christine de Pisan. It was often depicted on caskets or ivory boxes containing mirrors. The scene is set in a garden. The characters are wearing garments fashionable in the early 15th century. Arras, then part of Flanders, is generally agreed to have been the main European center for tapestry-making in the early 15th century, but there were also workshops in Paris, where the cartoons for this tapestry are thought to have been drawn. Contacts such as this between the principal artistic centers were common in early 15th-century Europe.

How to get to the next stop:

Move on to Room 6, known as the Anne de Bretagne Room. The central vitrine contains a small painted enamel medallion bearing a self-portrait by Jean Fouquet.

Self-portrait
Self-portrait

© 2010 Musée du Louvre / Martine Beck-Coppola

15Jean Fouquet's self-portrait

Jean Fouquet's self-portrait was originally set into the frame of the so-called Melun diptych, painted c.1450 for Etienne Chevalier, counselor to Charles VII (1403-1461). Jean Fouquet was the greatest French artist of the 15th century, representing a particular school, influenced by aspects of Italian art, and which which spurned the excesses of the flamboyant Gothic style. The Melun diptych, now in two parts - one in Berlin, the other in Antwerp - featured a series of medallions set into the frame, including this self-portrait. The picture is the earliest known self-portrait by a French painter, and the earliest round portrait in the history of French painting. It is also an early example of painted enamel, a technique discovered in the 15th century. The copper base was given a first coat of enamel, then a grey-brown glaze, which was in turn overlaid with gold hatching, forming a monochrome gold effect on a dark background. Certain details, such as the pupils and the thin line between the lips, were obtained by scratching away the gold with a needlepoint. The technique is masterfully handled here, allowing Fouquet to shape and define his depiction of himself, giving the portrait extraordinary presence. The painted enamel technique was used in Limoges in the late 15th century and throughout the 16th century.

How to get to the next stop:

Retrace your steps to the Hall Napoléon beneath the Pyramid.

 

Author(s) :

Muriel Barbier