Work Two Mourners, from the Tomb of Jean de France, the Duke of Berry
Department of Sculptures: France, Middle Ages
Mourner holding a book
© Musée du Louvre/P. Philibert
France, Middle Ages
These hooded mourners adorned the base of the tomb erected in Bourges for the Duke of Berry, brother of the French king Charles V and the Duke of Burgundy Philip the Bold. Animated and expressive, the statuettes testify to the evolution of funerary art in the 15th century towards a more supple, eloquent form of sculpture, under the influence of Burgundian art.
The tomb of a princely patron
The Duke of Berry (1340-1416) was a lavish patron, famous for commissioning the Limbourg brothers to produce Les Très riches Heures du duc de Berry (Chantilly, Musée Condé), the most beautiful illuminated manuscript of the period. In 1404, he decided to build his tomb in the Sainte Chapelle of the ducal palace in Bourges. The tomb was made up of a recumbent figure on a marble slab set on a base decorated with forty mourners under arcatures. The work was carried out in two stages.
The first stage, begun while the duke was still alive, was directed by Jean de Cambrai, who worked with André Beauneveu. Work seems to have been interrupted by the death of the patron (1416). The artist executed the recumbent figure (Bourges Cathedral) and five marble mourners with flattened backs to be used as appliques. They are characterized by simplified volumes, straight folds, and restrained gestures.
Work resumed after 1450 on the orders of King Charles VII of France, the duke's great-nephew, and was entrusted to Étienne Bobillet and Paul Mosselmann. They worked on the architectural structure and completed the gallery of mourners. The second series is easily distinguished from the first by both the materials and the technique used: the statuettes are made of veined alabaster, sculpted in the round and in a very different spirit. The two mourners in the Louvre belong to this set.
The influence of Burgundian funerary art
Tombs with mourners appeared in the late 13th century. These statuettes represented the family and friends of the deceased, shrouded in the voluminous hooded cloaks worn during the funeral ceremonies. But this type of monument became very popular in the 15th century under the influence of the Burgundian art, as illustrated by the Tomb of Philip the Bold (Dijon, Musée des Beaux-Arts) by Claus Sluter in the charterhouse of Champmol: prodigiously lifelike mourners sculpted in the round seem to be walking in a procession. The second series in Bourges has taken its inspiration from this ample, expressive style.
The monolithic appearance of Jean de Cambrai's statuettes is replaced by figures in lively, varied poses (one mourner has suddenly turned his head, another is engrossed in a book) with expressive faces and supple drapery. The sculptor's virtuosity is shown in the way he hollows the stone to create deep shadows. His treatment of the volume of the hood brings one figure alive. Numerous folds give an impression of movement. The deep distress of one mourner is shown by the turbulent bunching of his cloak. The sculptor has concentrated on details like the clasp or the elaborately worked edge of the missal.
The mourners in the Louvre are beautifully made, but the twenty-one statuettes of the second series (of a total of thirty-five) show great diversity and unmatched quality.
BibliographyÉmile Mâle, L'art religieux de la fin du Moyen Âge, Paris, 1925, pp. 419-420.
Pierre Pradel, "Nouveaux documents sur le tombeau de Jean de Berry", Monuments et mémoires, Fondation Eugène Piot, tome 49, Paris, 1957, pp. 141-157.
Bella Bessard, "Three Berry mourners", The Metropolitan Museum Journal, 1968, volume 1, pp. 171-176.
Les Pleurants dans l'art du Moyen Âge en Europe, cat. expo. Dijon, Musée des Beaux-Arts, 1971.
Chefs-d'oeuvre de l'art du Moyen Âge, cat. expo. Prague, Bratislava, 1978-1979, n 99 et 100.
Les Fastes du gothique : le siècle de Charles V, cat. expo. Paris, Grand Palais, 1981-1982, n 111.
La Sculpture d'Europe occidentale des XV-XVIe siècles dans les musées d'Union Soviétique, Saint-Pétersbourg, 1988, n 66.
Tesoros medievales del museo del Louvre, cat. expo. Mexico, Museo del Palacio de Bellas Artes, 1993, n 69.
Étienne BOBILLET (active 1453)
Mourner holding a book
Alabaster, traces of gilding
H. 0.39 m; W. 0.14 m; D. 0.12 m
Carlos de Beistegui Donation
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