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Medieval Mourning Sculptures from Court of Burgundy Featured at Metropolitan
Jean de La Huerta and Antoine le Moiturier, "Mourner no. 78, mourner with cowl pulled down, right hand raised, left hand holding a book in a flap of his cloak", 1443–56. Alabaster. Musée des Beaux-Arts de Dijon. Photo: ©FRAME (French Regional and American Museum Exchange) by Jared Bendis and François JAY.
NEW YORK, NY.- The renowned 15th-century sculptors Jean de la Huerta and Antoine Le Moiturier labored together for more than 25 years on a grand and complex commission: the tomb of John the Fearless (Jean sans Peur, 1371–1419), the second Duke of Burgundy, and his wife, Margaret of Bavaria, which featured 41 alabaster mourning figures, among other elements. Following the precedent of the mourners carved for the tomb of Philip the Bold, the first Duke of Burgundy, de la Huerta and Le Moiturier created astonishingly realistic and highly individualized pleurants (mourners) that serve as a permanent record of the lavish funeral of one of the richest men in medieval France. The figures express a broad range of powerful emotions—from melancholy to desolation—through facial expression, gesture, and the eloquent draping of garments. The renovation of the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Dijon, France—where 37 of the statuettes from the tomb of John the Fearless are housed—provides an opportunity for the unprecedented loan of these figures for the exhibition The Mourners: Medieval Tomb Sculptures from the Court of Burgundy, opening March 2 at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the first venue in an eight-city tour.

Three additional figures from the tomb of John the Fearless (now in the collections of the Louvre, the Musée National du Moyen Âge, and the Cleveland Museum of Art) and three from the tomb of Philip the Bold will also be shown, along with an architectural element (Cleveland Museum of Art and Memorial Art Gallery, University of Rochester, respectively). The installation at the Metropolitan will be supplemented by related works from the Museum’s collection, including the monumental Enthroned Virgin from the convent at Poligny (established by John the Fearless and Margaret of Bavaria) that was carved by Claus de Werve.

“Although powerful representations of sorrow are familiar to us from the funerary art of the late 19th and early 20th century, the expressive power attained by the 15th-century sculptors of these statuettes will be quite a revelation to many of our visitors,” commented Thomas P. Campbell, Director of the Metropolitan Museum. “The keen powers of observation and technical mastery of these early sculptors are truly phenomenal. The small statuettes—none of them is taller than 17 inches in height—capture the entire spectrum of emotions connected with human loss. When the sculptures are grouped together, the viewer is transfixed. Carved more than 500 years ago, these eloquent sculptures still speak to us, and they continue to inspire artists today.”

At the Metropolitan, the exhibition consists of all 40 extant mourners from the tomb of John the Fearless, and three figures and one fragment of the architectural arcade from the tomb of Philip the Bold. Because the statuettes have been freed from the architectural framework that usually contains them, the figures may now be viewed in the round.

The mourners will be presented as participants in a funeral cortège. A choirboy carries a candle. A deacon holds a cross. A monk reads from a book. And a bishop stands with his crook. One mourner—his face obscured by a hood— wipes away a tear with his cloak. Another brings his hand to his face, holding back his grief. And a third turns to speak to his neighbor. Some mourners carry a prayer book or a rosary, and others can be identified by the brooch or cincture (belt) that holds their garment in place. The procession includes members of the clergy as well as laymen, as can be determined from details of the caps, hoods, and haircuts that are represented.

Heraldic banners created specifically for the presentation at the Metropolitan bear the arms of John the Fearless and Margaret of Bavaria. Because of his membership in the royal house of Valois, John the Fearless’s banner includes the gold fleur de lys on a blue ground of the kings of France. Margaret of Bavaria’s arms include the blue and white Bavarian lozenges.

Historical Background
Philip the Bold (1342–1404), the first Duke of Burgundy and the youngest son of King John II, was the father of John the Fearless and brother of Jean Duke of Berry. Like his brothers, Philip the Bold surrounded himself with extraordinary luxury. Architects, artists, and artisans in the duke’s service lived in Dijon, where he maintained several residences and established a monastic complex. The magnificent tomb that was created for him by the sculptor Charles Sluter and colleagues set the precedent for de la Huerta and Le Moiturier, when they worked on the tomb of John the Fearless. Together the tombs are celebrated as among the most sumptuous and innovative of the late Middle Ages. The mourners in both projects were carved in the round—rather than in relief—and set within an arcade, through which they appear to move as if in a funeral procession.

During the social upheaval of the French Revolution, the tombs were mutilated, disassembled, and numerous elements were put into storage. Many of the mourners were stored, while others disappeared or were acquired by collectors.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art | Medieval Mourning Sculptures | Jean de la Huerta | Antoine Le Moiturier |


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