Claus Sluter and Claus de Werve, Mourners, from the Tomb of Philip the Bold

Claus Sluter and Claus de Werve, Mourners, from the Tomb of Philip the Bold


(piano playing) Dr. Zucker: We’re in
the museum of fine arts in Dijon and we’re looking
at one of the great treasures of Burgundy. These are the mourners, a
series of small alabaster carvings of Carthusian monks, the clergy, and the family mourning the
death of Philip the Bold, the Duke of Burgundy. Dr. Harris: The Dukes of Burgundy, specifically at this time Philip the Bold ruled Burgundy which included Flanders areas that are today France. He was very powerful, very wealthy and he had established
a Carthusian monastery just outside of the city walls of Dijon as a burial place for his family. These mourning figures
occupied an arkaded space below a sculptural effigy
of the Duke himself in prayer and Angel’s
ushering him into Heaven. The idea of making his tomb there was that the monks in this monastery
would be available to pray for the soul of Philip the Bold. Dr. Zucker: The most
remarkable element here is the individuality of
each of these figures. Dr. Harris: That’s
something that Claus Sluter, who was one of the sculptures, along with Claus de Werve was known for, a kind of attention to
realism and expressiveness. Dr. Zucker: There’s
something incredibly powerful and monumental about
these tiny little figures. They’re only about 18
inches, 14 inches tall, and yet there’s a real sense of solemnity. Dr. Harris: They’re
certainly not the ethereal swaying figures that we
see normally in Gothic art. Here’s this transitional
moment away from the Gothic toward what we think
of as the Renaissance. The figures have that waviness and a new monumentality to the drapery and bodies that we associate
with the Renaissance. But these figures are so expressive, each one represents, in
a way, a different aspect of grief. It’s not just in the
faces, in many cases we don’t see the faces,
the figures are hooded. It’s in their drapery, it’s
in their body, that emotion. Dr. Zucker: They do embody the very notion of mourning. Dr. Harris: This is a
figure where we don’t see the face at all, we see
hood in place of a face and this vertical folds
of drapery gathered in one place where the monk underneath is obviously holding the
drapery in a sense of pain. Dr. Zucker: That’s right,
it’s turning inward and the drapery becomes
as expressive as a human face, as hands even when
they’re not exposed to us. Dr. Harris: In someways
it’s almost incredibly modern, it’s like Martha Graham in Dance where the movement of folds of cloth is expressive of feeling. Dr. Zucker: I love the
way so many of the figures deal with the pain of
mourning in an isolated way. Then there are also
these very tender moments where there’s a comforting
that takes place. Seeing these figures isolated outside of the context of the
effigy allows us to see that abstraction. Of course, this would
have been just one element in a grand space that was
meant to honor the dead. Dr. Harris: You’re right, we’re here and the figures are in glass boxes and we can walk around them, but we were certainly never meant to see them this way. (piano playing)

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