The Musée des Beaux-Arts in Dijon, which is partially closed for renovations, has generously sent one of its treasures in a travelling exhibition: the pleurants (the mourners) from the tomb of the Duke of Burgundy, John the Fearless, from the Charterhouse of Champmol. They comprise 37 alabaster figures that the court sculptor Juan de la Huerta made between 1443 and 1456.
The presence of pleurants - figures who mourn the loss of the deceased and pray for his salvation - on tombs has a long tradition: there are already examples in the middle of the 13th century in the abbey church of Saint Denis, north of Paris. What is completely novel about the two tombs of the Burgundian dukes is that the pleurants are no longer relief figures, playing a secondary role, but have advanced to become the primary decorative elements. They are conceived as fully plastic figures who walk through richly decorated arcades as if through a cloister.
Of the 37 masculine figures in this exhibition, clerics dominate. The procession is led by choirboys and deacons, followed by a bishop and four cantors. The remaining mourners are primarily Cartusian monks, recognizable by their broad hoods, with some members of the laity interspersed. Through the variation of the figures and the balanced rhythm between them, the procession remains charged with tension. It is astounding how each figure shows an individual posture and its own frame of mind, although the pleurants are not meant to be portraits per se. The figures express their sadness through their gestures and the complex draping of the fabric of their cloaks. Some of the most impressive figures are those whose faces are hidden by their hoods. Although the pleurants in this exhibition were created for a specific historical context, they remain deeply affecting to this day. Since mourning is among the most universal and distressing of emotions, we recognize ourselves in the pleurants from the tomb of John the Fearless and remember a time when we ourselves were at our most vulnerable.
A joint exhibition of the Dallas Museum of Art and the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Dijon under the patronage of FRAME (French Regional and American Museum Exchange)
The presentation in Europe is made possible by the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Dijon, the Memling in Sint-Jan Hospitaalmuseum, Bruges, the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, and the Musée de Cluny, Paris
With the support of Museum & Location
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