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Thursday, December 24, 2009

Mourning the House of Burgundy

It was at Antwerp Cathedral that I first encountered the concept of funerary “pleurants”, or “weepers”, where twenty-four little bronze figurers of mourners once graced the 1475 tomb of Isabella of Bourbon, 2nd wife of Charles the Bold. Unfortunately, every one was stolen during the iconoclasm that raged in Antwerp in the 16thC, and most of them ended up in the Protestant North; 10 of them have long been held by Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum.

I learned that “pleaurants” were a standard feature on tombs of the House of Burgundy, and now I … and you … will have a chance to see a magnificent set of “pleurants” from another House of Burgundy tomb, here in the U.S.

It was for the tomb of the assassinated John the Fearless (1371–1419), the second Duke of Burgundy, that these 16-inch-tall sculptures were crafted. Carved by Jean de La Huerta and Antoine Le Moiturier between 1443 and 1470, these unique devotional figures were sculpted in white alabaster with astonishing detail. The forty sorrowful figures express grief or devotion to their Duke, who was both a powerful political figure and patron of the arts.

The mourners are draped in cloaks, demonstrating their emotion in a variety of ways. Each individual figure has a different expression—some wring their hands or dry their tears, hide their faces in the folds of their robes, or appear lost in reverent contemplation.

"There's something quiet and very powerful about them," said Heather MacDonald, associate curator of European art at the Dallas Museum of Art, which is organizing the tour along with the Dijon Museum of Fine Arts. She describes the sculptures as "astonishingly beautiful."

While the tomb itself will stay in Dijon, this tour will be the first time the group of mourning figures will been seen together outside of France. They will be touring for the next couple of years, traveling while the Dijon museum, is renovated.
"The Mourners: Tomb Sculptures from the Court of Burgundy" exhibit will be seen in seven US cities:

Metropolitan Museum, NYC, March 2 - May 23, 2010
St. Louis Art Museum, June 20 - Sept. 6, 2010
Dallas Museum of Art, Oct. 3, 2010 - Jan. 2, 2011
Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Jan. 23 - April 17, 2011
Los Angeles County Museum of Art, May 8 - July 31, 2011
Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, Aug. 21 - Jan. 1, 2012; and
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond, Jan. 20 - April 15, 2012.

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