Vierge de Calvaire, France, Burgundy, c. 1450

Vierge de Calvaire

Vierge de Calvaire

Limestone, with original polychrome
France, Burgundy, c. 1450


60 cm; 1 ft. 11½ in.


With Madame Jacqueline Boccador, Paris
Private collection, France

Related literature

J. Boccador, Statuaire médiévale en France de 1400 à 1530, Tome 1 (les Clefs du Temps, 1974), pp. 316-317, 320, 327; pls. 394-395, 398-399, 406
S. Jugie, The Mourners – Tomb Sculptures from the Court of Burgundy (Yale University Press, 2010)

The embodiment of medieval devotion, the quiet spirituality and technical sophistication of this moving work provides an intimate glimpse into a world poised between the mysticism of the Middle Ages and the realism of the Renaissance. The sorrowful and contemplative mood of the Virgin is expressed through her covered head, shaded face, eloquent blue drapery and the spiritualised gesture of clasped hands. A beautiful composition of obvious aesthetic quality, this is a deeply provocative work of art with powerful emotional resonance.

The head of the Virgin covered, her face partially shaded by her hood with downward gaze, the folds of her dress and robe falling gracefully to the ground, her hands clasped in front, this representation has a beautiful celestial movement. In excellent preserved condition, the sculpture is an extension on the theme of the pleurants (mourners) which record the lavish funerals of the dukes of Burgundy in medieval France. During the 14th and 15th centuries, the Valois dukes of Burgundy were among the most powerful rulers in the Western world, presiding over vast territories in present-day France, Luxembourg, Belgium and the Netherlands from their capital in Dijon. The significant artistic patronage of the dukes drew artists, musicians and writers to Dijon, which became a major centre of creativity and artistic patronage, promoting artists such as Jan van Eyck (c. 1380/90 – 1441) and Claus Sluter (1360 – 1406). This prolific creativity and innovation extended to the ducal court’s sculpture workshop, which produced some of the most significant art of the period. The tombs of the first two Burgundian dukes, Philip the Bold (1342 – 1404) and his son, John the Fearless (1371 – 1419) are among the very best of their achievements. Both tombs were originally commissioned for the family’s monastic complex outside of Dijon, the Chartreuse (Charterhouse) de Champmol, and were moved following the French Revolution to the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Dijon, where they have remained since the early 19th century.

It was in 1443 that Philip the Good commissioned Jean de la Huerta (active 1431 – 1462) to complete the tombs of John the Fearless and Margaret of Bavaria, begun by Claus de Werve (active 1396 – 1439). The contract specified that the double tomb was to be made of alabaster and was to resemble (be ‘as good or better’ than) that of Philip the Bold. De la Huerta worked on the tomb and on other commissions for dignitaries in Dijon until 1456, when he left the city without finishing the ducal effigies which were later completed by Antoine le Moiturier (active 1460’s), the entire project spanning some 25 years. The lower registers on both tombs are populated by funeral corteges of monks and clerics, who appear to circulate as if in a cloister. The small scale figures are remarkable in their individuality; they are alternately drying their tears, wringing their hands, engaged in prayer and deep contemplation, and hiding their faces in the folds of their robes.

A work of striking similarity to our example is recorded in Boccador (op. cit.) which she attributes to de la Huerta. There are also strong similarities between our example and the pleurants of the tomb of Philippe Pot, the Grand Sénéchal of Burgundy under Louis XI, now in the Musée du Louvre, and originally, but no longer, attributed to le Moiturier.

SOLD: Private collection, France