This piece begins a 2-part series on Gothic tombs and architectural sculpture. The final part will be published next Sunday.
The relief representing the martyrdom of St Stephen is on the south portal of the Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris.
This is one of the many monuments remade at the order of St Louis. The tomb of Dagobert I (died 638) is heavily restored but the main outlines of it are medieval. It has an interest in that it preserves its original canopy. No other canopies survive, but many of the monuments preserve the tomb-chest.
The figures are on the left portal on the west façade of the Strasbourg Cathedral.
The figures on the left portal on the west façade of the Strasbourg Cathedral represent the King of the World and the Foolish Virgins which together depict a scene in which the Foolish Virgins are tempted into sin.
While the apple held by the male figure and the oak leaves that run alongside him are highly naturalistic, his own body is highly artificial, with sharp, exaggerated features. Below on the socle are quatrefoils representing the labours of the months, from January feasting to Maytime flower-picking.
The four registers of the tympanum above the central portal on the west façade of the Strasbourg Cathedral represent stories of the Passion culminating in the Crucifixion of Christ.
The west façade of the Strasbourg Cathedral was built between 1277 and 1365. The original design is attributed to a legendary figure, Erwin of Steinbach, but the façade underwent various changes throughout the almost 100-year period it took to build it. Much of the sculptural decoration of this façade, clustered mainly around the three main portals, survives, however, it was damaged several times during the Reformation and Revolutionary periods. As a result, some of the sculptures had to be restored in the late 19th century, while still others had to be taken down and replaced by copies (the originals are preserved in the Cathedral Museum.
The photo shows the central portal of the west façade. The jamb statues represent prophets with the Virgin and Child in the middle. The four registers of the tympanum represents stories of the Passion culminating in the Crucifixion of Christ.
The two figures in the Choir are Empress Adelheid and Emperor Otto I. The architectural sculpture in Meissen represents the same style as that seen in Naumburg, it is assumed that the same sculptors worked here after finishing the Naumburg decoration.
The detail shows mourners on the base of the tomb of Louis de France, originally in the abbey church of Royaumont.
The field of sculpture which expanded in the mid thirteenth century was that commanded by the private patron and concerned with his immediate interests – sculpture connected with family palaces and family chapels and mausolea. Of all these, the most substantial remains are on the tombs, although even these have come down to us in a sadly fragmentary condition. Louis IX had a strong sense of family history, and the remains exist of a long series of monuments commissioned by him to mark the reinterment of the Carolingian and Capetian houses of the distant and not-so-distant past.
Many of the monuments preserve only the tomb-chests, like in the case of the tomb of Louis de France who died in 1260. The side of these tomb-chests were decorated with small figures set in arcades and generally representing relatives, called “weeper-figures”. Another motif was the funeral procession of the deceased, like in this detail.
This detail comes from the west angle of south transept of the Westminster Abbey.
The Westminster Abbey reflects the French influence on English architecture but it has a reduced importance for sculpture. The style of the surviving sculptures of the Abbey is not that of contemporary France. Instead, it is a compound of styles of the previous decades (Chartres, Amiens, Wells).
The sculptor is in the Chapter House of the Abbey.
In England, like in France in the same period, much of the most individual sculptural work went into private family enterprises like tombs. The English royal family commissioned some splendid tombs, many of which still survive in Westminster Abbey. That of Edmund Crouchback (died 1296) survives virtually intact. It has a large canopy, and, like other contemporary French monuments, the sides are ornamented with family “weepers”.
An important development had begun gradually in the 13th century which was to have the greatest influence on sculpture as a whole. The rising personal and family colts of the late Middle Ages led individuals to wish to perpetuate themselves or their families and position in the ruling hierarchy. The idea of creating tombs for royal orspecially revered persons had always existed, though the practice was fairly restricted and the concern with sculpture very limited.
At the beginning of the new development the lead was, of course, given by the tombs of kings (like the monument of Henry III in the Westminster Abbey) or the greater princes, lay or ecclesiastical. Fortunately, the idea percolated rapidly downwards, and tomb had become a family status symbol.
The tomb is in the middle of one of the chapels of the Dorchester Abbey. This magnificent piece of medieval carving, one of the most impressive in England, is the effigy of Sir John Holcomb, the crusader, died in the 2nd Crusade. He was made a knight in his dying bed by Richard the Lion Heart because of his bravery in battle.