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The Mourners: Tomb Sculptures from the Court of Burgundy Opens at Legion of Honor
Jean de la Huerta and Antoine le Moiturier, Cantor Holding an Open Book in Both hands, no 48, 1443-56/57. Alabaster, 16 1/4 x 6 1/8 x 5 1/8 in. Musée des beaux-Arts, Dijon. Image ©FRAME 2010. Photo: Jared Bendis and Francois Jay.



SAN FRANCISCO, CA.- The 2011 winner of the Association of Art Museum Curators award for excellence in the category of outstanding small exhibitions, The Mourners: Tomb Sculptures from the Court of Burgundy, is on view from August 20–December 31, 2011, in Galleries 1 and 2 at the Legion of Honor. The exhibition features thirty-seven exceptional devotional figures that recreate the mourners in a royal funeral procession. On loan from the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Dijon, these small marvels have never before been seen in their entirety outside of France prior to the current seven-city exhibition tour. The figures were commissioned for the elaborate tomb of the second Duke of Burgundy, and carved by Jean de la Huerta and Antoine le Moiturier between 1443 and 1456/57. Hauntingly spare, yet crafted with astonishing detail, the alabaster sculptures exemplify the most important artistic innovations of the late Middle Ages.

“This FRAME project allows the sculptures to be viewed and appreciated as discrete works of art. The loan and tour of the ‘mourners’ is a shining moment in the history of FRAME, a testament to shared friendship and shared knowledge,” explains Richard R. Brettell, founding director of the French Regional & American Museum Exchange (FRAME) in the United States.

The sculptures, each approximately sixteen inches high, depict sorrowful figures expressing their grief or devotion to John the Fearless (1371–1419), the second Duke of Burgundy, who was both a powerful political figure and patron of the arts. The tomb, which is not traveling with the exhibition, comprises life-sized effigies of the duke and his wife, Margaret of Bavaria, resting upon a slab of black marble. The procession of mourners weaves through an ornate Gothic arcade beneath. 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. The motif echoes that of ancient sarcophagi, but these innovative tombs were the first to represent mourners as thoroughly dimensional, rather than in semi-relief. The presentation of the mourners passing through the arcades of a cloister was also a great innovation for the tombs of the era.

Curator Dr. Lynn Federle Orr, who is responsible for the San Francisco presentation, remembers her early discovery of The Mourners: “I remember so clearly sitting in a dark hall for an Art I slide lecture and being startled by an image of the simple, but powerful, beauty of the Dijon Mourners. In one of those transformative moments, I was entranced by these small figures. They spoke so eloquently across the centuries about what it means to be human. And they have lost nothing of their emotional power. It is such a privilege to share the Mourners with our Bay Area visitors.”

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 center of creativity.

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, John the Fearless and his father, Philip the Bold, are among the best examples. Both tombs were originally commissioned for the family’s monastic complex outside of Dijon, the Charterhouse of Champmol. Following the French Revolution, the tombs were dismantled and moved to the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Dijon, where they have remained since the early 19th century.










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