Thursday, May 1, 2014

Worth a Thousand Words: Weepers

Philip the Bold, Duke of Burgundy, was the leading art patron of fourteenth-century France. His tomb, by Claus Sluter and Claus de Werve, is inhabited by alabaster hooded figures, known as "weepers."

Description from Paul Johnson, image via Wikipedia
I really love these figures with their individual features and positions. Paul Johnson, Art: A New History, delights in this eloquently. Of course, I am going to share his comments!
Sluter was obliged to interrupt his work to attend to Philips tomb, a grand affair mainly in alabaster ... Sluter was bidden to attend the funeral and observe it, and his contract specified that he had to provide, in addition to the effigy of Philip, fifty-four angels and forty "Images pleurants." The angels are lost but the "weepers," as they were known--cowled figures common in late medieval art--were all done from life, and may have been actual participants in the obsequies. Slater was a master of the draped figure and its folds, in which he took exquisite delight, especially when working in a soft, luminous stone like alabaster. But he also put in wrinkles and beards, even the stubble, and all the details of costume under the drapes, down to buttonholes and laces. What strikes one most, however, is not such details as rosary beads, important though they are in creating verisimilitude, so much as the facial expressions, which though convey shamelessly the mixed emotions of a funeral: genuine and feigned grief, joy that one is still alive, sharp observation of how other people are behaving. Even funeral fashions are attended to, for each figure is clothed according to rank and personality, and each has a distinctive, often slyly observed,life of its own. After looking at these works, we feel we have a clear idea of what a grand early-fifteenth-century funeral was like. And that was Sluter;s intention, for he did not want to change the world, merely to record it truthfully. If only all great artists were like him!

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