The Mourners: Tomb Sculptures from the Court of Burgundy

Jul 12, 2011

Sculpture of man in mourning.

Jean de La Huerta and Antoine le Moiturier, Mourner no. 55, mourner with head uncovered, wiping his tears on his cloak with his right hand, 1443-1456/1457. Alabaster. Musée des Beaux-Arts de Dijon. Photo © FRAME by Jared Bendis and François JAY

San Francisco, July 2011—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 emeritus 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.

The Mourners: Tomb Sculpture from the Court of Burgundy was organized by the Dallas Museum of Art and the Musée des Beaux Arts de Dijon, under the auspices of FRAME (French Regional & American Museum Exchange). The exhibition is supported by a leadership gift from the Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Foundation. Additional support is provided by the Florence Gould Foundation, the Eugene McDermott Foundation, Connie Goodyear Baron, and Boucheron. Major corporate sponsorship is provided by Bank of the West—Member BNP Paribas Group. This exhibition is supported by an indemnity from the Federal Council on the Arts and the Humanities. Education programs held in conjunction with the exhibition are part of the FRAME Annenberg Education Project. Support for the FRAME Annenberg Education Project is provided by the Annenberg Foundation through FRAME, the French Regional & American Museum Exchange. The San Francisco presentation is supported by The Brown Foundation.

Exhibition Catalogue and Website
The Mourners is accompanied by a richly illustrated 129-page catalogue by Sophie Jugie, director of the Musée des Beaux-Arts, with prefaces by FRAME co-presidents Marie-Christine Labourdette and Elizabeth Rohatyn and Dijon Mayor François Rebsamen and an introduction by Philippe de Montebello, director emeritus of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and FRAME Trustee. The catalogue was published by Yale University Press.

In addition, a special website dedicated to the mourners provides extensive historical context, as well as 360-degree views of each sculpture in two and three dimensions, allowing visitors to intimately examine every detail from every angle. The website, offered by FRAME, also features an interactive exploration re-creating the tomb’s cloister arcade and showing the mourners in situ. Special photography on The Mourners website was made possible by a grant from the Samuel H. Kress Foundation.

FRAME (French Regional and American Museum Exchange) is a consortium of 26 museums in France and North America that promotes cultural diplomacy in the context of museum exchanges. FRAME fosters partnerships among its member museums to develop exhibitions, innovative educational and public programs, and professional exchanges among museum staff, and maintains a bilingual website to reach global audiences. For more information:

About the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Dijon
Founded just before the French Revolution, the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Dijon is a superb combination of the prestigious architecture of a ducal residence, now the Palais des Etats de Bourgogne (Burgundy State Palace), and one of the richest collections in France. Thanks to the legacy of the dukes of Burgundy, some undisputed masterpieces from the end of the Middle Ages are displayed within its walls. Its exhaustive collections, resulting from both the founding period of the French Revolution and the curiosity of collectors, lead to the most varied of discoveries, from Egyptian art to the 20th century. Welcoming all art forms, the museum regularly organizes exhibitions, tours, conferences, workshops and shows for a dynamic and often unusual exploration of its collections.

Viewing The Mourners is included in the general admission ticket for the Legion of Honor. There is a $5 surcharge for Dutch and Flemish Masterworks from the Rose-Marie and Ejik van Otterloo Collection (July 9­–October 2) andPissarro’s People (October 22–January 22), on view in the lower level galleries of the Legion of Honor.