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Claus Sluter and Claus de Werve, Mourners, from the Tomb of Philip the Bold

Video transcript

we're in the Museum of Fine Arts in Dijon and we're looking at one of the great treasures of Burgundy these are the mourners a series of small alabaster carvings of Carthusian monks the clergy and the family mourning the death of Philip the bold the Duke of Burgundy the Dukes of Burgundy specifically at this time Philip the bold ruled burgundy which included Flanders areas that are today France he was very powerful very wealthy and he had established a Carthusian monastery just outside of the city walls of dijon as a burial place for his family and these mourning figures occupied a arcaded space below a sculptural effigy of the Duke himself in prayer and angels assuring him into heaven and the idea of making his tomb there was that the monks in this monastery would be available to pray for the soul Philip the bold so the most remarkable element here is the individuality of each of these figures and that's something that Klaus Schlueter who was one of the sculptors along with Klaus de verre was known for a kind of attention to realism and expressiveness there's something incredibly powerful and monumental about these tiny little figures they're only about 18 inches 14 inches tall and yet there's a real sense of solemnity well there's certainly not the ethereal swaying figures that we see normally in gothic art here's this transitional moment away from the Gothic toward what we think of as the Renaissance the figures have that we deenis and anew monumentality to the drapery embodies that we associate with the Renaissance but these figures are so expressive each one represents in a way a different aspect of grief and it's not just in the faces in many cases we don't see the faces the figures are hooded it's in their Draper it's in their bodies that emotion they do embody the very notion of more morning this is a figure where we don't see the face at all we see a hood in place of a face and this vertical folds of drapery gathered in one place where the monk underneath is obviously holding the drapery in its sense of pain that's right it's turning inward and the drapery becomes as expressive as a human face as hands even when they're not exposed dies in some ways it's incredibly modern it's almost like Martha Graham and danced where the movement of folds of cloth is expressive of healing I love the way so many of the figures deal with the pain of mourning in an isolated way but then there are also these very tender moments where there's a comforting that takes place seeing these figures isolated outside of the context of the effigy allows us to see that abstraction but of course this would have been just one element in a grand space that was meant to honor the dead you're right we're here and the figures are in glass boxes and we can walk around them but we certainly were never meant to see them this way you