This past weekend I have been fortunate enough to be able to see The Mourners, a special exhibition at the Dallas Museum of Art.
"The Mourners from the tombs of the Dukes of Burgundy are deeply affecting works of art. Beyond their evident visual and narrative qualities, we cannot help but be struck by the emotion they convey as they follow the funeral procession, weeping, praying, singing, lost in thought, giving vent to their grief, or consoling their neighbor. Mourning, they remind us, is a collective experience, common to all people and all moments in history."
Sophie Jugie, Director, Musée des Beaux-Arts. Dijon
During the 14th and 15th centuries, the Valois dukes of Burgundy ruled over extensive territories in present day France, Luxembourg, Belgium, and the Netherlands from their capital in Dijon, which during their reign became a major center of artistic patronage.
Their court's sculpture workshop, presided over by Claus Sluter and his followers, produced some of the most profound and original art of the period. The tombs of the first and second Burgundian Dukes, Philip the Bold and John the Fearless, are among the summits of their achievement. Each tomb includes in its lower register an elaborate arcade in the flamboyant gothic style, populated by a solemn processional of alabaster figures of monks and clerics that appear to circulate around the tomb as if it were a cloister. These sculptures, known as the mourners, are small-scale embodiments of late medieval devotion. Though part of a larger monument, each sculpture is a masterpiece in its own right, and each mourner is carefully individualized. While some of the figures are shown wringing their hands or drying their tears, others appear lost in solemn contemplation, while still others hide their faces in the deeply carved folds of their robes.
The ongoing expansion and renovation of the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Dijon has created the opportunity for these exceptional works to travel together to the United States. The tombs of the first and second dukes of Burgundy have been displayed since the early 19th century within the dukes' medieval palace, which now forms part of the Museum. These galleries will be renovated between 2010 and 2012, providing a first and only opportunity to present the full suite of mourners independent of the architectural framework of the tomb itself, allowing the sculptures to be viewed and appreciated as discrete works of art. While the mourners from the tomb of Philip the Bold will remain on view in another portion of the museum, those from the tomb of John the Fearless are making an unprecedented tour.