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Art and the Court of Burgundy



Ruling with Religion
Aimé Piron<br><i>View in perspective of the Chartreuse de Champmol</i>, 1686<br>Dijon Municipal Library
  Aimé Piron
View in perspective of the Chartreuse de Champmol, 1686
Dijon Municipal Library

 

For rulers in the Middle Ages, religion was both personal and political. They claimed their power was a god-given right. By founding churches, employing monks, and hiring artists to fill the new chapels and monasteries with religious art, the dukes of Burgundy demonstrated both their piety and their right to rule. They commissioned works of art to ensure their own salvation after death and to reinforce the power and grandeur of the Valois family on earth.

Since most people could not attend daily worship services or make pilgrimages to far-off shrines, private devotions became common. Formal church services were held on special occasions. Increasingly, the wealthy commissioned works of art for the church instead of giving money. The purchase and contemplation of religious images and sculptures were considered as worthwhile as going on a pilgrimage or attending church. This shift toward commissions promoted art production in Burgundy.

The dukes of Burgundy commissioned art that asserted their power. Philip the Bold and John the Fearless built and supported the Chartreuse de Champmol, a monastery for Carthusian monks, who prayed continually for the dukes of Burgundy and their wives and children. John the Fearless's most important commission may have been his own tomb. Beneath the effigies (tomb images) of the duke and duchess, nearly forty sculptured mourners march in a traditional funeral procession.


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1. The Carthusian monks lived in silent cells and prayed for the dukes of Burgundy.
Jean de la Huerta and Antoine Le Moiturier, Mourner number 50, 1443-70, alabaster. © Musée des Beaux-Arts de Dijon. Photo François Jay
2. The decoration of medieval churches inspired awe at the glory of God, and pointed arches drew the eye toward heaven.
Jean de la Huerta and Antoine Le Moiturier, Tomb of John the Fearless and Margaret of Bavaria(detail), 1443-70, alabaster. © Musée des Beaux-Arts de Dijon. Photo François Jay
3. Angels surround the figures of John the Fearless and his wife.
Jean de la Huerta and Antoine Le Moiturier, Tomb of John the Fearless and Margaret of Bavaria(detail), 1443-70, partially polychromed and gilded marble. © Musée des Beaux-Arts de Dijon. Photo François Jay

 

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January 2011