Monday, February 27, 2017

Re-discovered marble lions from the tomb of Charles V of France

Carved Marble Group of Two Addorsed Lions by André Beauneveu (circa 1335–1402), dating from 1364–66
This year, Christie’s Exceptional Sale will be led by a magnificent Carved Marble Group of Two Addorsed Lions by André Beauneveu (circa 1335–1402), dating from 1364–66. Originally executed to form part of the tomb of King Charles V of France at the Abbey of St. Denis, they were brought from France in 1802 by the English aristocrat Sir Thomas Neave (1761–1848), and have remained in the same collection ever since. Known to scholars only from an engraving of the 18th century, the emergence of these lions represents a remarkable re-discovery. Celebrating the art of medieval Europe, while simultaneously representing technical brilliance, the lions’ superlative quality means that they are worthy of any major museum or private collection.

Donald Johnston, Christie’s UK, International Head of Sculpture:It is extraordinarily rare to offer any medieval work of art with such a fully documented provenance. The fact that this marble group was executed by one of the most important sculptors of the period and is part of an important royal commission makes it even more remarkable. The discovery of these lions in a private English collection is wonderful news for collectors and scholars who previously thought they had been lost during the French Revolution.’

Documents show that Beauneveu was commissioned by the young King Charles V shortly after coming to the throne to execute four family tombs, including the King’s own. One of the most important sculptors of late medieval Europe, Beauneveu took two years to complete the task after which he left the employ of the French crown, spending time in Flanders and – possibly – England, before ending his career at the court of Charles’s brother, Jean, duc de Berry. The tombs in Paris were dismantled by the revolutionary government in 1793 and today only the three male effigies survive. The effigy of Charles V, lacking the lions which had rested at his feet, was restored to the Abbey of St. Denis, Paris, where it remains today.

Thought to be the first royal effigy sculpted ad vivum, the figure of Charles V has long been recognised as being superior to the other two surviving figures, and scholars suggest it is the only one entirely executed by Beauneveu’s own hand. The sensitivity of the carving of the lions is notable and, like the effigy itself, they retain a beautifully polished surface. It is likely that this was because the archaeologist Alexandre Lenoir, who created a museum of French monuments during the upheavals of the French Revolution, recognised the superiority of the effigy of Charles V and removed it for inclusion in the new museum.

It is not known how the lions became separated from the main effigy but it seems probable that they were part of the sales held to support Lenoir’s museum. It is known that Sir Thomas Neave visited Paris in 1802 during the brief period in the Napoleonic Wars when Englishmen could travel there, and that he purchased the lions at that time.

Other examples of tomb figures recently sold by Christie’s include a pair of alabaster and

a pair of marble Mourner figures from the tomb of Charles’s brother, Jean, Duc de Berry (the latter sold in Paris in 2016 for €5,025,500). The duke was also a great patron of the arts and his tomb, executed in two stages in the 15th century, was also vandalised at the time of the Revolution.


The last two figures of Mourners from the tomb of Jean de France (1340-1416), duc de Berry and brother of King Charles V (1338-1380), executed by Jean de Cambrai (known from 1375 to 1438) in Bourges circa 1396-1416.

Isabelle d’Amécourt, Head of the European Sculpture and Works of Art department: “In November 2013, two alabaster figures of Mourners from the same tomb sold for over €4M, marking a significant milestone. The sale on 15 June will offer a unique opportunity to acquire the last two marble Mourners from the same collection, and executed by Jean de Cambrai, one of the most important sculptor of his time”.

Jean de France was the third son of the French King Jean II le Bon (1319-1364), and considered one of the most prestigious patrons of his time. He set out to rebuild and renovate the castles on his main estates, and commissioned many important works of arts including the celebrated Très Riches Heures du duc de Berry, illuminated by the Limbourg brothers and displayed at the Condé Museum in Chantilly. The Holy Thorn Reliquary and Saint Agnes Cup, valued treasures of the British Museum in London, also came from his collection.

Following a tradition established by the French royal family, the duc de Berry commissioned his own tomb and appointed the sculptor Jean de Cambrai (died in 1438), a former collaborator of André Beauneveu (circa 1335-1400), to build it. The grave was to be built in the Sainte-Chapelle of the Ducal Palace at Bourges, and was designed with a life-size recumbent statue lying on a marble slab and a base decorated with a procession of forty mourners sheltered by architectural canopies. Jean de Cambrai executed the recumbent statue and five marble mourners, including ours, before Jean de France died in 1416, and any further construction had to be stopped. His grand-nephew and heir, King Charles VII, entrusted the completion of the mourners’ gallery circa 1450-1453 to Etienne Bobillet (active between 1416 and 1453) and Paul Mosselmann (active between 1441 and 1467). The present marble mourners were carved fully in the round, endowed with expressive faces and with contained postures, accentuated by vertical drapery folds, making them feel very contemporary.

The tomb was completed around 1453-59, and for three centuries lay in the center of the choir of the Sainte-Chapelle in Bourges. In 1756 the building was demolished and the duc de Berry’s tomb was moved into the cathedral’s crypt and likely sustained damage at that time. During the French Revolution, the tomb was vandalized: the architectural canopies were hammered, and the mourning figures ended up either destroyed or scattered. Only the black marble slab and the recumbent figure remained unscathed, and are still preserved within the cathedral of Bourges. To this day, twenty nine mourners have been identified. Most of them are kept in some of the most prestigious museums, including the Louvre, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Hermitage museum.

The mourners that will be offered at auction on 15 June 2016 are the last remaining marbles to be kept in private hands. They have been in the same family since 1807, and are considered a rare artistic display of medieval statuary.

Becoming Leonardo

An Exploded View of the Life of Leonardo da Vinci
by Mike Lankford
Pub date: March 28, 2017
Hardcover • 320 pages
With more than 40 color illustrations
 ISBN 9781612195957

"One of the most intimate and
clear-sighted portraits we're likely to have of such an elusive artist."

—ROSS KING, author of Brunelleschi's Dome

Why did Leonardo da Vinci leave so many of his major works uncompleted? Why did he carry the Mona Lisa with him everywhere he went for decades, yet never quite finish it? Why did he write backwards? And was he gay?

In Becoming Leonardo (Melville House; March 28, 2017), Mike Lankford explodes every cliché about the Renaissance master and then reconstructs him based on a rich trove of available evidence—bringing to life for the modern reader the man who has been studied by scholars for centuries, yet has remained as mysterious as ever.

"Becoming Leonardo does what historians long to do, and novelists often struggle to achieve . . . A book that has the pace, elegance, and authorial omnipresence of a novel, but which will enlighten, rather than annoy, the astute historian." —NOAH CHARNEY,
author of The Art of Forgery

"One of the most gifted writers it has been my pleasure to read."
"Fun and enlightening . . . Lankford's unconventional approach provides for deeper appreciation of a genius."

"Lankford's jazzy idea of how to tell a strange but perfectly credible story is his alone." —ANN BEATTIE

Mike Lankford is a graduate of the Iowa Writers Workshop and the author of Life in Double Time: Confessions of an American Drummer, a memoir about his years as a white drummer in a black R&B band. The book was selected by eight major newspapers, including the Chicago Tribune and the Austin Chronicle, as the best music book of the year.