Friday 27 October 2017

Tomb of Francois II Duc de Bretagne

During my visit to Nantes earlier in the year I was lucky enough to visit a number of stunning churches and cathedrals. My favourite was Cathedrale de Saint-Pierre et Saint-Paul, its sheer scale and quiet, tranquil atmosphere was beautiful in itself, yet there were so many incredible details and unique elements to be seen within the Cathedral. One of these incredible sights to behold was the Tomb of Francois II Duc de Bretagne and his wife Marguerite de Foix.

I suppose in the vast grandness of the Cathedral it might be easy to pass by a tomb, even one as elaborate as this. However I'm not one to carelessly pass by any monument to the macabre. My ongoing interest in Gisants is always well satisfied in France, and the Duc de Bretagne's Tomb was no exception.
Instantly I was struck by the stunning sculptures which made up the massive monument. At each corner of the Tomb stands one of the four cardinal virtues, each with its own symbolic elements representing each virtue. Courage stands armor clad forcing a mighty dragon from the tower cracking under her might. The great serpent figure represents Satan and the root of evil. Temperance holds reigns and a clock, representing restraint, balance and self control. Justice holds a double edged sword and the book of law with balanced scales upon it, both representing balanced, fair judgement. And lastly, my favourite of the sculptures, is Prudence. The image looks to have been closely modeled to resemble the daughter of Francois II, Anne de Bretagne. She gazes into a looking glass, holding a pair of compasses, representing self discipline, guidance through wisdom and reason. At her feet sits a snake, which along with the mirror is the symbolism typically associated with this virtue and used in many personifications of 'Prudentia'. Most intriguingly the face of an emotionless old man sits within her hood, staring blankly towards the Gisants of the dead. The old man, perhaps, represents the inner wisdom of Anne de Bretagne.

The Gisant's of Francois and Marguerite lay recumbent in in their state of eternal rest, looked upon by angels and protected by the most loyal creatures at their feet. A Lion lays by the feet of the Duke, a symbol of his dynasty and adorned with his coat of arms, while a Greyhound wears his wife's heraldic shield.
Around the Tomb itself stand mourners, the 12 apostles and the patron saints of the deceased. Each one in carved in tiny scale and incredible detail, just one of the many exquisite details of the Tomb.

The craftsmanship of the Tomb is second to none. It was commissioned in 1499 by Anne and her new husband King Louis XII of France. The Tomb took 8 years to complete and was designed and created by the most skilled, talented craftsmen of the time. Michael Colombe sculpted the Tomb from the finest Marble sourced by an Italian artisan. The Tomb has survived being moved, the revolution and over 500 years of history, but now rests back in the Cathedral at Nantes where Anne wanted a fitting monument to her parents to honour their memory forever.

The Tomb is one of the finest examples of sculpture I have seen outside of a museum. With an incredible fineness and haunting realism the ghostly white marble faces look out through history mourning what must have been two truly loved people.



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