Thursday, 7 May 2015

The Mise au Tombeau at Carennac

click to view the image at its original size

Carennac is a small medieval village about ten kilometres south of us in the Lot. It is notable for its Clunisian Priory dating from the 11th Century and its church dedicated to Saint-Pierre.

The remarkable group of sculptures in the photo above, which can be seen in a room off the cloisters of the Priory, is a “Mise au Tombeau”, an entombment of Christ, dating from the end of the 15th Century.  This beautiful work was done by sculptors from the workshop that undertook the decoration of the cloisters during the tenure of Jean Dubrueilh, the Dean from 1487 to 1507. 

Like other medieval sculpture, originally the figures were  painted but in 1896, on the initiative of the parish curĂ©, they were scraped clean and, although the group has been carefully and delicately restored, it will never be possible to reproduce its original colours. These days, however, we are more accustomed to seeing sculptures in their natural stone, and in this state it has the power to involve us emotionally in a painful, yet pathetic, scene which is expressed with reserve.

The figures are life size.  Jesus is laid out on the shroud, his eyes closed, mouth half open, the wound in his side still bleeding and the crown of thorns encircling his head.
The shroud is supported by two of his faithful disciples, Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus. 

Joseph, on the right of the group, is richly clothed and holds his head high; he is finely featured and full of nobility.  It was he who went boldly to Pilate to claim the body of Christ. 

Nicodemus, on the left, is wearing the pointed bonnet of the Jews; he is also sumptuously clothed and carries, hanging from his belt is a rich sporran.  His shoulders are curved and his face expresses humility and sadness.

Behind Joseph of Arimathea, Mary Magdelene, with her long hair hanging in tresses, a vase of perfume in her hand, cries and wipes away her tears with a fine cloth and a delicate gesture.  She is the only figure in the group who expresses her pain so openly, in contrast to the contained grief of the two other Mary’s.  

Mary-Salome prays.

Mary, the wife of Cleophas, tenderly supports the Virgin who, ready to faint, abandons herself to the arms of John, the much-loved disciple of Jesus. John’s shoulders and his head are lowered under the weight of grief.

This fine work escaped destruction, following the 1789 revolution, thanks to the procureur of the commune who, in his report of 1791, excluded it from being sold with the other goods from the Priory because he considered that it was “a rare and precious monument”.  

Thank you, Monsieur le Procureur, for this act of sensitivity and sanity in violent and difficult times.


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