Basilica of St. Denis--page 8 (of ten pages): Tomb of Henry II and Catherine de Medici

Francesco Primaticcio and Germain Pilon
begun 1563





Another grandiose tomb

Like the tombs for Louis XII and Anne of Brittany and for Francis I, this is architectural monument and ensemble of sculpture, in this case commissioned by the Queen for her husband. Originally it was in a mausoleum--a rotunda--within the north transept designed for the Valois kings. This was torn down in the early 18th century. The original plan is usually credited to Primaticcio but the tomb was not actually erected by the time of his death in 1570. The history of the subsequent commissions is complex, but today scholars credit Germain Pilon with the sculptures. See also Pilon's additional sculptures of these two royal figures--marble, laid out on bronze beds.
 

The bronze praying figures

Like the tomb for Louis XII and Anne of Brittany, this one also has praying figures on the top. See the comments there for this motif. However, Zerner points out the radical innovation here. Instead of being posed with praying hands, as his wife is and as in earlier examples, Henry covers his breast with his right hand and reaches out with his left--to his prayer desk and liturgical book. (During the French Revolution the two prayer desks were melted down.) While the praying--and alive--figures traditionally represent a new life in eternity, here the pair, wearing coronation garments, also represent "the trustees of the kingdom of France within the Kingdom of heaven" so that the after life is imagined as a copy of the earthly life. He is also depicted, according to Zerner, as a defender of orthodoxy--thus, he reaches for the book and raises his hand to his chest as if taking an oath. (379-80)
 

The marble effigies (or gisants)

This mortuary chamber is more open than that in Louis XII's tomb. And the figures here have greater naturalism--Henry's head is leaning back--as if he is truly dead. This representation Zerner attributes to the influence of Renaissance depictions of the dead Christ (379).
 

The bronze figures of the Virtues at the corners by Pilon



Works Consulted or quoted:
Anthony Blunt. Art and Architecture in France 1500-1700. Harmondsworth, Middlesex, England: Penguin Books Ltd, 1953; various dates; 1977.
Henri Zerner. Renaissance Art in France: The Invention of Classicism . Paris: Éditions Flammarion, 2003 [English edition]

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