The Heart of Anne de Bretagne Exhibited in Blois

1. Case with heart of Anne de Bretagne
Gold repoussé, guilloché, enameled with
filigranes and entwined lines,
case : 15.42 x 13.27 x 6.4 cm
crown : 3.53 x 10.84 x 5.5 cm
Nantes ; Musée Dobrée
Photo : Musée Dobrée

25/3/14 - Exhibition - Blois, château - "In this small vessel of fine gold, pure and monde [1] / Rests the biggest heart of any lady in the world ; / Anne was her name, in France twice queen, / Duchess of the Bretons, royal and sovereign.". These lines are engraved in the heart of Anne de Bretagne, or rather on the case in which it is enclosed (ill. 1) and which is being presented until 6 April at the château in Blois where she lived for about fifteen years and died 500 years ago, on 9 January 1514. The year 2014 will thus highlight this sovereign ; the various events marking the occasion can be found on this website. The exhibition will then move on to the château of the Ducs de Bretagne on 8 April until 18 May 2014.
Since she was a French queen, Anne de Bretagne was buried in the Basilica of Saint Denis, or at least her body was since her heart rests, according to her wishes, close to her subjects in Brittany, at the church of the Carmes in Nantes alongside her parents’ grave. This case was made at her death. It consists of two shells of almost pure gold, repoussé and guilloché. Each side bears an inscription in relief, enameled in green. The first is quoted above and the second is just as laudatory, a forerunner of the "tombeau poétique" (a collection of poems in honor of the deceased) which was to develop in the Renaissance : "This heart was placed so high that from heaven to earth / Her great virtue was ever higher ; / But God took back the best portion, / And this terrestrial part leaves us in great mourning." Inside, other lines are painted in gold on a layer of white enamel [2]. On top of the case there is a crown with a border alternating nine fleur de lys and nine shamrocks, delicately decorated with filigrees and granules. Another inscription in relief appears on the band in red enamel this time : "Heart ornated with virtues, Crowned with dignity".

2. Studio of the Maître des entrées parisiennes
The Queen’s body is placed in a coffin
Miniature of Commémoration et avertissements
by Pierre Choque, 1514
Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France
Photo : BnF

Although this object was probably produced in Blois, its artist is unknown. Jacques Santrot [3] attributes the model to Jean Perréal who made a cast of the queen’s effigy on her deathbed and was commissioned with producing her funeral portrait. As for the goldsmiths who executed it, there were probably two involved since the crown is more refined than the case ; Pierre-Gilles Girault [4] suggests the names of two goldsmiths from Blois, in charge of making a crown and jewels for the queen’s effigy and are listed in the accounts established by Guillaume de Beaune : Pierre Mangot (goldsmith to King Louis XII then François I) and Goffroy Jacquet.
This case - of which a 1991 facsimile resides at the Musée d’Histoire in Nantes - is quite exceptional due to the material - the caskets for the heart of King René, of Richard the Lionhearted, Philippe le Bon and Charles VIII are in silver, lead or pewter -, also the inscriptions - generally they are less laudatory and are meant above all to identify the deceased - and its location - it was not placed in a monument or a tomb specifically intended for this purpose, whereas the celebrations organized for its arrival were of an exceptional order.
The château in Blois evokes the splendour of the ceremony marking the queen’s death with the presentation of various works, manuscripts and documents surrounding the case containing her heart. The account of her funeral is recounted notably by Pierre Choque, herald and "roi d’armes" of Anne de Bretagne, entitled simply Commémoration et avertissement de la mort de très chrétienne, très haute, très puissante et très excellente princesse, ma très redoutée et souveraine dame, madame Anne, deux fois reine de France, duchesse de Bretagne, [commemoration and announcement of the death of the very Christian, very high, very powerful and very excellent princess, but very feared and sovereign lady, mistress Anne, twice queen of France, duchess of Brittany]. Choque followed each of the stages of the funeral in Blois, in Saint Denis, in Nantes and his description was repeated in about forty different manuscripts, illuminated by the studio of the "Maître des entrées parisiennes" (ill. 2). The Château in Blois presents three of these, as well as the only illuminated manuscript of a second account, Le Trépas de l’hermine regrettée [The Demise of the lamented ermine], illustrated by the Parisian illuminator Jean Pichore (active between 1500 and 1520). Accounting documents reveal another aspect of the funeral. Thus Guillaume de Beaune, general treasurer for the queen, listed the expenses for the ceremonies which took place from Blois to Saint Denis : the length of a manuscript roll - seven meters - reflects the extent of the splendour of the queen’s funeral. Elsewhere, Jean Guichart, "miseur" of the city of Nantes, gives precise details of the expenses for the funeral rites for the heart.
These various documents are accompanied by a cast after the bust of the reclining figure of Anne de Bretagne in Saint Denis, showing the queen’s features on her deathbed. This likeness was probably produced from the death mask executed by Perréal. The exhibition also displays an ensemble of explanatory panels which retrace the life of the woman who was "in France twice queen, / Duchess of the Bretons, royal and sovereign."

Curators : Pierre-Gilles Girault, Elisabeth Latrémolière, Bertrand Guillet, Pierre Chotard.

Pierre-Gilles Girault, Les Funérailles d’Anne de Bretagne, reine de France. L’Hermine regrettée, Gourcouff, Gradenigo, 80p., 14€.

Visitor information : "Le coeur d’une reine, les funérailles d’Anne de Bretagne", from 15 March to 6 April, at the Château royal in Blois. Open every day from 9 am to 12:30 and from 1:30 pm to 5:30 pm. From 1st April, open from 9 am to 6:30 pm. Tel : 02 54 90 33 33.

Version française

Bénédicte Bonnet Saint-Georges, mardi 25 mars 2014


[1] Pierre-Gilles Girault explains in the exhibition catalogue that "the term ’monde’ [world in modern French] here means ’pure’, a word which no longer exists in modern French except in the case of its opposite ’immonde’[unclean]"

[2] "Oh chaste and modest heart, oh just, benign heart, Magnanimous and frank heart, which vanquished all vices" and on the other side : "Oh heart above any other worthy of the celestial crown, / Your clear spirit is now, free of pain and suffering."

[3] Quoted by Pierre-Gilles Girault in the exhibition catalogue.

[4] Exhibition catalogue, p. 85.

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