Two Medieval Sconces Acquired by the Metropolitan Museum

14/3/12 - Acquisitions - New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art - The Metropolitan Museum recently purchased two copper sconces representing the Evangelists Mark and Luke (ill. 1 and 2) from the Parisian gallery, Brimo de Laroussilhe. The identification is indicated by the inscription visible on the tablets : Christum de tumulo suscitat iste leo for Saint Mark and Iura sacerdotis hic notat ore bovis for Saint Luke. Both seated, leaning slightly forward and holding a stylet, they seem to be writing as if dictated by the Holy Spirit.
These two sconces were presented at the exhibition on Medieval Art organized by the gallery in 2008 ; the catalog entry associates them with the antependium, or altar frontal, produced in 1231 for the Grandmont Abbey near Limoges. Six enameled plaques from this work are still preserved, each showing a figure of an apostle in relief ; they are held in different museums, including the Metropolitan, which already owned Saint James the Greater, and the Louvre, which presents Saint Matthew as well as a very beautiful Christ.

1. Limoges, c.1231
Saint Mark
Repoussé, engraved, tooled,
gilt copper and glass beads - H. 17.4 cm
New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Photo : Galerie Brimo de Laroussilhe

2. Limoges, c.1231
Saint Luke
Repoussé, engraved, tooled,
gilt copper and glass beads - H. 16.4 cm
New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Photo : Galerie Brimo de Laroussilhe

Connecting these two figures now acquired by the Met to the six fragments was not really obvious given that they had lost the enameled plaque to which they were originally riveted. Moreover, the apostles wear rich vestments unlike the two Evangelists clothed more modestly and in an Antique manner. Finally, the Saint Matthew from the Louvre is not shown in the same way as the Luke and Marc acquired by the Met, in profile and while writing, but exactly like the apostles, face on and static. This undoubtedly means that the four Evangelists were represented twice. However, when the apostles are lined up in this way, the Evangelists are often evoked by a tetramorph and not by human figures. The description of the master altar at the Grandmont Abbey set down by Martial de Lépine in 1771 ("at the front of the altar is Our Lord, the four evangelists and the twelve apostles") seems to confirm that the evangelists appeared twice, surrounding Christ.

The treatment of the two Met sconces, comparable to that of the six apostles, corresponds in any case to the "1200 style" propagated in the Limoges region in the early 13th century. The folds in the clothing are fluid and fine, the very marked relief of the statuettes was obtained by repoussé work on the copper, then the very minute engraving enabled the fine detailing of the hair and beard ; each rather long-limbed figure displays a calm likeness, full of humanity.

Version française

Bénédicte Bonnet Saint-Georges, jeudi 15 mars 2012

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