Most moving thing I saw in Berlin.
The Pleaurants from the Tomb of Duke John the Fearless in Dijon, by Juan de la Huerta.
Made between 1443 and 1456.
The presence of pleurants—figures who mourn the loss of the deceased and pray for his salvation—on tombs has a long tradition: there are already example in the middle of the 13th century in the abbey church of Saint Denis, north of Paris. What is novel about the two tombs of the Burgundian dukes is that the pleurants are no longer relief figures, playing a secondary role, but have advanced to become the primary decorative elements. They are conceived as fully plastic figures who walk through richly decorated arcades as if through a cloister.
Of the 37 male figures in this exhibition, clerics dominate. The procession is led by choirboys and deacons, followed by a bishop and four cantors. The remaining mourners are primarily Cartusian monks, recognizable by their broad hoods, with some members of the laity interspersed. Through the variation of the figures and the balanced rhythm between them, the procession remains charged with tension. It is astounding how each figure shows an individual posture and its own frame of mind, although the pleurants are not meant to be portraits per se. The figures express their sadness through their gestures and the complex draping of the fabric of their cloaks. Some of the most impressive figures are those whose faces are hidden by their hoods. Although the pleurants in this exhibition were created for a specific historical context, they remain deeply affecting to this day. Since mourning is among the most universal and distressing emotions, we recognize ourselves in the pleurants from the tomb of John the Fearless and remember a time when we ourselves were at our most vulnerable.
On a special exhibition at the Bode Museum.