Saturday 28 February 2015

A sculpture promenade from the Gallo-Roman to the Medieval

Earlier this week we went up to the Logis Royal in Loches with friends Simon & Susan from Days on the Claise. The reason for our visit was the exhibition 'Sculptures en Touraine, promenade autour de cent oeuvres' which has been put together by the Conseil général d'Indre-et-Loire.
Le Logis Royal, Loches

It was very much worth the visit. The exhibition, a collection of 100 works, is arranged chronologically from the early Gallo-Roman period to the present day and offers a fantastic insight into the rich sculptural heritage of our region. There are lots of informative panels and maps showing locations of the finds. In addition, the Conseil général d'Indre-et-Loire has published a superb catalogue to accompany the 'promenade' which, in our opinion, is worth it as an art book on its own.

Cinq-mars-la-pile's captive barbarian
The first pieces date from the Gallo-Roman period [the earliest from the 1st century BC]. Not much has been found from the earlier part of this era as the Gauls worked more in wood than in stone. However, in 1937 a small stone bust was found in the commune of Paulnay by some agricultural workers, who dug it up accidentally. A slightly later, but still early statue which we've blogged about before is that of a "captive barbarian" found very close to the Gallo-Roman tower at Cinq-mars-la-pile. Having read about it, and visited the location of the 'Pile', it was nice to see the actual statue.
Le Griffon de la Riche
The griffon, found in 1998 at the edge of the river Loire in la Riche, is a beautiful example of a copper alloy sculpture made via the lost wax method. Originally it would have been placed on some form of support which is now lost. It's a typical mythical creature: it has an eagle's beak, pointy ears, a horse-like mane and the body of a bird. It wasn't created in Touraine but, according to the catalogue, the style and quality of the casting indicate that it came from the Mediterranean and as such it serves to underline the importance of Tours and the region as a crossroads during the Gallo-Roman period.

Just down the road from us is Preuilly-sur-Claise, a small town where we go for our local services. It has a little museum, the musée de la Poterne, which has a wide and varied collection of objects. A number of 11-12th century Romanesque capitals and other stone carvings in its collection have been lent to the exhibition. We've written about Preuilly's Romanesque abbey, where the capital most likely originated here. The most striking capital shows another mythical beast. This one has a human-ish face, a long sinuous neck, a feathered & winged bird-like body ending in a dolphin-like tail.
11/12th century capital: mythical beast, on loan from Preuilly

11/12th century capital: foliage and faces, on loan from Preuilly

Wood polychrome 12th century Virgin & Child from Yzeures-sur-Creuse
We thought that one of the most fascinating and 'alive' sculptures was one which was found in Barrou, another village not far from Charnizay. Dug up in the 1970s in the garden of the former presbytery it is the figure of a woman from the Romanesque period [12th century]. Dressed in beautifully detailed clothes she has elegantly long hands, elongated fingers and shows traces of polychrome. The catalogue describes it as follows:' La reine de Saba?' [the Queen of Sheba]. Although it is reckoned to be a statue of the Queen of Sheba, this by no means a definitive attribution and the catalogue goes into some detail in explaining the two competing attributions, as some scholars have claimed her to be a representation of the Annunciation of the Virgin.
La reine de Saba?? from Barrou
The reasonings are as follows: One the one hand the figure does not wear a crown, which, though frequently seen, was by no means universal in the Romanesque period in depicting a queen as it was later in the Medieval period. Nor it is clear if the Barrou lady originally stood in a column niche as does a figure of the reine de saba adorning a column on west door of the Cathedral of St Maurice in Angers [ca 1155] which it closely resembles. Her right hand does however, clearly finger a necklace and her left hand holds her elaborate braids.
Informative panel on the elusive lady [click to enlarge if you want to read the text]
On the other hand, the lack of a crown and a beautifully detailed veil, the slightly sideways-on positioning of the face as well as her close similarity with a figure of the Annunciation of the Virgin found in the frieze above the main door of Notre-Dame-la-Grande in Poitiers [1130-40] has led other experts to claim that she is a representation of the Annunciation of the Virgin. The jury remains out.

More promenading into the Renaissance and the modern period will follow.