This catalogue – the English language version of L’art à la cour de Bourgogne: le mécénat de Philippe le Hardi et de Jean sans Peur (1364-1419) – accompanied the exhibition commemorating the 600th anniversary of the death of Philip the Bold (1342-1404), the first Valois duke of Burgundy and brother of Charles V, king of France. From the start, some readers may find it somewhat challenging to decipher the rationale behind the organization of the volume’s contents. Unlike standard exhibition catalogues, which generally include a relatively small number of tightly focused essays followed by the complete catalogue, this volume adopts a rather unconventional more is moreapproach. Essays are numerous and brief, and sometimes redundant in subject matter. The catalogue is divided topically, with groups of entries printed in sections with their related essays. Multiple entries are often combined on single pages, and accompanying photographs are not always where the reader might expect or want them to be.
Following an extensive list of acknowledgements, an introductory essay, written by exhibition co-organizers and lead authors Stephen N. Fliegel and Sophie Jugie, provides a general overview of the topic and a short history of the project. Fliegel and Jugie state their intentions clearly: to focus on the first two Valois dukes of Burgundy, Philip the Bold and John the Fearless, and on their patronage in Paris and Burgundy only. In addition, the authors offer an explanation for the exhibition’s different presentation in Dijon and Cleveland. While special emphasis was given to the objects in situ in the Dijon installation, the Cleveland exhibition featured a slightly expanded section on the Parisian artistic milieu as the genesis of the Burgundian style. Of particular interest, was the inclusion in the Cleveland installation of the magnificent Parisian Table Fountain (cat. 26), and a film showing how this rare and unusual object would have looked (and sounded!) in its original use.
The catalogue features entries for all of the objects that were included in the two venues, which may be frustrating to those who saw the exhibition in one location only. Very few paintings were included in the Cleveland exhibition, as many examples had either been reserved for the Dijon installation, or retained by the Louvre for its competing exhibition Paris 1400: Les Arts sous Charles VI. In some cases, plaster casts served as substitutions for those sculptures that could not travel.
After this introduction, the volume includes a short essay by Stephen Fliegel on the history of collecting Burgundian art in the United States. Primary emphasis is placed on the collecting activities of Clarence Mackay, who acquired, in 1922, the four Mourners now in Cleveland, and on their subsequent acquisition by the Cleveland Museum of Art in 1939 and 1958. The remaining essays and catalogue entries are arranged under three main subject headings.
Part I: The Patronage of Philip the Bold and John the Fearless (1364-1419), is a rather loosely organized overview of the Valois dukes’ historical origins, their religious piety, their political maneuvers, and their patronage in general. Sophie Jugie summarizes their heritage as Princes of Paris and the Fleur-de-lis, while Ludovic Nys offers an overview of art at the Court of Flanders at the time of Philip’s marriage to Margaret of Flanders in 1369. Several short essays are devoted to analyses of the many ducal residences in Burgundy (Patrice Beck, Sophie Cassagnes-Brouquet, Céline Berrette, Michel Maerten, Emmanuel Laborier, Georges Frignet, and Priscilla Debouige), Paris (Philippe Plagnieux), and the Low Countries (Franois Duceppe-Lamarre). Essays by Philippe Lorentz, Claudine Lemaire, Fabrice Rey, and &EACUTE;lisabeth Taburet-Delahaye focus attention on the dukes’ patronage of paintings, manuscripts, tapestries, and precious metalwork. The Cleveland installation followed this general approach, with the first gallery of the exhibition proper focusing on the general patronage of Philip the Bold, in all media.
Part II: The Chartreuse de Champmol, provides a more tightly focused and rewarding analysis of the dukes’ patronage and artistic achievements in Dijon. Following Vincent Tabbagh’s introduction to the religious institutions founded by the dukes, two essays by Renate Prochno and Sherry Lindquist address the origins, history, and organization of the Chartreuse and its construction site. The majority of the essays in this section are devoted to the extensive artistic program of the Chartreuse church and its chapels (Renate Prochno and Sophie Jugie), the Well of Moses (Renate Prochno), the tomb of Philip the Bold (Sophie Jugie), and related funerary customs (Renate Prochno). A final essay by Renate Prochno discusses the artistic influence of the Chartreuse worksite. In many ways, this section of the Cleveland installation was also the most rewarding. The mourner figures were displayed in a manner that allowed for careful examination from all sides. A separate, small room was devoted to the Well of Moses, in which the bust and leg fragments of the Crucified Christ and arm fragments of the Virgin (cats. 77-79) were beautifully and dramatically displayed.
Part III: Art in Burgundy, 1360-1420, explores the dissemination of the ‘Burgundian Style’ in painting (Sophie Jugie), sculpture (Denise Borlée and Véronique Boucherat), and metalwork (Céline Vandeuren-David). Separate essays are devoted to the artistic centers of the Franche-Comté, Poligny (Sabine Witt), and Baume-les-Messieurs (Sandrine Roser). The number of sculptural works secured for this section of the exhibition was extensive, making the final gallery of the Cleveland installation in particular, a rare and unexpected experience.
The final essay in the volume, By Way of a Conclusion: Claus Sluter and Early Netherlandish Painting: Robert Campin and Jan van Eyck, by Till-Holger-Borchert, seems less a conclusion than a starting point for what would logically be the next chapter in a comprehensive study of Burgundian patronage in the fifteenth century. Despite the value of Borchert’s comparative observations, the reader may wonder why this essay has been included – especially in light of Fliegel’s and Jugie’s previously stated thesis to focus on the patronage of the first two Valois dukes in Paris and Burgundy alone.
The text of the numerous essays and 136 catalogue entries is often uneven. This is not entirely unexpected for a project involving the work of no less than 51 authors representing varying levels of professional expertise, from directors and senior curators to doctoral candidates and fellows. This inconsistency may have been further complicated by the large number of editors (4) and translators (11) responsible for the English language edition. While generally good, the quality of the photography is also sometimes inconsistent, ranging from the spectacular detail of Mourner #40 on p. 235 to the nearly indecipherable image of the Virgin and Writing Christ Child (cat. 117) on p. 312.
The extensive bibliography provides a useful review of the most seminal and up-to-the-minute literature. Several additional features will further reward the serious reader, including a helpful genealogical table tucked inside the folding front cover, a section with short biographies of the artists following the final essay, and a list of related exhibitions in the final pages of the volume.
Despite its weaknesses, the volume serves as a testament to the hugely ambitious scope of the project, to the heroic efforts of its organizers, to the success of both exhibition venues, and as a valuable summary of the state-of-research on the topic.
Nancy E. Zinn
The Walters Art Museum