Funerals are for the living, not the dead, conventional wisdom tells us. Anne Morganstern’s book reminds us that funeral monuments are for the living, too. This book identifies and interprets a specific type of sepulchral monument that flourished in Northern European areas touched by French influence during the thirteenth to the fifteenth centuries.
The ‘Tomb of Kinship’ is a genre only little recognized by scholars of funerary monuments. It comprises “an effigy of the deceased . . . accompanied by figures representing members of his/her family” (p. 6). As such, it is a type distinct from the royal and ducal tombs familiar from the pantheons in Dijon or St Denis. One of the crucial features of this type is that the figures be identifiable, not shrouded in funerary cloaks, as are Sluter’s famous ‘pleurants’. That is not to say that the kinship tomb was eschewed entirely by royal patrons, for as Morganstern demonstrates, it was deployed by the Plantagenets in England and the Valois in Flanders to make specific points.
Obviously, one point is lineage, and the dynas tic function of the Tomb of Kinship is well discussed in this book. But Morganstern argues that the message of these tombs was often much more specific than simply celebrating the lineage of the deceased. In some cases, she adduces evidence that the tomb promoted the legitimacy of a specific family member as heir to the deceased over rival claimants; in some cases, the high rank of the family members was the main point – especially in programs that included an extended kinship of uncles, cousins, and in-laws. A particularly poignant meaning of these tombs occurs when the deceased died without an heir, or when the tomb marks the extinction of an entire family line. Morganstern’s research is strongly informed by both genealogical and anthropological literature, as she not only traces family trees rather extensively, she interprets the social networks to which they belong.
Certainly an important aspect of Morganstern’s reading of these objects is their patronage. Whenever possible, she draws on archival or historical information to identify a patron, and to consider just what the patron wanted the monument to say. On occasion, she argues that individuals commissioned their own tombs. In a number of cases, the patrons are women – wives, widows or daughters – whose own interests are suggested by the programs. Morganstern’s interpretations are very sensitive to the differences that gender makes in both the patronage of and the programs expressed by the tombs of kinship.
The author is also very aware of the differences in class of both patrons and deceased. By the fourteenth century, the type spread to the knightly class, who represented among their kin their brothers-in-arms, as well as their brothers in blood. As the tomb of kinship was adopted by the lower nobility and the merchant classes in the late fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, the emphasis shifted from representing siblings, cousins and in-laws of high rank to emphasizing the children of the deceased. One result of the spread of the type to the middling classes was an increase in the standardization of the manufacture of these tombs, although steps were taken to assure the legibility of the identifications of the members of the kinship.
One of the most interesting conclusions that Morganstern draws from this study relates to the liturgical function of the tombs. She links the programs of the tombs to the chantry foundations that were established to maintain them. The prayers and masses said in front of these tombs were not only for the departed, but also for their living kin. Morganstern argues that the family images on the tombs served both to remind the heirs about their relationship to the deceased, and as mnemnonic devices to encourage the priests to include the living among those commended during the services.
As all of this implies, Morganstern does much more here than simply explore the formal elements of this type and trace its evolution; she addresses the important questions of why this type was invented at a particular moment and what it meant to its various audiences. Her investigations into how the tombs of kinship function in both liturgical and social arenas offer welcome insight into the study of these overlooked objects, and provide a background for our understanding of major monuments of Northern Renaissance art like Maximilian’s tomb in Innsbruck.
Morganstern accomplishes all this in clear, fluid prose that moves the argument along nicely. The book is organized along chronological lines into relatively brief and well-focused chapters that address the appearance of the tomb of kinship in a particular region or among a particular group. Although much of the genealogical detail is relegated to a series of appendices to the main text, one sometimes can get lost in the labyrinth of names in the kinship groups. But persistence in navigating these genealogical charts is rewarded by a study that provides many insights into the intersection of family ties, political allegiances, and the culture of death in the late Gothic period.
Lake Forest College