The originality of the sculpture that we present here resides as much in the mark left on the body of the work itself by its turbulent past as by its singular, even unique, iconography and consequently, its timeless character.
Catastrophe during the Revolution
Our sculpture was probably fractured for the first time at the Revolution, undoubtedly because of the fleur de lys decoration. Torn from its original setting, it was then brutally amputated from its upper part and filed down on all sides, so that it could be integrated into a building in cut stone. The sculpted groups from the Carmelite Convent in Tours met the same fate: broken and transformed into building blocks, they were rediscovered in 1968 during excavations (Tours, Museum of Fine Arts). In addition to having been reshaped, the front of our work, with its elements which protruded too much, was filled with plaster in order to give the whole the impression of a rectangular block. Curiously, this plaster saved not only the finely sculpted details from destruction, but also the delicate polychrome dominated by blue and gold.
Despite the mutilation, once extracted from the masonry and freed from the additions, the work displays a high quality of execution. It is probably the Christ of the Passion, recognizable by his nudity and the drapery which covers his hips: Saint John the Baptist would have been depicted with a camel skin and a king could not appear with nude legs. Jesus is seated on a throne, according to the verse in the Gospel of Matthew: “When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory” (Mat. 25, 31). The presence of this throne separates it from the iconography of Christ in Bonds or Christ in Sorrow (Pensive Christ) which appeared in about 1470. The entire Passion was concentrated in the image, because it depicted the moment when the Redeemer, crowned with thorns and his hands bound, was presented to the people.
A Christ in Majesty
Our fragment, thus, is more likely to be a Christ in Majesty, probably that of the Last Judgment, even if he was usually depicted seated on a rainbow and with a cape covering his legs, as in the illumination by Jean Colombe in the Hours of Louis de Laval (BnF mss lat. 920, fol. 335). What is especially striking are the lily flowers scattered across the front of the throne, making the iconography even more complex and exceptional; divine justice is merged with royal justice. It is difficult to imagine such an association of sacred and profane in a church sculpture. However, this Christ could have been part of a tomb of a great servant to the Crown, as the ambitious programs of these sculptural groups sometimes led artists to stray from conventional iconography. The sides of the throne where scrolls and profiles can be detected on the medallions could be more easily apparent there than in a sculpture presented in a tabernacle.
Renaissance Sculpture near Tours
Our sculpture is fairly representative of sculpture in the Touraine during the first Renaissance, guided by artists such as Michel Colombe and Guillaume Regnault, in which measure and equilibrium appear as dominant characteristics. The soft folds and throne ornamentation with seeds and flowers which belong to classical vocabulary confirm a date around 1500. At the same time, the constantly perceptible quality in the sculpting of volume, the elegance of draperies, and the refinement in handling of flesh, indicate a skilled sculptor. Comparison with the anonymous Saint John the Baptist in the parish church of Saint-Martin of Audrèche (limestone, H. 133 cm. / 4 ft. 4 3/8 in.) is particularly convincing. In addition to the graceful lines of the legs, one can notice the use of ochre wash, the marked naturalness in the pose, the handling of the soft folds, and the drapery edges which have been made as fine as possible in view of material constraints