The tomb of Louis XII and Anne of Brittany at St Denis

13 June 2010

This amazing tomb is probably one of the most splendid and impressive ever created and it is a miracle that it survived the violence of the revolutionary era, when the royal tombs at the Basilica of St Denis were desecrated and destroyed and their contents thrown into a common grave.

When Louis XII died on New Year’s Day 1515, just three months after his wedding with Mary Tudor, his successor François I, commissioned this amazing free standing tomb to hold his remains and those of his second wife, Anne of Brittany.

The splendid tomb was designed by Florentine sculptors, Jean and Juste de Juste, an uncle and nephew team, and took fifteen years to complete.

The canopy beneath which the sculptures of Louis and Anne’s corpses lie, is ringed with statues of the twelve apostles, while at the corners perch the four virtues, who are sculpted in a sensual, muscular mannerist style that is reminiscent of the work of Michelangelo.

I find the design of these grandiose tombs very interesting – I love the contrast between the royal figures on top, typically depicted kneeling in prayer and dressed in flowing robes and jewels and the naked, sprawling corpses that lie beneath.

I felt a bit sorry for Anne of Brittany though – I always got the impression that she was shyly devout and retiring and wondered if she had any input into the plans for her final resting place, on which a depiction of her naked corpse would be displayed forever.

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