French, Parthenay - Christ Entering Jerusalem, mid 12th century

French, Parthenay

Christ Entering Jerusalem, mid 12th century

Limestone, 124.5 x 134.5 x 20.5 cm (49 x 52 15/16 x 8 1/16 in.) overall


Object details

Accession number



Created for the upper facade of the church of Notre-Dame-de-la-Couldre, Parthenay in the mid 12th century. The facade would have had three registers. A row of elders of the apocalypse (including museum no. S7n2) would have likely occupied the middle register, and various biblical scenes in high relief, including an Annunciation to the Shepherds (now housed at the Musée du Louvre, Paris) and this equestrian figure (museum no. S7n1), occupied the upper register.
Sold by the Ursuline community with the rest of Notre-Dame-de-la-Couldre and its convent to Pierre-Jean Andrieux, Nantes, a former priest, in 1796.
Probably relocated to the garden of the former convent by 1834.
Purchased back from Pierre-Jean Andrieux by the Ursuline community with the church and its associated properties in for the purpose of making the church a protected monument in 1856.
Recorded in the convent garden (with museum no. S7n2) in 1876.
Purchased by the antiquarian and art dealer Valentin Guille, Fontenay-le-Co, Paris, with the Elders (museum no. S7n2), and two more sculptures now in the collection of the Musée du Louvre, Paris from Nathalie Guilhard, one of two individuals who had inherited ownership of the church and convent, for 600 francs, probably in 1910.
Purchased by the antiquarian and art dealer Victor Poulit, Nantes for 1,200 francs from Valentin Guille immediately following his acquisition.
Purchased by the antiquarian Auguste Duthil, Bordeaux and by the Belgian art dealer Georges-Joseph Demotte (1877-1923), Paris from Poulit a few days later. Soon after this, Demotte purchased Duthil's sculptures, reuniting the lot.
Purchased by Isabella Stewart Gardner from Georges-Joseph Demotte (1877-1923), Paris for 150,000 francs on 15 September 1916, through the American art historian Bernard Berenson.


<SPAN>William N. Mason. “Notes, Records, Comments.” Gardner Museum Calendar of Events 6, no. 21 (20 Jan. 1963), p. 2. <BR/>Walter Cahn. "Medieval Sculpture" in James Thomas Herbert Baily (ed.). The Connoisseur: An Illustrated Magazine for Collectors, "Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum" (London, 1978), p. 21, no. 1.<BR/>Christine Vivet-Peclet. "L'antiquaire Georges Joseph Demotte, le Loouvre et les musées américans. S'approprier le discours sur le patrimoine médiéval de la France au sortir de la Première Guerre mondiale." Les Cahiers de l'École du Louvre <BR/>(Nov. 2017), pp. 10-11, fig. 5.</SPAN>

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Medieval art occupied only the margins of American collecting taste at the turn of the nineteenth century. When Mrs. Gardner acquired these three sculptures in 1916, they were among the most impressive examples of monumental medieval sculpture yet seen in America. The acquisition helped establish Gardner at the forefront of medieval collecting, blazing a trail that William Randolph Hearst, Raymond Pitcairn, and John D. Rockefeller Jr. would soon follow.

Often compared to statues at Chartres, these sculptures from Parthenay (a town in Poitou) possess qualities that define twelfth-century religious art. Static yet vividly compelling, the monumental figures express the timelessness of Christian theology while evoking the realism of everyday life. Facial expressions are minimized, lending an imposing, otherworldly allure, yet the soft modeling of the lips, eyebrows and curling locks of hair suggests real human qualities. Their stately character befits the crowned personages portrayed: Christ, on his triumphant entry into Jerusalem, and the Elders witnessing the Revelations of the Apocalypse.

Controversy, too, lent the sculptures a certain notoriety. All came from the facade of a feudal lord’s courtly church, Notre-Dame-de-la-Couldre, a site long important to French patrimony. Their acquisition by no less a connoisseur than Mrs. Gardner launched a frenzy of interest in Romanesque Parthenay. Soon more sculptures flooded the market, including several removed illegally as well as some outright forgeries. Mrs. Gardner’s own dealer, Georges Demotte, was pursued in the Paris courts, where eventually a sculptor in Demotte’s service admitted embellishing several unspecified statues. Before the affair could be resolved, the sculptor was found dead, the victim of an apparent suicide; soon afterward, Demotte, too, was mysteriously killed in a hunting accident. These bizarre episodes caused suspicions about the Gardner sculptures to linger until the 1940s, when scientific analysis finally demonstrated that the lower halves of the Elders were forgeries, while the magnificent busts and the entire Entry into Jerusalem relief were authentic. Today there is no hesitation in counting these works among the most important Romanesque sculptures in America. They speak as much to the excellence of medieval carvers as to modern passions for the art of the Middle Ages.

Source: Robert Maxwell, "Christ Entering Jerusalem, Two Elders of the Apocalypse," in Eye of the Beholder, edited by Alan Chong et al. (Boston: ISGM and Beacon Press, 2003): 21.


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