Elizabeth Valdez del Alamo

title.none: Morganstern, Gothic Tombs of Kinship (Elizabeth Valdez del Alamo)

identifier.other: baj9928.0203.018 02.03.18

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Elizabeth Valdez del Alamo, Montclair State University, New Jersey,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2002

identifier.citation: Morganstern, Anne McGee. Gothic Tombs of Kinship in France, and the Low Countries, and England. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2000. Pp. vii, 252. $60.00 (hb). ISBN: 7-802-71018-5.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 02.03.18

Morganstern, Anne McGee. Gothic Tombs of Kinship in France, and the Low Countries, and England. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2000. Pp. vii, 252. $60.00 (hb). ISBN: 7-802-71018-5.

Reviewed by:

Elizabeth Valdez del Alamo
Montclair State University, New Jersey

Kinship as an ordering structure for medieval society was given visual expression in a particular type of monument developed in the Low Countries and England between the thirteenth and fifteenth centuries, the tomb of kinship. As defined by Anne Morganstern, this is a funerary monument in which "an effigy of the deceased is accompanied by figures representing members of his/her family," alive or deceased but not participating in the specific event of the funeral ceremony (pp. 6-8). Usually identified by inscriptions, heraldic devices, or dress, they were arranged under an arcade on the tomb chest, in a hierarchy reflecting family history or relationships (p. 31). In her magisterial study of tombs of kinship, Morganstern traces the development of these monuments as an iconographic type which reached its climax in the tombs commissioned by the royal family in fourteenth-century England.

Her task encompassed documenting not only extant tombs but reconstructing the programs of monuments known to us only through drawings and antiquarian descriptions. In the process, she works out the complex relationships of family members with one another, with branches at home and abroad, with the social and political status to which they aspired, and with the religious communities whom they patronized and from whom they sought remembrance and salvational prayer. No less complex is the network of international artistic relationships that can be tracked via these families' marriages and alliances. One of the significant contributions of this study, according to the author, is to point out the tombs as a source for historical genealogies. To this end, the book is illustrated not only with images of the tombs, but also with detailed family trees and diagrams of the tomb programs; The Pennsylvania State University Press is to be congratulated for the quality of the book's production. Appendices provide the textual documentation for the monuments, identification of the individuals mentioned with their relationship to the deceased, and the heraldry, worked out with John Goodall. It is in England where surviving tombs and related chantry documents provided a wealth of material to investigate, but the key developments are traced to the Low Countries and the cultural impact of France. What becomes apparent, along with the reconstructions, is the depth of loss of so much information and of the medieval monuments themselves, particularly those in metalwork.

Morganstern identifies the impetus for the tomb of kinship as French. In the 1260s interest in royal genealogy in the Île-de-France motivated the remodeling of the royal necropolis of Saint-Denis, with its new tombs then arranged in chronological (genealogical) order. As part of their assertion of their own rights and lineage, the most independent of France's vassals, Champagne, began to display members of their family on their tombs. As traced by the author, this device is then picked up by Flanders and England. Noble women, valued for their distinguished lineage and their promotion of family consciousness, often employed genealogical tombs, while men tended to represent their progeny.

The earliest tombs of kinship were produced for the founders or great benefactors of ecclesiastical institutions, who were often venerated almost as saints. These tombs were usually positioned on the north side of the church choir. Chapter 1 begins with the lost tombs of Henry I, the Liberal (d. 1181), count of Champagne, and his son Thibaud III (d. 1201), conceived as reliquaries, which sanctified the family's ties to Saint-E'tienne of Troyes and on which their relatives were depicted. Notably, the counts' wives, Marie de France and Blanche de Navarre, commissioned these tombs in their role as the guardians of family memory and to transfer public loyalty from one count to the next. The earliest surviving tomb of kinship was for a woman, Adelais de Nevers (d. after 1195), and was commissioned by her son, a vassal of Count Henry II of Champagne. Family continuity was frequently set within a theological or moralizing context. On the tomb of Henry II, duke of Brabant (d. 1248), the duke's male relatives are positioned with Apostles (newly identified by Morganstern) to underline the concept of serving and defending the faith. The arrangement of the figures into a hierarchy from head to foot set an important precedent.

Chapter 2 follows the development of a specific type of kinship tomb, one that represents the deceased's genealogy. In the case of Henry III, Duke of Brabant, who shares his monument with his consort Adelaide of Burgundy, the Duchess seems to have planned the tomb to display the ancestry of his sons, still in their minority when he died, emphasizing inheritance through the male line. This traditional Germanic segregation by gender may reflect such separation within the church during services. Characteristics associated with French culture are employed on the enameled monument of a woman with close ties to the court of Saint Louis, Marie de Bourbon, countess of Dreux (d. 1274), whose tomb was in Saint-Yved at Braine. 36 statuettes representing family members, identified by coats-of-arms, surrounded the tomb chest on all sides, with the generations carefully ordered, the oldest near the head of the tomb. Husbands usually preceded wives, although sometimes this was shifted to achieve alternation between genders, an important element in French courtly etiquette.

In Chapter 3, Morganstern tells the story of one of the most extensive series of kinship tombs on record, created in the Low Countries for the family of Marguerite de Constantinople, Countess of Flanders and Hainault (d. 1280). Her inherited territories were divided among the children of her two marriages. By 1253 she had established a necropolis for the Dampierre branch of her family at Flines, in Flanders. Three genealogical tombs were produced, all for women: that of Marguerite herself, her daughter, and of the wife of her grandson. The Avesnes branch of the family in Hainault and Valenciennes emulated the Flines tombs and, according to antiquarian records, constructed at least a dozen kinship tombs for themselves over the course of the next hundred years. The organization of family members on these monuments separated them according to gender, and ranked them by degree of kinship.

In Chapter 4, the scene shifts to England, where tombs of kinship appeared at Westminister Abbey during the rebuilding initiated by Henry III in 1245. Notably, the more extensive family references are found on the monuments of lesser members of the family, who would have had greater need to display their family ties than would a king. The tomb of William de Valence (d. 1296), a west French member of the English royal family, provides the first example. William may have ordered many of his tomb elements himself: an effigy in Limoges metalwork supported by a stone base carved in England. Shields ornamented the base, while the upper chest displayed 31 statuettes, William's French relatives. The genealogical display of male and female kin can even be linked to the Avesnes monuments discussed in Chapter 3, since William's daughter was married to Jean d'Avesnes. The significance of this tomb to the study is twofold: it is one of the earliest kinship tombs in England and its ties to the Continent are indisputable.

In Westminister Abbey, the tomb of Aveline de Forz (d. 1274) includes figures that assume the characteristic form for English tombs of kinship (p. 67): on the tomb chest, gabled niches enclose the figural reliefs; the figures are arranged as couples; and the spandrels are ornamented with shields placed on either side of each figure. The monument of her husband Edmund, Earl of Lancaster (Crouchback) (d. 1296) and brother of King Edward I, was elevated so that the kinship reliefs on the tomb chest are at the spectator's eye level, with an ornate baldachin resplendent with at least 55 coats of arms, representing almost all the English earls, and a selection of barons and knights -- family as well as associates of the deceased. The display continued on the base, which was painted with paired knights. Kinship, in this case, extended to comrades-in-arms.

Chapter 5 discusses the probable role of Queen Isabella in the design of her family's monuments, including the tomb-shrine for her murdered husband Edward II (d. 1327) at Gloucester Cathedral. French elements in the royal tombs of this period, such as the combination of alabaster with black marble, may be credited to Isabella's ancestry and the time she spent in Paris. Morganstern affirms that the political instability of the period contributed to tombs of kinship reaching the apex of their popularity in England. Since Paris set the standard for royal tombs, when Philippa of Hainault (d. 1369), Edward III's consort, planned her tomb, a Fleming working in Paris, Jean de Lie`ge, was commissioned. Philippa's tomb represented her family as a dynasty. Drawing on the format traceable to her ancestors' tombs at Valenciennes, her most important male kin appear at the head and foot of the tomb. Along the long sides, her children and their spouses appear as alternating lords and ladies. The placement of Edward III with his brother-in-law the emperor and his cousin the king of France articulates English ambitions to the French throne and perhaps also to Hainault and Holland. Alternating single and double niches under a continuous arcade allowed special prominence to be given to particular relatives.

Tombs of kinship were adopted by Edward III's barons and knights, and in Chapter 6, Morganstern indicates a direct relationship between service to the Crown and the dissemination of this type of tomb. Apart from expressing loyalty to one's family and king, the Hundred Years War enabled the English aristocracy to pay for such elaborate monuments. These also can be linked with specific prayer foundations. The best example of this is the Burghersh chantry founded in Lincoln Cathedral by Bishop Henry Burghersh in 1332 (1). As Morganstern astutely recognized, the arrangement of figures under an arcade with shields above could have served as a mnemonic device for the chaplains as they fulfilled their obligation to pray for the deceased and their family, living and dead.

Chapter 7 describes the monument for Edward III (d. 1377) in Westminister Abbey. In Purbeck stone with chased and gilt bronze, elaborate arcades enclose statuettes of the king's children in order of succession, with the first near his head on the ambulatory side visible to the public. Edward's memorial marks a trend to limit the kin represented to one's children. Standardization of tomb production and design toward the close of the fourteenth century produced numerous tombs similar to the aristocratic monuments, or, for the middle class, slabs on the church floor. Hesitant to employ the aristocratic format, when offspring are represented on the slab, they appear as diminutive figures at the feet of their parents or simply as a list of names, a device employed well into the sixteenth century. The postures of the progeny suggest that while they were to pray for their parents, the clerics were also to pray for all members of the family, living and deceased.

Two final selections presented in Chapter 8 illustrate the aristocratic tradition of the kinship tomb in the fifteenth century. The tomb of Richard of Beauchamp, earl of Warwick (d. 1439), is derived from the monument of Edward III. A contract for the statuettes representing his kin refers to the figures as "weepers," the first record known in which this term is used. Morganstern points out that on this tomb, there really are mourning figures, so the term correctly reflects the image in this case. The term is less accurate when applied to the majority of monuments covered here, in which family members are not weeping nor participating in a funeral cortege -- an important correction to the nomenclature by the author. The lost kinship tombs erected by Philippe le Bon in Flanders and Brabant, maintain their own earlier tradition but in modern form.

The book's Conclusion neatly summarizes the central points of the author's argument. Funerary monuments articulating kinship and establishing territorial hegemony had deep roots in northern European culture. In the context of Christianity, such artworks were ultimately derived from liturgical memoria, the prayers by a religious community on behalf of the deceased and their relatives, whether living or dead. Continuity was visualized, not only for the family but also for its relationship with a religious community as their founders and benefactors. Dynastic concerns, often inseparable from the political, could be articulated by the tomb prominently placed within a church, making the monument not only spiritual, but observable by the public. Morganstern is emphatic that the two modalities, spiritual and secular, cannot be separated, contrary to what a previous generation of scholars maintained.

Anne Morganstern writes in crisp, engaging prose that expresses her thoughts precisely. Readers will sometimes find themselves wishing that many of the promising ideas and concepts put forth -- such as the nature of kinship, gender distinctions, and the reception of monuments -- had been given greater development. Clearly, Morganstern's interest is in the evolution of the tomb form and the genealogical material, which she has distilled to its essence. There are a few additional ways in which readers might have been helped, especially those not specialists in Gothic art of the north. The complex interweaving of family and artistic relationships might be more rapidly grasped with a map, for example. Even though the appendices are prominently indicated in the Table of Contents, it would have been reader-friendly to place notes referring to them at appropriate points in a chapter. The scholarship is solid, and perhaps at times too cautious; she sometimes stops short of drawing a conclusion, perhaps as a precaution. On the other hand, the premise that the French court, with its concern for royal genealogy, is the most influential factor in the development of genealogical and kinship tombs is not entirely satisfying, even if it is true that France set artistic standards in Europe at the time. The tombs at Saint-Denis were composed of retrospective effigies and arranged genealogically, but these newly carved monuments, insofar as were described, did not have genealogies on the tomb chest, the iconography being traced in this book. The tombs illustrated from Royaumont represent the funeral ceremony, correctly distinguished by the author from tombs of kinship. In her own words: "Ironically, we have the least evidence for either a prototype or parallels for the monument at the court of France, which probably inspired it and where we would expect comparable monuments. In contrast, the material remains of the courts of Naples/Sicily and England both furnish related monuments from succeeding generations" (p. 47). But no illustration nor discussion of the southern tradition is to be found, and indeed, the Germanic tradition to which she often refers seems equal to, if not more significant than, genealogical interests in Paris for the development of the Flemish tombs. These Flemish monuments, above all, appear to be the source for those in England.

Despite such reservations on my part, Anne Morganstern's presentation of extremely complex material is highly accomplished. She is to be thanked for laying the groundwork for future studies of Gothic tombs of kinship.


(1) This material was presented at the session "Memory and the Medieval Tomb" organized by this reviewer and Carol Pendergast for the meeting of the College Art Association in 1994 and later published (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2001), with additional information presented in 1996 at "Memory and Oblivion," the 29th International Congress of Art History in Amsterdam and published in the Acts (Dordrecht: Kluwer, 1999).