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Head of an Old Testament King
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Head of an Old Testament King

Description Conservation Exhibitions Provenance Credit
Description Sculptural innovation of the Gothic period can be seen in this head of an Old Testament monarch, carved for the abbey church of Saint-Denis, outside Paris. The head, from a pier (column) figure on the building's west façade, represents the transition between the abstraction and solidity characteristic of the eleventh and earlier twelfth centuries (often called the "Romanesque" period), and the increased interest in naturalism seen from the later twelfth century through the end of the medieval period. Although this example is by no means a realistic representation of the human figure, the sculptor has incorporated elements based on the observation of nature, such as the softly rounded contours of the face and the wavy curls of hair. This interest in naturalism continued to develop through the later Middle Ages and the early modern period. When this sculpture was in situ, the feet of the full-length figure would have been at about the height of a viewer's head, and the monarch would have stared down at the viewer, his crown, robe and eyes brightly painted and adorned with inset glass and metal. The heads of the jamb figures were removed from the portal in the late eighteenth century, just before the royal burial church became a target of vandalism during the French Revolution.
Date Description Narrative
2/05/1981Examinationexamined for condition
  • The Renaissance of the Twelfth Century. Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design, Providence. 0.
  • The Royal Abbey of St. Denis at the Time of Abbot Suger (1125-1151). The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. 1981.
  • Vive la France! French Treasures from the Middle Ages to Monet. The Walters Art Gallery, Baltimore. 1999-2000.
  • Highlights from the Collection. The Walters Art Gallery, Baltimore. 1998-2001.
  • Set in Stone: The Face in Medieval Sculpture. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. 2006-2007.
Provenance Abbey of St. Denis, Paris [said to be a head from a west façade portal jamb statue]; Raoul Heilbronner, Paris [date and mode of acquisition unknown]; Dikran Kelekian, Paris [date and mode of acquisition unknown]; Henry Walters, Baltimore, 1911, by purchase; Walters Art Museum, 1931, by bequest.
Credit Acquired by Henry Walters, 1911

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ca. 1140 (Medieval)
Accession Number
H: 14 3/8 x W: 9 1/16 x D: 8 3/4 in. (36.5 x 23 x 22.3 cm)

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