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Mare (The Sea)

  • Object:

    Figure

  • Place of origin:

    Mosan (made)

  • Date:

    ca. 1180-1190 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Unknown

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Gilt bronze, cast and chased

  • Museum number:

    630-1864

  • Gallery location:

    Medieval & Renaissance, Room 8, The William and Eileen Ruddock Gallery, case 4

This little figure was originally attached to a larger object, probably a standing cross, forming one of several feet.

The engraved word 'Mare' on the base indicates that it was one of a group of four figures representing the Elements. The inclusion of the elements in a sculpted cross made the symbolic point that the crucifixion was a stupendous world event, that threatened to dissolve the elements into chaos and ruin the order of Creation. They appear on other crosses - in particular we know from written sources that they were a feature of the famous cross of Abbot Suger from his abbey of Saint-Denis, in the Ile de France. The elements on Suger's cross were not however the familiar four elements of earth, fire, water and air. They consisted here of Centurio (the centurion of Calvary), Pelagus (the sea), Abyssus (the deep) and Terra (earth).

The style of this figure with its wrinkled gloves, twisted animated pose, and realistic drapery shows the naturalism of which the Mosan metalworkers of the later 12th century were capable.

Physical description

The bronze statuette is mounted on a base, designed to look circular from the front, on which the word MARE is engraved. This base has a concave side, with beaded decoration on its top and bottom edges, and is cut off flat at the back, although the figure itself reaches further back.

Mare is depicted as a bearded elderly man seated on a seat (made out of a separate piece of bronze) with scrolled decoration. His left ankle is resting on his right knee. He turns to the right, looking at his right hand, which is bent back towards him, with the forefinger missing. He holds up his left hand bent at the wrist - the thumb of this hand is also lost. Both hands are wrinkled at the wrist, indicating gloves. His robe is pinned at the throat, and falls around him, leaving his legs bare from the knee.

Angular sharpness and precision characterize the drapery folds, which flow in broad sculptural strands and form his robe and mantle.

The figure is hollow, and the gilding is appropriately worn. There is a hole at the back of the cushion on which he sits, as well as a pin passing down through this cushion to secure the figure to the seat. A further pin, visible from the underside, secures the base to the figure.

Place of Origin

Mosan (made)

Date

ca. 1180-1190 (made)

Artist/maker

Unknown

Materials and Techniques

Gilt bronze, cast and chased

Marks and inscriptions

MARE
The Sea
Inscribed on the base.

Dimensions

Height: 9.4 cm, Width: 5 cm, Depth: 5 cm, Weight: 0.62 kg

Object history note

Purchased from M.Baur of Paris in 1864.

Historical context note

There is a broken piece of bronze between the figure and the pedestal on which he sits - this indicates that he was originally attached to a larger object, forming one of several feet. This is likely to have been a crucifix.

The inclusion of the elements in a sculpted cross made the symbolic point that the crucifixion was a stupendous world event, that threatened to dissolve the elements into chaos and ruin the order of Creation (P. Verdier, 'What We know of the Great Cross of Suger in Saint-Denis', Gesta, vol. 9, 1970, p.13).

The base of a cross from the abbey of St Bertin, now in the Musée de l'Hôtel Sandelin, St Omer, France (inv. 2800, Springer 1981, pp.196 ff, plate K348) has four half-length figures around the capital of the pedestal which have been identified as representing the four elements. These are not however the familiar four elements of earth, fire, water and air, although one female figure holds a spade (Earth) and one a fish (Water). This base is known to be closely related to the base of the lost cross of Abbot Suger, made for his great abbey of Saint-Denis in the Ile-de-France, and we know from documentary sources that the elements here consisted of Centurio (the centurion of Calvary), Pelagus (the sea), Abyssus (the deep) and Terra (earth).

Full-length seated evangelist figures form the feet of the St Omer cross base - the presumed original position for the V&A figure on its own cross. They are similar to the Mare figure in style - the drapery is similarly stretched around the poses of the figures, and the design of their curved concave bases with double row of beading is similar, though not identical.

Descriptive line

Mosan enamel, ca.1180-90

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Robinson, J.C. Report - Registered File No. 9130, 26 May 1864
H. P. Mitchell, 'A Bronze by Godefroid de Claire: The Sea', The Burlington Magazine, vol. XXXIII, August 1918, pp.59-65
P. Springer, Kreuzfüße: Ikonographie und Typologie eines hochmittelalterlichen Gerächtes, Berlin, 1981, p.197
G. E. P. Jr, 'A Twelfth Century Bronze', Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, vol. 14, no. 10 (October 1919), pp.223, 224
K. Hoffmann, The Year 1200, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1970, cat. no. 93, pp. 84-5
Rhein und Maas: Kunst und Kultur 800-1400, Cologne, 1973, vol. 2, p.204, and pl.14
Mills, Rosie. Catalogue entry, 'La Mer'. In: Une Renaissance: L'art entre Flandre et Champagne 1150-1250. Catalogue of the exhibition held at the Musée de l'hôtel Sandelin, Saint-Omer, 5 April - 30 June 2013 and Musée de Cluny - musée national du Moyen Âge, Paris, 17 April - 15 July 2013. Paris: Réunion des musées nationaux, 2013. ISBN 9782711860807

Labels and date

PERSONIFYING THE SEA
Gilt bronze, cast and chased
MOSAN (Valley of the Meuse)
About 1175-1190

This allegorical figure is inscribed Mare (Sea) and originally held either an urn or a fish as a symbolic attribute. It almost certainly formed part of a set of the Four Elements (Earth, Air, Fire and Water) probably designed to support the base of a shrine, candlestick or reliquary. The renowned St Omer cross-base - thought to be a miniature version of the great cross designed by Abbot Suger for his church at St Denis - though resting on a base supported by the Four Evangelists, is decorated at the top with busts representing the Four Elements. [1996]
THE SEA (MARE)
Gilt bronze, cast and chased
Allegorical figure originally holding a fish (?)
Probably from a set of the Four Elements forming the feet of a pedestal.
Mosan; 3rd quarter of the 12th century []

Production Note

Hoffmann describes the complicated movements inherent in the figure type as meeting the stylistic tendency of Mosan art of about 1160-1180, when the range of such postures was fully exploited in different iconographical contexts, though he actually dates it to 1180-90. Rhein und Maas 1973 supports a date of around 1180, comparing the figure to the evangelists at the foot of the Saint-Omer cross (see History), as well as a seated Evangelist figure from the Museo Nazionale del Bargello, Florence (Rhein und Maas, 1973, pl.11).

Materials

Bronze; Gold

Techniques

Cast; Chased; Gilding

Subjects depicted

The Sea

Categories

Metalwork; Christianity; Religion

Collection

Metalwork Collection

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