Recumbent effigy of a knight
- Place of origin:
ca. 1370-1375 (carved)
- Materials and Techniques:
- Credit Line:
Given by J. H. Fitzhenry, Esq.
- Museum number:
- Gallery location:
Medieval & Renaissance, Room 50a, The Paul and Jill Ruddock Gallery, case FS
This tomb effigy represents a fully armoured knight. Several similar tombs still survive in Venice, Verona and Padua. The effigy would have been tilted up on the side closest to the wall, so that it was easier to see from below. The fact that the dead man is represented in full armour as a knight is an indicator of his social role - similar tomb effigies represent people known to have been military leaders or condottiere (mercenaries), like the tomb of Federico da Lavellongo in Padua. It is a rare survival of Venetian sculpture of this sort outside Venice. It is also a good indicator of knightly dress in this period, the armour being rendered quite faithfully.
The recumbent effigy lies on a draped bier. On the head is a bascinet with close-fitting eventail from which hangs a solid nasal. The figure is clad in a jupon, decorated with three chains on the breast, and wears arm-guards and hour-glass gauntlets. The head and feet rest on tasselled cushions.
Place of Origin
ca. 1370-1375 (carved)
Materials and Techniques
Length: 242.3 cm, Width: 73.7 cm, Height: 35 cm
Object history note
This piece comes from an English private collection, and was donated to the Museum. At that time, it was said to have come from a church on the Giudecca in Venice (in other words, the churches of the Maddalena, S. Cosma or S. Giacomo). It would have been removed at the time of the suppression of these churches in the last years of the eighteenth century. Nothing is known of the history of this piece after the suppression and before it was brought to England. Without knowing which church the effigy is from, it is not possible to say whom it represents.
Historical significance: This object represents a type of wall tomb popular in Venice in the fourteenth century, with links to tomb types known in Northern Europe as well as in Tuscany. The piece is a rare survival of Venetian sculpture of this sort outside Venice. It is also a good indicator of knightly dress in this period, the armour being rendered quite faithfully.
Historical context note
Tomb effigies of this sort were placed on top of a sarcophagus, which would have been mounted to a wall in the church. The effigy would have been tilted up on the side closest to the wall, so that it was easier to see from below. The fact that the dead man is represented in full armour as a knight is an indicator of his social role - similar tomb effigies represent people known to have been military leaders or condottiere (mercenaries), like the tomb of Federico da Lavellongo in Padua.
The sarcophagus itself would have been sculpted or painted with imagery, and the tomb would probably have featured the stemma (coat of arms) of the deceased. Grand tombs of this sort were often (but not always), associated with the setting up of commemorative masses to be said for the soul of the dead person. Most likely, the tomb resembled the one in the Capella del Crocifisso of SS. Giovanni e Paolo, Venice, which is in the form of a chest mounted on consoles, the front adorned with three sculpted figures representing Saint Paul and the Annunciation, and two porphyry slabs.
Effigy, of a knight recumbent, Istrian stone, Italy (Venice), ca. 1370-1375
Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)
J. Pope-Hennessy, Catalogue of Italian Sculpture in the V&A, London, 1964, cat. no. 50
W. Wolters, La Scultura Venezia Gotica 1300-1460, Venice, 1976, cat. no. 115
Maclagan, Eric and Longhurst, Margaret H. Catalogue of Italian Sculpture. Text. London: Victoria and Albert Museum, 1932, p. 10
Several examples of similar tomb figures survive in Venice and Padua. Some bear only general comparisons in terms of their form, like the tombs of Federico da Lavellongo (c.1373) and Manno Donati (1370) in the Santo in Padua, and that of Ilario Sanguinacci (c.1381), in the church of the Eremitani in the same town. Two tombs in Venice provide much closer comparisons. The first is a tomb effigy in a wall of the church of S. Maria dei Frari. This piece has been dissociated from its tomb chest and moved from its original position. The second, and by far the closest comparison, is a wall tomb in the Capella del Crocifisso of SS. Giovanni e Paolo, Venice. Unfortunately, there is no certain date or attribution for either of these pieces.
John Pope-Hennessy suggested that the work was similar to the tomb effigy of Jacopo Cavalli, also in a chapel of SS. Giovanni e Paolo. This tomb is signed by Paolo di Jacobello dalle Massegne, and dated 1384. Several aspects of this comparison are valid, in particular the decision to represent the knight as an older man, with a face sunken in death, and the detail of the bier cloth hanging in folds along the front edge. But in crucial respects the comparison is not a compelling one - the armour of the V&A knight is articulated differently, and in a manner more comparable to the Paduan effigies, and the other Venetian effigies. The Cavalli tomb is much more elaborate than the V&A effigy, and features such as the crouching animal beneath the feet of the Cavalli effigy are not duplicated on the V&A figure. The overall style of the Cavalli tomb is undoubtedly later than that of the V&A effigy, whose closest comparisons are the unattributed Venetian figures discussed above. A further problem with accepting Pope-Hennessy's conclusions is that it is difficult to reconcile the date of the Cavalli tomb, and the presumed life of the artist with the dating of the V&A effigy. It has been assumed that Paolo di Jacobello was the son of the Venetian sculptor Jacobello dalle Massegne. Jacobello is first referred to in 1383 and last cited in 1409. Paolo's first signed work is the Cavalli tomb in 1384, and he is last cited in 1414. Given that most commentators agree in placing the V&A's tomb effigy in the period 1370-75, it is hard to see how the son of Jacobello could have been active at this time, ten years before his first signed work. On these grounds, Wolters has argued against Pope-Hennessy's suggestion. But it would be difficult to accept anyway, given that the Cavalli tomb is by no means the closest stylistic and compositional comparison.
The fact that the closest comparisons are both from Venetian churches lends strength to the assertion made on its acquisition that it had come from a church there.