Monument to Cardinal De Braye

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Monument to Cardinal De Braye

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The Monument to Cardinal De Braye was designed and carried out in Orvieto by Arnolfo di Cambio for the church of San Domenico in 1282, the year of the death of the French Cardinal Guillaume de Braye. The sculptural and architectural ensemble, decorated with Cosmati  mosaic inserts, represents Arnolfo’s first signed work.
The arrangement is a combination of several elements. It the past, it has been set apart, reset and tampered with, some pieces taken out and some others added.
Only after a long restoration, finished in 2004, was the monument taken back to San Domenico and attached to the left wall of what remains of the church.
The monument’s structure, after modifications and mutilations suffered during centuries, is different from the original. The scholars could only hypothetically reconstruct it.
In any case, it is believed that the Monument De Braye could not be too different from other wall tombs found in Italy. The most direct references are two conserved monuments in the church of San Francesco alla Rocca, in Viterbo. They are the Tomb of Clement IV, who died in 1268, made by Pietro di Oderisio in 1270, and the Tomb of Adrian V, who died in 1276, made by Arnolfo, to which is added the Sepulchre of Gregorio X, who died in 1279, in San Domenico in Arezzo.
These works correspond to a model of sepulchre made by a canopy with a gothic arch (ogival or trilobate) that accommodates a base, which in its turn supports a sarcophagus containing the stretched statue of the deceased.
Arnolfo has embellished this model by raising it to the level of other sculptural and architectural elements. Three niches with statues were inserted at the top, while a tombstone with an epitaph and Arnolfo’s signature were inserted in the centre.
At the top, the main niche dwells the group with Madonna in a Throne with a Child. The lateral niches show, to the left, San Marco introducing the Cardinal De Braye to the Madonna, and to the right, San Domenico who participates on the event by evoking the heaven.

The complexity of the work demanded help, but Arnolfo’s touch is recognised in many points, especially in the central group of the lying cardinal. The reposing image is disclosed with the original inclusion of curtain-bearing clerics. These are cheerful images opposing the closed eyes motionless lying image with their lively energy, in an effective symbolic contrast between life and death.
Another particularly expressive figure is the statue of San Domenico. The slim shape dwindles towards the bottom, increasing the sense of lightness and fragility. The vertical lines of the clothes that wrap the saint’s body create a vertical tension, which is confirmed by the head and expression toward the top. A lot of attention has been given to the face, which can be seen from the intense and moving expression.
A sense of clarity and formal severity is grasped in every single piece, typical from Arnolfo’s style.
The group Madonna with Child, of great quality and sculptured in full-relief, is also conceived according to the principle of the essentiality of forms and volume. At the time of the last restoration it has been exposed that this group is a Roman statue for the 2nd Century, maybe a Juno, which Arnolfo has wisely transformed in Christian Virgin. The Child has been sculptured to perfectly adapt to the mother’s lap. The group was inserted in a throne with Cosmati ornaments divergent from the ones we see nowadays.
The re-use of old materials was very common in the medieval art, but represents a work that is only apparently easy, since there was a great risk of ruining it all with a mistaken procedure. For the artists it was not only to contain the cost or simplify the work, but also to study an old piece, get to know the characteristics and work techniques, plan the alteration procedure respecting the quality and at the same time adjust to modern demands.
In this particular case, the re-use done by Arnolfo shows an extraordinary ability and sensibility. The master has accomplished a transformation of a classic image to a gothic one with just a few successful touching-ups. He modified only the legs and the feet, concentrating on the movement of the edges of the garments. He performed a soft re-elaboration of the head, eliminated the allusive symbols to June and alleviated the mass, removing material and sliming the profiles, according to a more gothic linear flavour.
Besides that, the restoration and accurate work of analysis including the studies conducted by Angiola Maria Romanini, allowed the revelation of aspects of Arnolfo’s work so far unknown. Part of the more interesting findings is Arnolfo’s use of colour as integral part of the work and not in a decorative sense. From the traces of colour found in the curtain-bearing clerics pupils to the refined Cosmati mosaics that cover the architectural parts, everything returns to a precise plan in which the pictorial effect is a fundamental aspect of the visual impact of the whole. Another important revelation, closely connected to this aspect, is that all the monument components, sculptural and architectural, respond to the choice of a precise point of view. Each piece is conceived and placed with a precise orientation, with the visible parts worked up, and always referring to that point of view, calculated according to the laws of optics. These results are based on very refined and avant-guarde scientific knowledge. They are the objects of study of some philosophers and mathematicians performing close to papal courts between Rome, Viterbo and Orvieto. The future development of such research will be found in the Renaissance prospective. It is not yet clear how Arnolfo had access to such knowledge, but his work shows an undoubted opening toward the science world. 

A. Cocchi

Trad. A. Sturmer


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A. Martindale, Arte gotica. Rusconi, Milano 1990
La Nuova Enciclopedia dell'Arte. Garzanti 1986
F. Negri Arnoldi. Storia dell'Arte. Vol. I. Gruppo editoriale Fabbri. Milano 1985
G.C. Argan. Storia dell'arte italiana. Vol. 1. Sansoni Editore, Milano 1982



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