Brass of the Month

April 2010: Ambroise de Villiers, 1503, formerly in the abbey of Notre-Dame-du-Val, Seine et Oise, France


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Page last updated 04 March 2015

Copyright: Jon Bayliss


Cy gist noble home Ambroys de Villers en son vivant seigneur de Valengouiart conseiller de monsr le duc de Bourbonnois et dAuvergne son escuyer descurie et maistre des eaues et forest de la conté de Clermont qui trespassa le xxe jor du moys de decembre lan mil ve et trois. Priez dieu pour son ame.


Guillaume Bourcier's contract for Ambroise's slab was made with another of Ambroise's brothers, Louis, Bishop of Beauvais, who was later commemorated by a brass at Beauvais signed by another Paris tombier (tomb maker), Mathieu le Moine. The slab was to be of 'lyais', the usual limestone or calcaire used in that area for incised monuments. It was to be a large one, ten feet long by five feet wide and five inches thick. It was to show an armed man in an heraldic tabard with his hands joined (in prayer). They were to be of alabaster, as were his face and tabard. Either side of the figure were to be shafts with apostles set side by side under canopies and above a large pinnacle with many agels and the figure of Abraham holding a soul. In the corners were to be the symbols of the Evangelists. The whole was to be as good or better than the picture Bourcier had shown Louis de Villiers, which was signed by two notaries. The tomb was to be delivered by Bourcier to the abbey by St John the Baptist's day. The prices was to be seventy golds crowns, with Bourcier receiving an advance of three crowns and the contract was agreed on 20 March 1503/4. Accompanying the contract was the final receipt dated 3 August 1504.

Fig 1. Ambroise de Villiers de l'Isle-Adam

In 1890, the text of a contract for an incised slab was published in France by Albert des Méloizes in Bulletin monumental‎. Contracts for monuments are much less rare in France than in Britain, as they were officially recorded as legal documents and some of those records survive. In this case it is the original contract rather than the official record of it that survived. While very large numbers of incised slabs survived both the wars of religion and the French revolution, not to mention church renovations and rebuildings, many others did not. Amongst their number was the slab commemorating Ambroise de Villiers de l'Isle-Adam, sieur de Vallangoujard, who died in December 1503. His slab was one of the many monuments in abbey of Notre-Dame-du-Val to be drawn for Roger de Gaignières. Des Méloizes illustrated his article with an engraving after that of de Gaignières (fig. 1). What is not clear from the engraving is that the face and other parts were inlaid with alabaster. The contract describes the maker as 'Guillaume Bourcier, marchant tumbier demeurant à Paris en la rue Sainct Jaques'. Rue Sainct Jacques was a street that was home to many of the monumental sculptors of Paris, but Guillaume Bourcier is only known for this one slab, so it is a particular pity that the slab itself has gone. The engraving is probably accurate enough to allow comparison with surviving slabs. A number of slabs to clergy from the period 1500-1515 that were drawn for de Gaignières in Notre Dame in Paris have very similar canopies and show the effigies standing on hexagonal bases like the figure of de Villiers does.


Ambroise de Villiers de l'Isle-Adam was a member of a long-established family and a younger son of Jacques de Villiers, at one time councillor and chamberlain to the king as well as seneschal of Boulogne. Jacques had a monument in the abbey of Notre-Dame-du-Val, with sculpted effigies of himself and his wife, Jeanne de Nesle. The black marble slab on which the effigies rested and on which their memorial inscription had been engraved was reused at the church of Mériel as flooring, as was the slab, likewise of black marble, of their grandson Charles, Bishop of Beauvais. Ambroise's eldest brother Antoine followed in his father Jacque's foot steps as chamberlain to the king and was commemorated with his wife on an incised slab in the abbey when he died in 1504. As the illustration given by des Méloizes of the abbey (fig. 2) indicates, the church itself was of no great size, so it is no surprise that the many monuments at the abbey were distributed between the church, the cloister and the chapter house. Several different families were commemorated but the de Villiers were well represented over several centuries, from the thirteenth onwards, as major benefactors to the abbey, which was north of Paris.  


The inscription around three sides of the slab to Ambroise de Villiers records some of the positions he held, including councillor of the Duke of Bourbonnois and Auvergne and master of the waters and woods of the county of Clermont.


Fig 2. Abbaye Notre-Dame-du-Val


Sources:

Bulletin Monumental, vol 56 (1890), pages 416-423, accessed as http://books.google.com/books?id=vaFBAAAAYAAJ

F. Guilhermy, Inscriptions de la France du Ve siècle au XVIIIe, vol 2 (1875), accessed as http://www.archive.org/stream/inscriptionsdel03lastgoog