Brass of the month

January 2007: Hugues des Hazards, bishop of Toul, Blénod-lès-Toul (1517)

January's brass of the month is part of a larger monument at Blénod-lès-Toul in France.

 






Blénod-lès-Toul


The village of Blénod-lès-Toul (Meurthe-et-Moselle) is one that often falls outside the tourist route along the A4 autoroute, which heads from the glories of Champagne eastwards to the sophistications of Alsace. Yet this village is notable today not only as a centre of good wine production but also for its remarkable early-Renaissance style church, which is a legacy from Hugues des Hazards, bishop of Toul 1506-17.


Hugues himself consecrated the church in 1512. It was an example of a new conception of church building as a Renaissance église-halle, possibly based on that at Pienza (Tuscany), which was built by Pope Pius II (1458-1464), who was a native of that town. Hugues was schooled at Toul, Metz and Dijon, and then studied in Siena and Rome, where, as one of the Pope’s retinue, he was presumably influenced by the architectural developments and church (re)building going on. Returning to France he was appointed into the treasury of the Dukes of Lorraine, from which occupation he acquired the means and prestige to re-build the church in his birthplace of Blénod, mimicking the example of his spiritual lord Pope Pius at Pienza.



At the entrance to Blénod church an inscription records his patronage of the building, and inside the stained glass repeatedly incorporates his heraldry, together with a window showing him kneeling before St Stephen, the patron saint of Toul. It is no surprise that in his will Hugues wished to be buried by the high altar of the rebuilt church of Blénod in the tomb that he had had made there, and where his ancestors lay buried. The monument remains in its original location occupying the north wall of the choir. It is an enormous structure, 4 metres high by 3.5 metres wide, and is magnificently sculpted in an Italian fashion, totally different from the late-Gothic enfeu or canopied tomb recess which was typical of the time.



The tomb can conveniently be divided into three parts framed by decorated pilasters supporting a plain entablature with a shield to either side. At the base is a line of ten gowned and cowled weepers under paired niches, and all strung together holding a long banderol in front of them. It is inscribed ‘NASCI . LABORE . MORI’, the phrase preceded by the letter ‘V’ with a barb (for vita?) and terminates with an ‘O’ with a transverse bar (for obit?).


Above these figures is the effigy of the bishop represented uncomfortably in three-quarters profile and vested in beautifully ornamented pontificals with mitre and staff. The uppermost layer accommodates freely sculpted figures of the seven Liberal Arts – Grammar, Dialectic, Arithmetic, Music, Geometry and Astronomy – each housed under the same type of cockle-shell niche as the weepers are.


The whole tomb is a curious mixture of medieval and Renaissance: the traditional weepers ranged along the side of the supposed sarcophagus are mimicked sculpturally by the figures of the Liberal Arts above; equally, there is the characteristically recumbent effigy of the deceased prelate vested in all his glory, but he is presented in profile and makes up just the central layer in an otherwise contiguous sculptural mélange.


 









Whilst all this is noteworthy, of greater brass interest is the tomb’s Latin inscription, which is on a series of four large plates of brass all skilfully joined together within a thin brass frame. It stretches across the entire width of the monument, just below the bishop’s effigy and is unrecorded by H.K. Cameron in his List of Monumental Brasses on the Continent of Europe. The brass is beautifully worked in Gothic minuscules – again a medieval throwback – with the lettering in relief, and provides a very long and detailed résumé of the bishop’s upbringing and his links with Blénod, leading into his religious training, his service for the Duchy of Lorraine and finally his leadership of the church at Toul. The date of his death is correctly recorded as ‘M CCCCC xvii’ yet it is poorly spaced within the gap presumably left for it, as it is inconceivable that the tomb with its brass was not in place by 1512 when the church was finally consecrated by Hugues.







Recent research has targeted the strange letters at either end of the banderol held by the weepers. Jacques Baudoin associates these with the sculptor Pierre Wiriot, who was active in the area until 1530. At Neufchâteau (Vosges) his tombslab is dated ‘153Ǿ’ and his funeral chapel there ‘15Ǿ5’; moreover, his shield of arms incorporates three bags of gold and a monogram of an interlaced ‘P’ and ‘V’. The device at the start of the Blénod inscription could perhaps be this monogram; and Baudoin also suggests that the ‘Ǿ’ represents the heraldic charge of a bag of gold crossed with a burin, the tool of the engraver – though this is speculative.


The Blénod mausoleum itself has been convincingly attributed to one Mansuy Gauvain, an imagier ducal, who in 1512 was also commissioned by Hugues to produce a tomb to Saint Mansuy (now in the Toul museum). Perhaps the Blénod tomb demonstrates the use of a specialist epigraphist, with Wiriot carving the inscription on the stone scroll and engraving the brass. The fact that Hugues’ tomb was crudely imitated by a ?c.1520 monument to a priest at Pagny-la-Blanche-Côte (Meuse) deepens the confusion. This has the profile figure of the priest in vestments at the base and above, a scene of the Mass of Saint Gregory with the Apostles, and on each side an array of weepers in cockle-shell niches.





Whilst Hugues’ monument is one of the glories of the church at Blénod, the little incised slab to Anthoine de Lespine (late-sixteenth century) is also worthy of mention. Above the figure of a girl is a shield and a lozenge within a wreath(?) and an inscription is engraved in capitals on a marginal fillet: ‘… ANTHOINE . DE. LESPINE / FILE . DE . GEORGE . DE . LESPINE . ESCUYER . ET . DE . DAMOISELLE / IANE . DE . TAILLY . SON . ESPOV[S]E . QVI . TREPASSA . LE …’ Beneath her feet are the words ‘AE . GE . DE . 29 . MOIS’.






Sources:


Jacques Baudoin, La sculpture flamboyante en Champagne Lorraine (Nonette, 1991).


Abbé G. Clanché, ‘Le tombeau de Hugues des Hazards, évêque de Toul …’, Bulletin Monumental 69 (1905), pp.47-60.


M. l’abbé Guillaume, Histoire du Diocèse de Toul et de celui de Nancy (5 vols, Nancy, 1866-7), II, pp. 360-2, gives a translation of the brass inscription.


Pierre Marot, ‘Blénod-lès-Toul’, Congrès Archéologique de France – Nancy et Verdun (1934), pp.311-18.


Annales de l’Est, 2005/2, published in 2006, is devoted to Blénod (single copy in the British Library); it is reviewed in Société Française d’Archéologie SFActualités 23 (2006), p.11.


Copyright: Paul Cockerham

Click here for the Brass of the Month feature

Copyright © 2002 Monumental Brass Society (MBS)

Page last updated 02 January 2007