Brass of the Month

April 2008: Jeha(n) Buccilier and his wife, Police, 1494, Toul, France


                          April's contribution is a French incised slab with some unusual imagery.

 





Part of the Musée d’Art et d’Histoire de Toul (Meurthe-et-Moselle, 54) incorporates the 13th century buildings of the ‘Maison-Dieu’, a hospital traditionally founded by the bishop Saint Gérard towards the end of the 10th century. The ‘Salle des Malades’ has been converted into a ‘salle lapidaire’ containing a large number of sculpted figures, panels, epitaphs, fragments and other curiosities.


On the floor of this vaulted room are six incised slabs, quite likely in their original positions. Five of them are engraved with figures of the deceased and appear to have gone unrecorded in the records of the national database of the ‘Monuments Historiques’. Four of the slabs are to priests who were also Prebendaries of the hospital, so they are depicted in mass vestments and standing under a canopy: (1) Nichole de Granviler, cure of Tantimont, (1403); (2) Nicollez Jaiquet de Granviller (1408); (3) anonymous Master and prebendary of the Hospital (c.1620); (4) Demenge Husson (1625).


The fifth slab, however, is engraved with the effigies of a civilian and wife; on the left hand side the man has long wavy hair and is dressed in a plain, knee-length gown, with the female figure on the right hand side with a large headdress and her hands at prayer. They are standing slightly facing each other and hold between them a horse’s leather neck collar which rests at their feet. Above them is a set of scales and a six-pointed star made up of two equilateral triangles. The inscription is in Gothic minuscules within a marginal fillet running clockwise around the slab, as follows:


‘Ci gistent honnestes co(n)joinetz Jeha(n) Buc / cilier et Police sa femme demorans a Toul qui trespassa la dicte Police le vingtieme jour / du mois daoust lan mil quatre cens / quatre vingtz quatorze. Priez Dieu pour eux’. [Here lie together John Bucclier, gentleman, and his wife Police, who lived in Toul, the said Police died the twentieth day of the month of August 1494. Pray to God for them]


 




The symbolism of this slab is unusual. According to a local guide the six-pointed star can be interpreted as a sign of good health and is also associated with a shop or inn-sign, when it supports a few sticks of fir or box wood. F.A. Greenhill, in his Incised Effigial Slabs (I, 313) suggests that it represents the Holy Trinity, appearing on a slab probably to an abbot of c.1400 in Tintern abbey (Monmouthshire); the symbolism of a triangle for the Trinity is well known. The scales, traditionally symbolising justice, here more likely indicate either merchants or bakers, whilst the horse collar suggests an association with a saddler or coachman. It is known that an old inn with the sign of the ‘Fleur-de-Lys’ existed vis-à-vis the Hospital at Toul, within which was housed a saddler and a forge. Perhaps Jehan and Police Buccilier worked in such close proximity to the Hospital that they were sufficiently honoured to be buried in the premises where Saint Gérard was also interred. Equally, perhaps the name ‘Buccilier’ could be read as ‘bourelier’ or saddler?

 







The slab (222 x 96cms) is of the ‘calcaire’ typical of the district, and which was extensively used for the production of incised slabs in Toul. In a recent survey of the Cathedral (which is currently undergoing a major restoration) I recorded 78 slabs there, adding a further 35 examples which are in the collegiate church of Saint-Genoult. Several of these dating from around the end of the fifteenth century, are like the one considered here to John and Police Buccilier, suggesting that they were produced by one particular engraver. In particular the drapery folds are depicted with considerable variations in the widths of the engraved lines, and this, combined with a relaxation in the posture of the figures, imparts a naturalistic quality to the design. On some of these slabs there is an exuberance in the depiction of canopies over the figures, with enormously elaborate, floral arrangements of crockets and gables, again unique to this engraver; and on others there is a similarity between the way ‘canopy work’ is depicted using tree branches intertwined overhead and some stained glass patterns in Toul – hinting at a common source. (Greenhill, Incised Effigial Slabs II, pl.125a [misdated from 1493]).





 





Like most of the slabs at Toul, unfortunately, this example has some surface wear, but sufficient of the detail remains to demonstrate the symbols incorporated into the design – unusual because of their secular rather than religious nature.




Copyright: Paul Cockerham


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Page last updated 06 April 2008