Tomb effigy

Last updated
Gisants of Jeanne d'Evreux and Charles IV le Bel (1372) at Maubuisson Abbey, near Paris. GD-FR-Paris-Louvre-Sculptures018.JPG
Gisants of Jeanne d'Évreux and Charles IV le Bel (1372) at Maubuisson Abbey, near Paris.
Effigy of Anne Seymour, Duchess of Somerset in Westminster Abbey, London, England Westminster Abbey tomb.jpg
Effigy of Anne Seymour, Duchess of Somerset in Westminster Abbey, London, England
A baroque elaboration: Tomb of Cardinal Richelieu in the Chapelle de la Sorbonne, by Francois Girardon (ca. 1675-94), Paris. The Cardinal is dying in the arms of Piety. Cardinal richelieu tomb statue sorbonne.jpg
A baroque elaboration: Tomb of Cardinal Richelieu in the Chapelle de la Sorbonne, by François Girardon (ca. 1675-94), Paris. The Cardinal is dying in the arms of Piety.
Tomb of Lion Gardiner, East Hampton, New York -- built in 1886 and designed by James Renwick, Jr. -- comprises a 19th-century adaptation. The tomb of Lion Gardiner in East Hampton, New York.jpg
Tomb of Lion Gardiner, East Hampton, New York — built in 1886 and designed by James Renwick, Jr. — comprises a 19th-century adaptation.
A 20th century recumbent effigy at the Sun Yat-sen Mausoleum, China Sunzhongshan.jpg
A 20th century recumbent effigy at the Sun Yat-sen Mausoleum, China

A tomb effigy, usually a recumbent effigy or in French gisant (French, "recumbent") is a sculpted figure on a tomb monument depicting in effigy the deceased. [1] These compositions were developed in Western Europe in the Middle Ages, and continued in use through the Renaissance and early modern period; they are still sometimes used. They typically represent the deceased in a state of "eternal repose", lying with hands folded in prayer and awaiting resurrection. A husband and wife may be depicted lying side by side. An important official or leader may be shown holding his attributes of office or dressed in the formal attire of his official status or social class.

French language Romance language

French is a Romance language of the Indo-European family. It descended from the Vulgar Latin of the Roman Empire, as did all Romance languages. French evolved from Gallo-Romance, the spoken Latin in Gaul, and more specifically in Northern Gaul. Its closest relatives are the other langues d'oïl—languages historically spoken in northern France and in southern Belgium, which French (Francien) has largely supplanted. French was also influenced by native Celtic languages of Northern Roman Gaul like Gallia Belgica and by the (Germanic) Frankish language of the post-Roman Frankish invaders. Today, owing to France's past overseas expansion, there are numerous French-based creole languages, most notably Haitian Creole. A French-speaking person or nation may be referred to as Francophone in both English and French.

Effigy Representation of a person through art

An effigy is a representation of a specific person in the form of sculpture or some other three-dimensional medium. The use of the term is normally restricted to certain contexts in a somewhat arbitrary way: recumbent effigies on tombs are so called, but standing statues of individuals, or busts, are usually not. Likenesses of religious figures in sculpture are not normally called effigies. Effigies are common elements of funerary art, especially as a recumbent effigy in stone or metal placed on a tomb, or a less permanent "funeral effigy", placed on the coffin in a grand funeral, wearing real clothing.

Middle Ages Period of European history from the 5th to the 15th century

In the history of Europe, the Middle Ages lasted from the 5th to the 15th century. It began with the fall of the Western Roman Empire and transitioned into the Renaissance and the Age of Discovery. The Middle Ages is the middle period of the three traditional divisions of Western history: classical antiquity, the medieval period, and the modern period. The medieval period is itself subdivided into the Early, High, and Late Middle Ages.


The life-size recumbent effigy was first found in the tombs of royalty and senior clerics, and then spread to the nobility. A particular type of late medieval effigy was the transi, or cadaver monument, in which the effigy is in the macabre form of a decomposing corpse, or such a figure lies on a lower level, beneath a more conventional effigy. In the same period small figures of mourners called weepers or pleurants were added below the effigy to important tombs. In the Early Modern period European effigies are often shown as alive, and either kneeling or in a more active pose, especially for military figures. During the Renaissance, other non-recumbent types of effigy became more popular. Variations showed the deceased lying on their side as if reading, kneeling in prayer and even standing. The recumbent effigy had something of a vogue during the Gothic revival period of the 19th century, especially for bishops and other clerics. Many graves at Monument Cemetery in Milan have recumbent figures.

Cadaver monument Effigy tombs or slabs depicting decomposition

A cadaver monument or transi is a type of church monument to deceased persons featuring a sculpted effigy of a skeleton or an emaciated, even decomposing, dead body. It was particularly characteristic of the later Middle Ages and was designed to remind the passer-by of the transience and vanity of mortal life and the eternity and desirability of the Christian after-life. The person so represented is not necessarily entombed or buried exactly under his monument, nor even in the same church.

Renaissance European cultural period, 14th to 17th century

The Renaissance is a period in European history, covering the span between the 14th and 17th centuries and marking the transition from the Middle Ages to modernity. The traditional view focuses more on the early modern aspects of the Renaissance and argues that it was a break from the past, but many historians today focus more on its medieval aspects and argue that it was an extension of the Middle Ages.

Gothic Revival architecture Architectural movement

Gothic Revival is an architectural movement popular in the Western world that began in the late 1740s in England. Its momentum grew in the early 19th century, when increasingly serious and learned admirers of neo-Gothic styles sought to revive medieval Gothic architecture, in contrast to the neoclassical styles prevalent at the time. Gothic Revival draws features from the original Gothic style, including decorative patterns, finials, lancet windows, hood moulds and label stops.

Some of the best-known examples of the form are in Westminster Abbey in London, Saint Peter's in Rome, Santi Giovanni e Paolo, Venice (twenty-five Doges), and the Basilica of Santa Croce, Florence.

Westminster Abbey Church in London

Westminster Abbey, formally titled the Collegiate Church of Saint Peter at Westminster, is a large, mainly Gothic abbey church in the City of Westminster, London, England, just to the west of the Palace of Westminster. It is one of the United Kingdom's most notable religious buildings and the traditional place of coronation and burial site for English and, later, British monarchs. The building itself was a Benedictine monastic church until the monastery was dissolved in 1539. Between 1540 and 1556, the abbey had the status of a cathedral. Since 1560, the building is no longer an abbey or a cathedral, having instead the status of a Church of England "Royal Peculiar"—a church responsible directly to the sovereign.

London Capital of the United Kingdom

London is the capital of and largest city in England and the United Kingdom, with the largest municipal population in the European Union. Standing on the River Thames in the south-east of England, at the head of its 50-mile (80 km) estuary leading to the North Sea, London has been a major settlement for two millennia. Londinium was founded by the Romans. The City of London, London's ancient core − an area of just 1.12 square miles (2.9 km2) and colloquially known as the Square Mile − retains boundaries that follow closely its medieval limits. The City of Westminster is also an Inner London borough holding city status. Greater London is governed by the Mayor of London and the London Assembly.

Santi Giovanni e Paolo, Venice church in Venice, Italy

The Basilica di San Giovanni e Paolo, known in Venetian as San Zanipolo, is a church in the Castello sestiere of Venice, Italy.

A celebrated poem describing and reflecting on a pair of stone effigies is An Arundel Tomb by Philip Larkin.

An Arundel Tomb poem

"An Arundel Tomb" is a poem by Philip Larkin, written and first published in 1956, and subsequently included in his 1964 collection, The Whitsun Weddings. It describes the poet's emotional response to seeing a pair of recumbent medieval tomb effigies, with their hands joined, in Chichester Cathedral. It has been described by James Booth as "one of [Larkin's] greatest poems". It comprises 7 verses of 6 lines each, each with rhyme scheme ABBCAC.

Philip Larkin English poet, novelist, jazz critic and librarian

Philip Arthur Larkin was an English poet, novelist, and librarian. His first book of poetry, The North Ship, was published in 1945, followed by two novels, Jill (1946) and A Girl in Winter (1947), and he came to prominence in 1955 with the publication of his second collection of poems, The Less Deceived, followed by The Whitsun Weddings (1964) and High Windows (1974). He contributed to The Daily Telegraph as its jazz critic from 1961 to 1971, articles gathered in All What Jazz: A Record Diary 1961–71 (1985), and he edited The Oxford Book of Twentieth Century English Verse (1973). His many honours include the Queen's Gold Medal for Poetry. He was offered, but declined, the position of Poet Laureate in 1984, following the death of Sir John Betjeman.


Ancient precursors

Recumbent effigies were a common tradition in Etruscan funerary art, examples are known in both ceramic and stone. The deceased was typically depicted alive as at a feast, lying sideways, propped up on one arm and sometimes holding a cup. Usually these were rather smaller than life-size. The Romans continued this tradition, though they also created many other types of funerary effigy. Their faces are often clearly portraits of individuals.

Etruscan art

Etruscan art was produced by the Etruscan civilization in central Italy between the 9th and 2nd centuries BC. From around 600 BC it was heavily influenced by Greek art, which was imported by the Etruscans, but always retained distinct characteristics. Particularly strong in this tradition were figurative sculpture in terracotta, wall-painting and metalworking especially in bronze. Jewellery and engraved gems of high quality were produced.

Funerary art Art associated with a repository for the remains of the dead

Funerary art is any work of art forming, or placed in, a repository for the remains of the dead. The term encompasses a wide variety of forms, including cenotaphs, tomb-like monuments which do not contain human remains, and communal memorials to the dead, such as war memorials, which may or may not contain remains, and a range of prehistoric megalithic constructs. Funerary art may serve many cultural functions. It can play a role in burial rites, serve as an article for use by the dead in the afterlife, and celebrate the life and accomplishments of the dead, whether as part of kinship-centred practices of ancestor veneration or as a publicly directed dynastic display. It can also function as a reminder of the mortality of humankind, as an expression of cultural values and roles, and help to propitiate the spirits of the dead, maintaining their benevolence and preventing their unwelcome intrusion into the lives of the living.

Ceramic inorganic, nonmetallic solid prepared by the action of heat

A ceramic is a solid material comprising an inorganic compound of metal, non-metal or metalloid atoms primarily held in ionic and covalent bonds. Common examples are earthenware, porcelain, and brick.


The first medieval gisants emerged in the 12th century. They were executed in low relief, and were horizontal, but appeared as in life. The faces were generalized rather than portraits. Gradually these became full high-relief effigies, usually recumbent, as in death, and, by the 14th century, with hands together in prayer. In general, such monumental effigies were carved in stone, marble or wood, or cast in bronze or brass. Often the stone effigies were painted to simulate life, but in the majority of the medieval monuments, this has long since disappeared. The cross-legged attitude of many English armoured figures of the late 13th or early 14th centuries was long supposed to imply that the deceased had served in the Crusades, had taken crusading vows, or more specifically had been a Knight Templar; but these theories are now rejected by scholars. [2]

Crusades A series of religious wars sanctioned by the Latin Church in the medieval period

The crusades were a series of religious wars sanctioned by the Latin Church in the medieval period. The most commonly known crusades are the campaigns in the eastern Mediterranean aimed at recovering the Holy Land from Muslim rule. The term crusade is also applied to other church-sanctioned campaigns. These were fought for a variety of reasons including the suppression of paganism and heresy, the resolution of conflict among rival Roman Catholic groups, or for political and territorial advantage. At the time of the early crusades, the word did not exist and it only became the leading descriptive term in English around the year 1760.

Knights Templar Western Christian military order; medieval Catholic military order

The Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and of the Temple of Solomon, also known as the Order of Solomon's Temple, the Knights Templar or simply the Templars, were a Catholic military order recognised in 1139 by the papal bull Omne datum optimum. The order was founded in 1119 and was active until 1312 when it was perpetually suppressed by Pope Clement V by the bull Vox in excelso.

By the early 13th century, effigies began to be raised on tomb-style chests (known as tomb chests or altar tombs) decorated with foliage, heraldry or architectural detailing. Soon such chests also stood alone with varying degrees of decoration. By the end of the century, these often had architectural canopies and figured "weepers" or "mourners" — representing friends or relatives and identified by their coats of arms — were popular decorative features.

In Britain the "large-scale production of military effigies" began in the middle of the 13th century, as the result of the "emergence of a new patron class" of knights, who were fewer in number but wealthier than before. [3]

Another late medieval fashion was to show the person in an advanced state of decomposition, perhaps as a secondary effigy. This type of tomb is known as a transi.


In Spain the iconography of Christ lying ('Cristo yacente'), as though an effigy, was very popular until the late 18th century. One of the famous sculptors known for this iconography was Gregorio Fernández, see Cristo Yacente of El Pardo.

A late example of a stone effigy is that of T. E. Lawrence ("Lawrence of Arabia") by Eric Kennington, in St Martin's Church, Wareham, Dorset, installed in 1939. [4]

Another example is the effigy of Aubrey Herbert (d. 1923) in the Church of St Nicholas, Brushford in Somerset.

Related Research Articles

Sarcophagus Box-like funeral receptacle

A sarcophagus is a box-like funeral receptacle for a corpse, most commonly carved in stone, and usually displayed above ground, though it may also be buried. The word "sarcophagus" comes from the Greek σάρξ sarx meaning "flesh", and φαγεῖν phagein meaning "to eat"; hence sarcophagus means "flesh-eating", from the phrase lithos sarkophagos, "flesh-eating stone". The word also came to refer to a particular kind of limestone that was thought to rapidly facilitate the decomposition of the flesh of corpses contained within it due to the chemical properties of the limestone itself.

Germain Pilon French artist

Germain Pilon was a French Renaissance sculptor.

English church monuments

A church monument is an architectural or sculptural memorial to a deceased person or persons, located within a Christian church. It can take various forms ranging from a simple commemorative plaque or mural tablet affixed to a wall, to a large and elaborate structure, on the ground or as a mural monument, which may include an effigy of the deceased person and other figures of familial, heraldic or symbolic nature. It is usually placed immediately above or close to the actual burial vault or grave, although very occasionally the tomb is constructed within it. Sometimes the monument is a cenotaph, commemorating a person buried at another location.

Scaliger Tombs

The Scaliger Tombs is a group of five Gothic funerary monuments in Verona, Italy, celebrating the Scaliger family, who ruled in Verona from the 13th to the late 14th century.

St James Church, Gawsworth Church in Cheshire, England

St James' Church is in the village of Gawsworth, Cheshire, England, and is sited near Gawsworth Hall. It is recorded in the National Heritage List for England as a designated Grade I listed building. It is an active Anglican parish church in the diocese of Chester, the archdeaconry of Macclesfield and the deanery of Macclesfield. Clifton-Taylor includes it in his list of 'best' English parish churches. The authors of the Buildings of England series describe the church as being "pretty, but odd".

Church of St Mary the Virgin, Bowdon Church in Greater Manchester, England

The Church of St Mary the Virgin is in the village of Bowdon near Altrincham, Greater Manchester, England. It is recorded in the National Heritage List for England as a designated Grade II* listed building. It is an active Anglican parish church in the diocese of Chester, the archdeaconry of Macclesfield and the deanery of Bowdon.

Juste family

Juste or Giusti is the name conventionally applied to a family of Italian sculptors.

Royal Monastery of Brou monastery in Bourg-en-Bresse, France

The Royal Monastery of Brou is a religious complex located at Bourg-en-Bresse in the Ain département, central France. Made out of monastic buildings in addition to a church, they were built at the beginning of the 16th century by Margaret of Austria, daughter of the Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I and Governor of the Habsburg Netherlands. The complex was designed as a dynastic burial place in the tradition of the Burgundian Champmol and Cîteaux Abbey, and the French Saint-Denis. The church is known as the Église Saint-Nicolas-de-Tolentin de Brou in French.

Tomb of Francis II, Duke of Brittany

The tomb of Francis II, Duke of Brittany is a monument located in Nantes, in the Cathedral of St. Peter. The project was commissioned by Anne of Brittany, Queen of France, who was the daughter of Francis and his second wife Margaret of Foix, who is also depicted beside Francis. The tomb was originally located in the chapel of the Carmelites in Nantes. Francis II had wished that his body rest there, to join the remains of his first wife Margaret of Brittany. The tomb eventually received the body of Francis and both his wives, though only his second wife is depicted.

St Lawrences Church, Snarford Church in Lincolnshire, England

St Lawrence's Church is a redundant Anglican church in the parish of Snarford, Lincolnshire, England. It is recorded in the National Heritage List for England as a designated Grade I listed building, and is under the care of the Churches Conservation Trust. The church stands to the north of the A46 road between Market Rasen and Lincoln. It is a medieval building containing impressive 16th- and 17th-century monuments.

St Nicholas Church, Freefolk Church in Hampshire, England

St Nicholas' Church is a redundant Anglican church in the village of Freefolk, Hampshire, England. It is recorded in the National Heritage List for England as a designated Grade I listed building, and is under the care of the Churches Conservation Trust. The church stands to the south of the B3400 road and the River Test, some 2 miles (3.2 km) east of Whitchurch.

St Michaels, Chenies

St Michael's Church at Chenies, Buckinghamshire, is a Grade I listed Anglican parish church in the Diocese of Oxford in England. It is not of great architectural interest but stands in an attractive position in the Chess Valley near the Chenies Manor House. The church is famous for its Bedford Chapel, the mausoleum of the Russell family which is private and not open to the public.

Pleurants anonymous weeping figure as part of a funerary monument

Pleurants or weepers are anonymous sculpted figures representing mourners, used to decorate elaborate tomb monuments, mostly in the late Middle Ages in Western Europe. Typically they are relatively small, and a group were placed around the sides of a raised tomb monument, perhaps interspersed with armorial decoration, or carrying shields with this. They may be in relief or free-standing. In English usage the term "weepers" is sometimes extended to cover the small figures of the deceased's children often seen kneeling underneath the tomb effigy in Tudor tomb monuments.

Tomb of Philippe Pot sculpted tomb dedicated to Philippe Pot

The Tomb of Philippe Pot is a 15th-century funerary monument commissioned by Philippe Pot, royal steward of Burgundy under Louis XI, between c. 1477 and 1480 for his burial at the chapel of Saint-Jean-Baptiste in Cîteaux Abbey, south of Dijon, France. No definitive attributions have been made as to the artists and craftsmen who created the work, but Antoine Le Moiturier is often suggested to have produced the eight near life-sized mourners.

Tomb of Louis XII and Anne of Brittany

The Tomb of Louis XII and Anne of Brittany is a large and complex silver-gilt and marble sculptured funerary monument. Its design and build are usually attributed to the Juste brothers although the work of several other hands can be distinguished. Design for and installed at the Saint-Denis Basilica, France, it was commissioned in 1515 in memory of Louis XII and his queen Anne of Brittany, probably by Louis' successor Francis I, and after years of design and intensive building was unveiled in 1531.

St. Marys Church, Goudhurst church in Goudhurst, Kent, England

The Church of St. Mary the Virgin is the 13th-century Anglican parish church for the village of Goudhurst in Kent. The church has been a Grade I listed building since 1967 and comes under the Diocese of Canterbury.


  1. Lucie-Smith, Edward (1984), The Thames and Hudson Dictionary of Art Terms, Thames and Hudson, pg 89.
  2. Harris, O. D. (2010). "Antiquarian attitudes: crossed legs, crusaders and the evolution of an idea". Antiquaries Journal. 90: 401–40. doi:10.1017/s0003581510000053.
  3. Stone, 114
  4. Knowles, Richard (1991). "Tale of an 'Arabian knight': the T. E. Lawrence effigy". Church Monuments. 6: 67–76.