Well of Moses, Detail of Jeremiah and ZechariahPuits de Moïse, Detail of Jeremiah and Zechariah
Cioffi, Paul L., 1928-2004
Sluter, Claus, ca. 1345-1405 or 6
The Chartreuse (Charterhouse) de Champmol, a Carthusian monastery in Dijon, France, was founded in 1383 by Philip the Bold (Philippe le Hardi), Duke of Burgundy, to be the burial place of his descendants, thereby securing the monks’ prayers for the souls of these dead. Philip engaged some of the finest artists of the day to decorate this monastery, among them the Netherlandish sculptor Claus Sluter. The Chartreuse de Champmol was sold during the French Revolution (1789-1799) and its buildings demolished; most of its superb art work was destroyed or dispersed. The monastery site is now part of a psychiatric hospital. One of the few surviving works created for the Chartreuse de Champmol still to be found at the site is the hexagonal, carved stone pedestal known as the Well of Moses, a fragment of a monumental creation Sluter executed between 1395 and ca. 1404. It was the wellhead of the cloister’s fountain, central to the monastery’s daily life. It supported a large crucifixion group (only fragments survived the Revolution) and had a font basin below it, fed by a spring. Sluter’s vision for this work combined the traditional graveyard cross (monks' graves would have been nearby) with the multivalent symbol of water, evoking both the water of life and the life-transforming water of Baptism made effectively redemptive by the death of Jesus Christ. Each niche of the pedestal’s six facets is occupied by the roughly life-sized figure of a prophet whose writings are part of the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament). They are Moses and David, Jeremiah and Zechariah (shown here), Daniel and Isaiah. Although the polychromed and gilded figures are rendered with uncompromising realism, they participate in a mystic drama. Each seer holds an unfurled scroll inscribed with his own prophecy foretelling the death of Christ. Strong evidence suggests that a Medieval mystery play, “The Judgment of Jesus”, inspired Sluter. In the play, the Virgin pleads for the life of her Son before the judges of the Law, i.e., the prophets. But each responds by pronouncing sentences from his own writings, the exact texts presented on the scrolls of the Dijon work. The precise group of six prophets portrayed at Dijon is also unique to “The Judgment of Jesus”. If, in fact, the play stirred Sluter's imagination, it would help explain the extravagant costumes in which he clothed his figures: apparel so detached from the spectators’ experience as to transport them to a realm of ancient mystery.August 1981
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