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For a long time, the significance of ten small bronze statues of noblemen and noblewomen in the Rijksmuseum’s collection was unclear. It was not until the middle of the last century that they were identified as having come from the tomb of Isabella of Bourbon, which was erected in Antwerp in 1476. They were stolen during the Iconoclasm of 1566 and arrived in Amsterdam by an unknown route in the seventeenth century.
Isabella of Bourbon was the wife of Charles the Bold, Duke of Burgundy. The Burgundian court had a tradition of erecting elaborate tombs to project the power of the dynasty and the status of the deceased. Mourning figures known as weepers were placed around these tombs. At first they were expressions of grief; later they became portraits of members of the deceased’s family and ancestors – a sort of family tree designed to underline his or her noble descent. This emblematic aspect of medieval funerary art is examined in depth here, with the focus on the ten figurines that are among the scarce survivals of Burgundian court art and culture.
In this edition in the Rijksmuseum Series, author Frits Scholten tells the history of behind ten statues that once belonged to the tomb of Isabella de Bourbon.