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The Spirit of Faith and Laicism
in Funerary Art

Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira

The Funerary tomb for Philippe Pot of Burgundy

In the picture above we see the funerary tomb of Philippe Pot, Grand Seneschal of Burgundy (1428-1493). Armed from head to foot and with his hands folded in prayer, the warrior seems to be just resting, awaiting the light of resurrection. At his feet is a dog, symbol of fidelity and vigilance. Immersed in grief, eight mourners - les pleurants - four on each side, display the various coats of arms of the dead man as they carry him with veneration.

In this impressive moment, the man manifests various states of soul: heroism, piety, serenity, resignation and sorrow. The ensemble is marked by faith. The warrior seems to be prepared to present himself before God with abundant military virtues, but begging forgiveness for his sins with humility and trust. One has the impression that he died peacefully and even with a noble joy. Heaven awaits him.

In contrast, those who remain mourn his departure. The separations caused by death are a painful test through which all must pass after original sin. The figures are bent, but not with despair. Despite their profound grief, they bear their heavy burden on their shoulders with resignation and composure. Thus does Christian resignation impart unflagging strength to soul. In the photo, we see no cross, no religious image; nonetheless, everything speaks of Religion.

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In the second picture there is also no cross or religious image… yet nothing awakens a religious impression in our soul.

Napoleon's tomb

The sepulchre is a marble box in which the remains of Napoleon lie. A heavy box, a solid, tightly closed box, so tightly shut that it has a definitive characteristic. One has the impression that Napoleon will repose here in perpetuum, forever.

There is nothing that elevates our thoughts toward the idea of an afterlife that lies ahead for mortal man. Well-made, highly polished and geometrically proportional, the sepulchre has the faultless finish of a good ending. There is something in it that suggests a final period in a paragraph. The final period of the 19th century Caesar who was Napoleon. A final period in which nothing speaks to us of eternity and everything presents the implacable coldness of death.

In the background we discern some figures whose countenances could be those either of angels or pagan ‘geniuses’ who seem terrified and dismayed by the permanence of death. Their presence lends nothing of a Christian content to the ambience.

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An era of faith and an era of laicism. The contrast of the times is depicted well in the contrast of the sepulchres.

Posted March 18, 2013

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