Except where noted, these are all my photos and available to all, especially to educators.
1st century Roman arch still to be seen in Autun.
What were once acanthus wreathed Corinthian capitals on the Roman arch are now storiated capitals carved by Gislebertus and his shop.
The early Middle Ages saw the spirit world as very much like the one that they lived in, a battleground between God and the Devil with Christ imagined as a liege lord with absolute power over his subjects, and expecting their unquestioning loyalty. Like the feudal world people of the time lived in, the world of the spirit was one of mutual loyalties and protection by a liege lord from the roving destructive armies just over the next hill.
So much of the content of medieval hell scenes like this is preChristian. Gislebertus' devils, and the devils that haunted the imaginations of his audience, were the descendants of all those monsters people once assumed to lurk in the wild forests at night; goblins, ogres, werewolves, trolls, etc. Few places are more terrifying than a forest at night when your light goes out. The Burgundian hills around Autun are still covered in dense forest. No other artist of the Middle Ages brought those unknown-noise-in-the-nightime-forest to terrifying life more than Gislebertus.
This magnificent painting was made to hang in a the Chapel of Saint Sebastien in the Church of Notre-Dame-du-Chatel at Autun where Nicholas Rolin was baptized and where his ancestors were buried. Notre-Dame-du-Chatel was torn down in 1793, and this painting entered the Louvre that same year. Nicholas Rolin's brother was the Bishop of Autun.
Jan Van Eyck, like all great artists, was also a great art historian who knew the past and used it to speak to the present. The storiated capital above the head of Nicholas Rolin was clearly inspired by Gislebertus' work at Autun and shows scenes of human failure: Adam and Eve driven from Paradise, the story of Cain and Abel, and the Drunkenness of Noah.
There is another major 15th century Flemish painter who was inspired by Gislebertus' work, and who also worked for Nicholas Rolin. More about him in a later post.
On this same trip, we made it to Cluny in the evening, site of the largest, wealthiest, and most powerful monastery in medieval France. It was closed during the French Revolution, and most of it was demolished in the early 19th century.