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Tomb Effigy of a Recumbent Knight from the Abbey of Sainte-Marie, La Genevraye, Lower Normandy

Artist/maker unknown, French

Made in Normandy, France, Europe



13 9/16 inches × 70 5/16 inches × 23 inches (34.4 × 178.6 × 58.4 cm)

Curatorial Department:
European Decorative Arts and Sculpture

* Gallery 215, European Art 1100-1500, second floor

Accession Number:

Credit Line:
Purchased with Museum funds from the George Grey Barnard Collection, 1945

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This tomb effigy may represent a member of the noble du Merle family. A seventeenth-century description of the sculpture identified the knight as François du Merle, who founded the abbey of Sainte-Marie in La Genevraye, France, around 1160. The birds carved on the shield are heraldic figures known as martlets (or merle in French), perhaps a punning reference to the family name. However, the coat of arms used by the du Merle family in later centuries does not include birds and so the connection remains tentative. The description mentioned above also states that the sculpture was placed on a two-foot-high base decorated with coats of arms that likely signaled the distinguished ancestry of the deceased.

Additional information:
  • PublicationPhiladelphia Museum of Art Handbook (2014 Edition)

    According to a seventeenth-century account, this tomb originally was located in the abbey of Sainte- Marie in La Genevraye, Normandy. The same source claimed that the figure of the knight represents Francois du Merle, a nobleman who founded the monastery around 1160. While the stylized birds (called merlettes in French) on the shield are not found in the arms of subsequent generations of the Du Merle family, rhyming (or “canting”) emblems often were used in this period, before the rules of heraldry were fully established. Among the earliest known examples of its type and of exceptional quality, this knight has been compared to sculptures at Chartres Cathedral. Jack Hinton, from Philadelphia Museum of Art: Handbook. Philadelphia: Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2014, p. 87.

* Works in the collection are moved off view for many different reasons. Although gallery locations on the website are updated regularly, there is no guarantee that this object will be on display on the day of your visit.