The Not So Small Collection of Avignon’s Petit Palais: Avignon’s Workshops

Petit Palais Museum, Musée du Petit Palais, Avignon, France

A stone’s throw away from the Palace of the Popes is an impressive 14th century building which is home to an impressive collection of medieval statutes and paintings.  Like the other museums of Avignon, it had been raided by Christian Lacroix for his exhibition across the square, but nonetheless it was packed full of beautiful French and Italian works.

The Petit Palais Museum, Avignon, France

The museum opened in 1976 in a palace which was built by Cardinal Bérenger Fredoli the Elder in 1318-20 – the period of the Avignon Papacy.  In 1335 it passed into the hands of Pope Benedict XII, who used it as an episcopal palace.  It got its present appearance with the restoration works carried out in 1503 and it pottered along happily until the French Revolution, when the palace was sold off and became a secondary school.  It was reclaimed from students in 1961 and restored to its current state.

The objects on show at the museum are mainly from Avignon, although there are some items which come from the region around it.  The quality of sculptures is sometimes astonishing – and the impact is especially strong when they still have traces of original colour.

Relief showing the month of July, end of 12th century, Nimes, Petit Palais Museum, Avignon, France

Sign of Gemini, end of 12th century, from near Nîmes, Petit Palais Museum, Avignon, France

St Michael and a dragon, Church of St Martial, Avignon, Petit Palais Museum, Avignon, France

Detail of St Michael and a dragon, Church of St Martial, Avignon, Petit Palais Museum, Avignon, France

Head of a man, Church of St Martial, Avignon, Petit Palais Museum, Avignon, France

Angel agenouillé, c14th century, Petit Palais Museum, Avignon, France

Head of Christ, c1412, tomb of cardinal Nicolas de Brancas, from the church of the convent of the Freres Precheurs, Avignon, Petit Palais Museum, Avignon, France

Head and torso of Pope Urban V, c1370, the church of the College Benedictine of St Martial, Avignon, Petit Palais Museum, Avignon, France

Head of Pope Clement VII, 1401, attributed to Pierre Morel, church of the convent of the Celestins, Avignon, Petit Palais Museum, Avignon, France

Apostle with a book, c1401, tomb of Cardinal Guillaume II d’Aigrefeuille, church of St Martial, Avignon, Petit Palais Museum, Avignon, France

Cardinal Elie de Nabinals, otherwise called Pierre de Luxembourg, the church of the convent of des Cordeliers, Avignon, Petit Palais Museum, Avignon, France

Coronation of the Virgin, beginning of the 15th century, church of the convent of the Celestins, Avignon, Petit Palais Museum, Avignon, France

Story of Jacob and Esau – or Moses and the Pharaoh and the Red Sea – not sure which tag applies, c14th century, cloister of the convent of the Freres Precheurs, Avignon, Petit Palais Museum, Avignon, France

St Paul, end of 14th century, attributed to Barthélémy Cavallier, tomb of cardinal Philippe de Cabassole, Petit Palais Museum, Avignon, France

Detail of Apostle with a book, end of 14th century, attributed to Barthélémy Cavallier, tomb of cardinal Philippe de Cabassole, Petit Palais Museum, Avignon, France

A capital showing the Adoration, third quarter of the 12th century, cloisters of the Cathedral Notre-Dame-des-Doms, Avignon, Petit Palais Museum, Avignon, France

A capital showing the story of Job, last quarter of the 12th century, cloisters of the Cathedral Notre-Dame-des-Doms, Avignon, Petit Palais Museum, Avignon, France

There is a room dedicated to the remains of what had been a grandiose tomb for Jean de la Grange (c1325-1402, a politician and prelate who was a mover and shaker during a crucial period of Avignon’s history at the time of the Western Schism.  He had experience of politics and ecclesiastical affairs during his time serving in the councils of French kings, and he became a counsellor of Gregory XI, the French-born pope who relocated the papacy from its almost 70 year sojourn in Avignon to Rome in 1376.  Gregory died a year later and la Grange was too late to take part in the conclave that elected the new pope, and anyway, in Rome a mob was desperate for a Roman to be elected and they surrounded the Vatican demanding that this happen.  In the end Urban VI, an Italian, was chosen.  This annoyed la Grange and he was active in agitating the already cross French cardinals into having their own conclave in Fondi, where they elected their own pope: Cardinal Robert of Geneva.

He was the first antipope: Clement VII.

La Grange was involved in convincing the French king, Charles V, to support Clement VII and thanks to the support of this widely respected monarch, other supporters soon followed.  Frankly, Clement sounds like a brutal, vain, selfish pig, who dreamed of marching victoriously into Rome with his posse of equally self-serving supporters.  Anyway, that dream never came true, but la Grange represented the Clementines in the court of Charles V, and presumably had a good time of it.

La Grange was not close to the next king, Charles VI, and he hurriedly left Paris and went to Avignon, to live off Clement till his death.  He then supported the king over the new antipope, Benedict XIII – in fact, he felt that the antipope should abdicate.   All in all, he was actively involved in the muddled and exceedingly complicated politics of the period.

So he was a fascinating guy.  All the more so when you find out that he wanted his bones to be kept in a casket in Amiens Cathedral – where he’d served as Bishop in the 1370s and already had a tomb prepared – and his flesh to be kept at St Martial in Avignon.   Yes, flesh.  He got special permission from the Pope to do this.

And to celebrate this fact, his tomb had an extraordinary monument which depicted la Grange as a withered corpse.  This is one of the earliest examples of the transi, the representation of the effects of death, that was to become quite fashionable in the Middle Ages.  And between the cadaver and a row of skulls is the inscription, “Poor man, why are you so proud, for you are, made of ashes and will be reverted into a foul cadaver, food of vermin, just as we are.”

It’s a good thing most people couldn’t read Latin.

Room with bits from the tomb of Cardinal Jean de la Grange, c1402, church of the College Benedictine de St Martial, Avignon, Petit Palais Museum, Avignon, France

Detail of what the bottom half of the tomb of Cardinal Jean de la Grange looked like in the 18th century, Petit Palais Museum, Avignon, France

From the tomb of Cardinal Jean de la Grange, c1402, church of the College Benedictine de St Martial, Avignon, Petit Palais Museum, Avignon, France

Charles VI presented to St James, from the tomb of Cardinal Jean de la Grange, c1402, church of the College Benedictine de St Martial, Avignon, Petit Palais Museum, Avignon, France

Louis d’Orléans, from the tomb of Cardinal Jean de la Grange, c1402, church of the College Benedictine de St Martial, Avignon, Petit Palais Museum, Avignon, France

Bust of a saint from the tomb of Cardinal Jean de la Grange, c1402, church of the College Benedictine de St Martial, Avignon, Petit Palais Museum, Avignon, France

Although my pictures are really not very good, there were some amazing 14th century frescoes on show in this room.  They reminded me in spirit of Roman frescoes, with their light touch and ethereal mood, and they had great charm and interesting details.  Seeing a running dog with flapping ears was amusing for a start…

Animals in a forest, second half of the 14th century, Avignon workshop, from the house at Sorgues, Petit Palais Museum, Avignon, France

Scene of a chase, second half of the 14th century, Avignon workshop, from the house at Sorgues, Petit Palais Museum, Avignon, France

Scene of a chase, second half of the 14th century, Avignon workshop, from the house at Sorgues, Petit Palais Museum, Avignon, France

Scene of a chase, second half of the 14th century, Avignon workshop, from the house at Sorgues, Petit Palais Museum, Avignon, France

Valets and dogs, second half of the 14th century, Avignon workshop, from the house at Sorgues, Petit Palais Museum, Avignon, France

Valets and dogs, second half of the 14th century, Avignon workshop, from the house at Sorgues, Petit Palais Museum, Avignon, France

People by a castle, second half of the 14th century, Avignon workshop, from the house at Sorgues, Petit Palais Museum, Avignon, France

Detail of a musician from the Courtly scene, second half of the 14th century, Avignon workshop, from the house at Sorgues, Petit Palais Museum, Avignon, France

Detail of a woman from the Courtly scene, second half of the 14th century, Avignon workshop, from the house at Sorgues, Petit Palais Museum, Avignon, France

A man and woman from the Courtly Scene, second half of the 14th century, Avignon workshop, from the house at Sorgues, Petit Palais Museum, Avignon, France

Courtly scene showing lovers, second half of the 14th century, Avignon workshop, from the house at Sorgues, Petit Palais Museum, Avignon, France

Bird from the Courtly Scene, second half of the 14th century, Avignon workshop, from the house at Sorgues, Petit Palais Museum, Avignon, France

Young man from the Courtly Scene, second half of the 14th century, Avignon workshop, from the house at Sorgues, Petit Palais Museum, Avignon, France

Valets and dogs, second half of the 14th century, Avignon workshop, from the house at Sorgues, Petit Palais Museum, Avignon, France

For Part Two, which looks at the Italian paintings of the collection, please click here.

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