Saint-Denis: Royal Tombs: Mausoleum of Henry II and Catherine de’ Medici



Of the vast collection of sculptures planned for this work and entrusted by Primaticcio to Germain Pilon in 1560, the only pieces that have survived are this tomb (imperfectly reconstructed by Viollet-le-Duc). The tomb itself, completed in 1573, took the form of a temple guarded by four large figures representing the Cardinal Virtues, elegant works in bronze, executed in 1565 by Pilon and Jacquiot Ponce. Inside the temple lie the effigies, represented naked; while adhering to the tradition established in earlier tombs, Pilon nevertheless created an image of death that is at once poignant and serene. Above these figures, however, are two impressive bronze figures of the couple kneeling at prayer, which were commissioned in October 1567 from designs by Primaticcio and are extremely detailed and lifelike portraits.

The change during the Renaissance in attitudes towards the affirmation of the individual is reflected in the later royal tombs at Saint-Denis. As with the medieval tombs, some were commissioned for the abbey, while others were brought in at a later date from their original places in various Paris churches, having been dismantled during the Revolution and re-erected under the Restoration after the closure of Alexandre Lenoir’s Musée des Monuments Français. All these monuments were later installed in new sites, most recently in the chancel of the church, where they constitute both a museum of the Kings of France and an important display of French funerary sculpture. The tomb of the Dukes of Orléans, formerly in the Celestine church, Paris (destroyed 1795), was commissioned by Louis XII in 1502 and was the first to reveal signs of a taste for the Italian style. The tomb of Louis XII and Anne of Brittany commissioned by Francis I in 1516, was completed only in 1531. The tomb of Francis I and Claude of France, commissioned by Henry II from Philibert de L'Orme in 1548, reveals a similar spirit but is still more grandiose in design and execution; it gives the impression of being an independent building, a triumphal arch constructed entirely in white marble. In 1817, as a part of his attempts to wipe out all traces of the Revolution, Louis XVIII commissioned Edme Gaulle (1762-1841) and Pierre Petitot (1760-1840) to execute figures of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette respectively; the statues depict the monarchs in their coronation robes and were based on the type of praying figures produced in the Renaissance.


Attribute NameValues
  • G. Massiot & cie

  • Basilicas

  • Statues

  • Tombs

  • Architecture

  • Churches

  • Sculpture, French

Date Created
  • 1910-01-01

Date Digitized
  • 2007-01-01

Cultural Context
  • Nineteenth century

  • Baroque

  • Medieval

  • Renaissance

Place of Creation
  • Saint-Denis

  • Saint-Denis, Île-de-France, France

Departments and Units
Member of
Temporal Coverage
  • before or circa 1910

Record Visibility Public
Content License


Collections Featuring this Image
Architectural Lantern Slides of France


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