When I was traveling through France at the age of 21, I had stopped in Dijon hoping to see the tomb of John the Fearless, Duke of Burgundy (1404 - 1419). Alas, the museum was closed. Nowadays, there is an ap that will warn of such things. Fast forward to now, and I had another opportunity to see the funeral sculptures that I'd wanted to see many years ago, right in my back yard! While the Duke's tomb is being restored, the sculptures will travel to seven museums. The St. Louis Art Museum has hosted a joint exhibition, The Mourners: Tomb Sculptures from the Court of Burgundy and Bill Viola: Visitation. I thought assistant curator of modern and contemporary art Tricia Paik's choice of the Viola was a perfect pairing for spanning five centuries and finding commonalities in the most basic of human emotions.
40 alabaster sculptures that adorned the tomb of John the Fearless, Duke of Burgundy (1404 - 1419) are displayed in the order in which they encircled the duke's tomb. One might expect from the photographs, that the sculptures would be life size, but they are all less than 18 inches tall. The sculptures are realistically carved by Jean de La Huerta and Antoine Le Moiturier. To disguise class distinctions in clothing, mourners were issued anonymous cloaks with cowls.
Visitation, a 12 minute video, was created in 2008 as one of Viola's Transfiguration series. The piece shows two ghost-like women exhibiting intense emotions, while moving forward and back through a sheet of water, then fading into the dark. "Art is, for me, the process of trying to wake up the soul," says Viola. "Because we live in an industrialized, fast-paced world that prefers that the soul remain asleep."