Feminae: Medieval Women and Gender Index

  • Title: Count Hugh I of Vaudemont embraces Aigeline of Burgundy
  • Creator:
  • Description:

    This sculpture was originally located in the priory of Belval in Lorraine, a priory constructed and patronized by the Vaudemont family. Therefore, scholars have generally concluded that this standing couple is a representation of one of the Vaudemont counts and his wife; the most-current and strongest argument is that it depicts Hugh I and Aigeline of Burgundy. Hugh was a crusader who accompanied King Louis VII of France during the Second Crusade, however in this sculpture, he is dressed as a pilgrim. When not wearing armor, crusaders were encouraged to wear pilgrim garb, thereby explaining Hugh’s costume. This sculpture captures the moment of his return from campaigning and reunion with Aigeline. An alternative argument was offered by Norbert Müller-Dietrich suggesting that both figures were pilgrims, likely to Belval, a prominent pilgrimage sanctuary in the twelfth century.

    Hugh wears a pilgrim’s cap, a cross reflecting his journey to the Holy Land, and a pilgrim’s purse, which hangs beneath his surcoat. His shoes are worn out, and rags are bound around his legs. He holds a pilgrim’s staff in one hand, and uses the other to embrace his wife, thus displaying his loyalty to her. Aigeline is shown in a three-quarter pose with her right shoulder set beneath her husband’s shoulder. Such body positioning indicates her submission to his protection and authority. Aigeline’s right arm embraces his neck while her left palm rests on his chest underneath the cross, as if to indicate the location of his heart. This gesture reflects her acknowledgement of his charity and humility. She wears a long tunic and surcoat, and her head is wrapped in a kerchief, all of which symbolize her modesty. The depictions of Hugh as a solemn crusader and nobleman and of Aigeline as a personification of fidelity and humility imply that this sculpture depicts the count and countess of Vaudemont not only as benefactors, but also as models of ideal Christian virtue.

    In the treatment of their bodies and drapery, the Belval couple references the monumental sculpture of saints and queens at St. Denis and Chartres Cathedral. However, Hugh and Aigeline’s embrace and facial expressions do not conform to the abstract and reserved canonic norms of early Gothic art in the royal domain. Their grasp on each other is close and intimate, recalling regional Gallo-Roman tombstones that depict deceased couples holding each other’s arms. However, their embrace displays a higher level of emotionalism than the tombstones. This observation leads Nurith Kenaan-Kedar and Benjamin Z. Kedar to propose that the sculpture’s composition draws on the tradition of medieval marginal sculpture, unofficial decorative programs on ecclesiastical monuments which often featured pairs of lovers in close embrace. Nurith Kenaan-Kedar and Benjamin Z. Kedar also suggest that the size, location, and close relationship possessed by the Belval couple may point to Aigeline of Burgundy as the patron of this sculpture.

  • Source: Wikimedia Commons
  • Rights: Public domain
  • Subject (See Also): Crusades Husbands Patronage, Artistic Pilgrimage Wives
  • Geographic Area: France
  • Century: 12
  • Date: Early 12th century
  • Related Work:
  • Current Location: Musee Historique Lorrain, Nancy, France
  • Original Location: Priory of Belval, Portieux, France
  • Artistic Type (Category): Digital Images; Sculpture
  • Artistic Type (Material/Technique): Limestone
  • Donor: Laywoman (?); Possibly commissioned by Aigeline of Burgundy
  • Height/Width/Length(cm): 105 /34/
  • Inscription:
  • Related Resources: Kenaan-Kedar, Nurith, and Kedar, Benjamin Z. "The Significance of a Twelfth-Century Sculptural Group: Le Retour Du Croise." In Dei Gesta per Francos, edited by Michel Balard. Ashgate, 2001. Pages 29-44;
    Labande-Mailfert, Yvone. "L'Iconographie des laïcs dans la societé religieuse aux XIe et XIIe siècles." In I laici nella "Societas christiana" dei secoli XI e XII. Vita e pensiero, 1968. Page 513;
    Morris, Colin. "Picturing the Crusades: The Uses of Visual Propaganda, c. 1095-1250." In The Crusades and Their Sources: Essays Presented to Bernard Hamilton. Ashgate, 1998. Pages 200-201.