Art History: Gisant

The gisant of Louis, son of Louis IX

One of the best places to find examples of this type of funereal sculpture is in the Basilica Saint-Denis.

As you walk through the Basilica Saint-Denis you will come across many gisants – the sculptures on top of the tombs, that represent the entombed person either dying or in death. Always shown in a recumbent position, gisants capture the time of death, where the person is usually clothed in the vestments of their rank or social standing and depicted with their hands held in prayer, waiting for the resurrection.

Gisants can also depict the time after passing. This type of gisant came into fashion in the Renaissance and depicts the deceased in the nude, often times shrouded although sometimes not, and in the throes of death. It is also known as a transi, which in French means transition, and in Latin means passed over. Often times the transi are depicted as decayed or skeletal. Probably the most well known of this type of gisant is on the tomb of Henri II and Catherine de Medici.

The gisant of Henri II

Photographs from Basilica Saint-Denis

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