Cadaver tomb

A cadaver tomb or transi (or memento mori tomb, Latin for "reminder of death") is a type of gisant (recumbent effigy tomb) featuring an effigy in the form of a decomposing corpse; it was particularly characteristic of the later Middle Ages.[1]

Free-standing cadaver tomb of John FitzAlan, 14th Earl of Arundel (died 1435)


Boussu JPG00a
16th century; "l'homme à moulons" (cadaver eaten by worms) in Boussu, Belgium

A depiction of a rotting cadaver in art (as opposed to a skeleton) is called a transi. However, the term "cadaver tomb" can really be applied to other varieties of monuments, e.g. with skeletons or with the deceased completely wrapped in a shroud. In the "double-decker" tombs, in Erwin Panofsky's phrase,[2] a carved stone bier displays on the top level the recumbent effigy or gisant of a person as they were before death or soon after their death, where they may be life-sized and sometimes represented kneeling in prayer, and as a rotting cadaver on the bottom level, often shrouded and sometimes complete with worms and other flesh-eating wildlife. The iconography is regionally distinct: the depiction of vermin on these cadavers is more commonly found on the European mainland, and especially in the German regions.[3] The dissemination of cadaver imagery in the late-medieval Danse Macabre may also have influenced the iconography of cadaver monuments.[4]

In Christian funerary art, cadaver tombs were a departure from the usual practice of showing an effigy of the person as they were in life. An early example is the famous effigy on the multi-layered wall-tomb of Cardinal Jean de La Grange (died 1402) in Avignon.

The term can also be used for a monument that shows only the cadaver without the live person. The sculpture is intended as a didactic example of how transient earthly glory is, since it depicts what all people finally become. Kathleen Cohen's study of five French ecclesiastics who commissioned transi tombs determined that common to all of them was a successful worldliness that seemed almost to demand a shocking display of transient mortality. A classic example is the "Transi de René de Chalons" by Ligier Richier, in the church of Saint Etienne in Bar-le-Duc, France.[5]

Trazegnies 050911 (41)
Low part of the recumbent figure of Jean III de Trazegnies and his spouse Isabeau de Werchin (1550) in Trazegnies, Belgium.

These cadaver tombs, with their demanding sculptural program, were made only for high-ranking nobles, usually royalty or bishops or abbots, because one had to be rich to afford to have one made, and powerful enough to be allotted space for one in a church. Some tombs for royalty were double tombs, for both a king and queen. The French kings Louis XII, Francis I and Henry II were doubly portrayed, in effigy and as naked cadavers, in their double double-decker tombs in the Basilica of Saint-Denis outside Paris. Yet there are also other varieties, such as cadaver imagery on incised slabs and monumental brasses (including the so-called "shroud brasses"), of which many can still be found in England.[6]



The earliest known transi memorial is the very faint indent of a shrouded demi-effigy on the slab commemorating John the Smith (c.1370) at Brightwell Baldwin (Oxfordshire).[7] In the 15th century the sculpted transi effigy can be identified in England.[8] Cadaver monuments can be seen in many English cathedrals and some parish churches. The earliest surviving one, in Lincoln Cathedral, is to Bishop Richard Fleming who founded Lincoln College, Oxford and died in 1431. Canterbury Cathedral houses the well-known cadaver monument to Henry Chichele, Archbishop of Canterbury (1414–1443). Exeter Cathedral houses the 16th-century tomb of Preceptor Sylke, inscribed with: 'I am what you will be, and I was what you are. Pray for me I beseech you'. Winchester Cathedral also has two cadaver tombs.

The monument traditionally identified as that of John Wakeman remains in Tewkesbury Abbey. Wakeman was abbot of Tewkesbury from 1531 to 1539. When the abbey was dissolved, he retired, and later became 1st Bishop of Gloucester. He may have prepared the tomb for himself, with vermin crawling on his carved skeletal corpse, but never used it. He was buried instead at Forthampton in Gloucestershire.

A post-medieval example is the standing shrouded effigy of the poet John Donne (d. 1631) in the crypt of St Paul's Cathedral in London.[9] Similar examples from the Early Modern period signify faith in the Resurrection.[10]


Masaccio trinity
Beneath Masaccio's fresco of the Trinity painted in 1425-28 in Santa Maria Novella, Florence, is a painted representation of a cadaver tomb.

Cadaver monuments are found in many Italian churches. Andrea Bregno sculpted a few of them, including those of a Cardinal Alain de Coëtivy in Santa Prassede, Ludovico Cardinal d'Albert at Santa Maria in Aracoeli, and Bishop Juan Díaz de Coca at the Santa Maria sopra Minerva, a basilican church in Rome, Italy.[11]

Three other monuments are those of Cardinal Matteo d'Acquasparta (Matthew of Acquasparta) at the Santa Maria in Aracoeli,[12] the tomb of Bishop Gonsalvi (1298) and that of Cardinal Gonsalvo (1299) (both located at the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore), all sculpted by Giovanni de Cosma,[11] the youngest of the Cosmati family lineage.

Saint Peter's Basilica contains yet another monument, the tomb of Pope Innocent III.[12] It was sculpted by Giovanni Pisano.[11]


Le Transi de René de Chalon (Ligier Richier)
Le Transi de René de Chalon, Church of St. Étienne, Bar-le-Duc, France. Sculpture by Ligier Richier.

France has a long history of cadaver tombs, though not as many examples or varieties survive as in England. One of the earliest and anatomically convincing examples is the gaunt cadaver effigy of the medieval physician Guillaume de Harsigny (d. 1393) at Laon.[13] Kathleen Cohen lists many other extant examples. There was a revival in the Renaissance, as testified by the two examples to Louis XII and his wife Anne of Brittany at Saint-Denis, and of Queen Catherine de Medici who likewise had her husband Henry II buried in a cadaver tomb.

Germany and the Netherlands

There are a number of cadaver monuments and tomb slabs to be found in Germany and the Netherlands. An impressive example is the sixteenth-century Van Brederode double-decker monument at Vianen near Utrecht, which depicts Reynoud van Brederode (d. 1556) and his wife Philippote van der Marck (d. 1537) as shrouded figures on the upper level, with below them a single verminous cadaver.


A total of 11 cadaver tombs have been recorded in Ireland, many of which are no longer in situ. The earliest complete record of these monuments was compiled by Helen M. Roe in 1969.[14] One of the better known examples of this tradition, is the monumental limestone slab known as 'The Modest Man', dedicated to Thomas Ronan (d. 1554), and his wife Johanna Tyrry (d. 1569), which currently resides in the Triskel Christchurch, Cork City. This is one of two examples that have been recorded in Cork, with the second residing in St. Multose Church in Kinsale.

A variant on this are Cadaver Stones, which lack the tomb part. Sometimes they are simply the relocated top part of the tomb, as is the case for the stone taken from the tomb of Sir Edmond Goldyng and his wife Elizabeth Fleming, built into the churchyard wall of St. Peter's Church of Ireland, Drogheda in the early part of the 16th century.

Cadaver stone in St. Peter's churchyard, Drogheda, Ireland
Cadaver stone in Drogheda


  1. ^ Cohen, Kathleen (1973). Metamorphosis of a Death Symbol: The Transi Tomb in the Late Middle Ages and the Renaissance. Berkeley: University of California Press.
  2. ^ Panofsky, Tomb Sculpture (New York) 1964:65.
  3. ^ Sophie Oosterwijk, "Food for worms - – food for thought. The appearance and interpretation of the “verminous” cadaver in Britain and Europe", Church Monuments, 20 (2005), 40-80, 133-40.
  4. ^ Sophie Oosterwijk, "“For no man mai fro dethes stroke fle”. Death and Danse Macabre iconography in memorial art", Church Monuments, 23 (2008), 62-87, 166-68.
  5. ^ Illustration.
  6. ^
  7. ^ The Brightwell Baldwin slab is discussed by Sally Badham in her essay "Monumental brasses and the Black Death - a reappraisal', Antiquaries Journal, 80 (2000), 225-226.
  8. ^ Pamela King examines the phenomenon of English cadaver tombs in her essay "The cadaver tomb in the late fifteenth century: some indications of a Lancastrian connection", in Dies Illa: Death in the Middle Ages: Proceedings of the 1983 Manchester Colloquium, Jane H.M. Taylor, ed.
  9. ^
  10. ^ Jean Wilson, "Go for Baroque: The Bruce Mausoleum at Maulden, Bedfordshire", Church Monuments, 22 (2007), 66-95.
  11. ^ a b c Scott, Leader (1882). Ghiberti and Donatello with Other Early Italian Sculptors. London: Sampson Low, Marston, Searle, and Rivington. pp. 27–50.
  12. ^ a b "Guide to Rome." Online at:
  13. ^
  14. ^ Roe, Helen M. (1969). "Cadaver Effigial Monuments in Ireland". The Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland. 99: 1–19. JSTOR 25509699.
A Conversation with Oscar Wilde

A Conversation with Oscar Wilde is an outdoor sculpture by Maggi Hambling in central London. Unveiled in 1998, it is the first public monument dedicated to Oscar Wilde outside his native Ireland. It takes the form of a bench-like green granite sarcophagus, with a bust of Wilde emerging from the upper end, with a hand clasping a cigarette.

Alice Chaucer, Duchess of Suffolk

Alice Chaucer, Duchess of Suffolk (c. 1404 – 1475) was a granddaughter of the English poet Geoffrey Chaucer. Married three times, she eventually became a Lady of the Most Noble Order of the Garter, an honour granted rarely to women and marking the friendship between herself and her third husband William de la Pole, 1st Duke of Suffolk with King Henry VI and his wife Margaret of Anjou.


Bar-le-Duc (French pronunciation: ​[baʁ lə dyk]), formerly known as Bar, is a commune in the Meuse département, of which it is the capital. The department is in Grand Est in northeastern France.

The lower, more modern and busier part of the town extends along a narrow valley, shut in by wooded or vine-clad hills, and is traversed throughout its length by the Ornain, which is crossed by several bridges. It is limited towards the north-east by the Marne–Rhine Canal, on the south-west by a small arm of the Ornain, called the Canal des Usines, on the left bank of which the upper town (Ville Haute) is situated.The highly rarefied Bar-le-duc jelly, also known as Lorraine jelly, is a spreadable preparation of white currant or red currant fruit preserves, hailing from this town. First referenced in the historical record in 1344, it is also colloquially referred to as "Bar caviar".

Cadaver (disambiguation)

A cadaver is a dead human body.

Cadaver may also refer to:

Cadaver tomb, tomb featuring an effigy in the form of a decomposing body

Cadaver (video game), a video game

Cadaver (WebDAV client), a command-line WebDAV client for Unix

Cadaver (band), a Norwegian death metal band

Cadaver (Demonata), a demon in The Demonata

Cadaver, also known as The Cut, a 2007 South Korean horror film

Cadaver (2018 film), an upcoming film

Slang for a "dead" B.E.A.M robot

Cadaver Society, a secret society at Washington and Lee University

Cadaver Tomb of René of Chalon

The Cadaver Tomb of René of Chalon (French: Transi de René de Chalon, also known as the Memorial to the Heart of René de Chalon or The Skeleton) is a late Gothic period funerary monument, known as a transi, in the church of Saint-Étienne at Bar-le-Duc, in northeastern France. It consists of an altarpiece and a limestone statue of a putrefied and skinless corpse which stands upright and extends his left hand outwards. Completed sometime between 1544 and 1557, the majority of its construction is attributed to the French sculptor Ligier Richier. Other elements, including the coat of arms and funeral drapery, were added in the 16th and 18th centuries respectively.

The tomb dates from a period of societal anxiety over death, as plague, war and religious conflicts ravaged Europe. It was commissioned as the resting place of René of Chalon, Prince of Orange, son-in-law of Duke Antoine of Lorraine. René was killed aged 25 at the siege of St. Dizier on 15 July 1544, from a wound sustained the previous day. Richier presents him as an écorché, with his skin and muscles decayed, leaving him reduced to a skeleton. This apparently fulfilled his deathbed wish that his tomb depict his body as it would be three years after his death. His left arm is raised as if gesturing towards heaven. Supposedly, at one time his heart was held in a reliquary placed in the hand of the figure's raised arm. Unusually for contemporaneous objects of this type, his skeleton is standing, making it a "living corpse", an innovation that was to become highly influential. The tomb effigy is positioned above the carved marble and limestone altarpiece.

Designated a Monument historique on 18 June 1898, the tomb was moved for safekeeping to the Panthéon in Paris during the First World War, before being returned to Bar-le-Duc in 1920. Both the statue and altarpiece underwent extensive restoration between 1998 and 2003. Replicas of the statue are in the Musée Barrois in Bar-le-Duc and the Palais de Chaillot, Paris.


Chicheley is a village and civil parish in the borough of Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire, England. The village is about 2.5 miles (4 km) north-east of Newport Pagnell.

The village name is Anglo-Saxon in origin, and means Cicca's clearing. In the Domesday Book of 1086, the village was recorded as Cicelai.The manor of Chicheley (which some suggest may have once been called Thickthorn) anciently belonged to the Pagnell family of Newport Pagnell, but was given by them to the church. Through this connection the village also at one time belonged to Cardinal Wolsey, though only until his forced resignation by King Henry VIII who took all his possessions from him at that time.

During the English Civil War, the manor, belonging to the Chester family, received some considerable damage, associated as it was with the garrison at Newport Pagnell. Following the civil war, the manor was demolished, and the present Chicheley Hall built on the site. All that remains of the old manor today is one Jacobean over-mantel with termini caryatids, and some panelling in the 'new' Chicheley Hall.

The parish church is dedicated to St Lawrence and has a perpendicular style central tower with large windows. The chancel, which contains a fine plaster depicting floral wreaths in relief, and a stone reredos, was rebuilt c. 1708; however, the church dates from the 14th century. In the nave are raised box pews, giving a theatrical air. The church contains monuments to Anthony Cave. Cave's sarcophagus is a cadaver tomb. Other monuments dating from 1635 are to the Chester family of Chicheley Hall.

English church monuments

A church monument is an architectural or sculptural memorial to a deceased person or persons, located within a Christian church. It can take various forms ranging from a simple commemorative plaque or mural tablet affixed to a wall, to a large and elaborate structure, on the ground or as a mural monument, which may include an effigy of the deceased person and other figures of familial, heraldic or symbolic nature. It is usually placed immediately above or close to the actual burial vault or grave, although very occasionally the tomb is constructed within it. Sometimes the monument is a cenotaph, commemorating a person buried at another location.

Once only the subject of antiquarian curiosity, church monuments are today recognised as works of funerary art. They are also valued by historians as giving a highly detailed record of antique costume and armour, by genealogists as a permanent and contemporary record of familial relationships and dates, and by students of heraldry as providing reliable depictions for heraldic blazons. From the middle of the 15th century, many figurative monuments started to represent genuine portraiture where before had existed only generalised representations.

Guillaume de Harsigny

Guillaume de Harsigny (1300 – 10 July 1393) was a French doctor and court physician to Charles V of France. One of the most notable physicians of his day, at age 92 Harsigny played a crucial role in the recovery of Charles VI of France from a coma brought about by a fit of insanity. Following his death in 1393, Harsigny was buried in a tomb at Laon which featured one of the earliest examples of medieval cadaver tomb sculpture.

Holy Trinity (Masaccio)

The Holy Trinity, with the Virgin and Saint John and donors (Italian: Santa Trinità) is a fresco by the Early Italian Renaissance painter Masaccio. It is located in the Dominican church of Santa Maria Novella, in Florence.

Holy Trinity Church, Westbury on Trym

Holy Trinity Church (grid reference ST564770) is a Church of England parish church in Westbury-on-Trym, Bristol, England.

The first church on the site was established in the 8th century. In the 10th century a Benedictine priory was founded. Construction of the present building began in the early 13th century and it has been rebuilt several times since. It has been designated by Historic England as a grade I listed building.From the late 12th century to the middle of the 16th century it was the collegiate church for Westbury College; of the latter, little more than the college gatehouse remains. The church contains the tomb of John Carpenter, Bishop of Worcester, who had planned to make it a joint cathedral for the Worcester diocese.

John Carpenter (bishop)

John Carpenter (1399–1476) was an English Bishop, Provost, and University Chancellor.

John Wakeman

John Wakeman (died 1549) was an English Benedictine, the last Abbot of Tewkesbury and first Bishop of Gloucester, both posts in the English county of Gloucestershire. In the earlier part of his life he went by the name John Wiche.

Memento mori

Memento mori (Latin: "remember (that) you will die") is the medieval Latin Christian theory and practice of reflection on mortality, especially as a means of considering the vanity of earthly life and the transient nature of all earthly goods and pursuits. It is related to the ars moriendi ("The Art of Dying") and similar Western literature. Memento mori has been an important part of ascetic disciplines as a means of perfecting the character by cultivating detachment and other virtues, and by turning the attention towards the immortality of the soul and the afterlife.In art, memento mori are artistic or symbolic reminders of mortality. In the European Christian art context, "the expression [...] developed with the growth of Christianity, which emphasized Heaven, Hell, and salvation of the soul in the afterlife".

René of Chalon

René of Chalon (5 February 1519 – 15 July 1544), also known as Renatus of Chalon, was a Prince of Orange and stadtholder of Holland, Zeeland, Utrecht and Gelre.

Robert Broughton (Parliament member)

Sir Robert Broughton (died 17 August 1506) was a landowner, soldier, and Member of Parliament for Suffolk. He was knighted at the Battle of Stoke, where he fought on the Lancastrian side under John de Vere, 13th Earl of Oxford. He was a close associate of the Earl, and is said to have married the Earl's illegitimate daughter, Katherine.

St Giles' Church, Holme

St Giles' Church, Holme is a Grade I listed parish church in the Church of England in Holme, Nottinghamshire.


A tomb (from Greek: τύμβος tumbos) is a repository for the remains of the dead. It is generally any structurally enclosed interment space or burial chamber, of varying sizes.

Tomb effigy

A tomb effigy, usually a recumbent effigy or in French gisant (French, “recumbent”) is a sculpted figure on a tomb monument depicting in effigy the deceased. Such compositions, developed in Western Europe in the Middle Ages, continuing into Renaissance, and early modern times, and still sometimes used. They typically represent the deceased in a state of "eternal repose", lying with hands folded in prayer and awaiting resurrection. A husband and wife may be depicted lying side by side. An important official or leader may be shown holding his attributes of office or dressed in the formal attire of his official status or social class.

The life-size recumbent effigy was first found in the tombs of royalty and senior clerics, and then spread to the nobility. A particular type of late medieval effigy was the transi, or cadaver tomb, in which the effigy is in the macabre form of a decomposing corpse, or such a figure lies on a lower level, beneath a more conventional effigy. In the same period small figures of mourners called weepers or pleurants were added below the effigy to important tombs. In the Early Modern period European effigies are often shown as alive, and either kneeling or in a more active pose, especially for military figures. During the Renaissance, other non-recumbent types of effigy became more popular. Variations showed the deceased lying on their side as if reading, kneeling in prayer and even standing. The recumbent effigy had something of a vogue during the Gothic revival period of the 19th century, especially for bishops and other clerics. Many graves at Monument Cemetery in Milan have recumbent figures.

Some of the best-known examples of the form are in Westminster Abbey in London, Saint Peter's in Rome, Santi Giovanni e Paolo, Venice (twenty-five Doges), and the Basilica of Santa Croce, Florence.

A celebrated poem describing and reflecting on a stone effigy is An Arundel Tomb by Philip Larkin.

Tomb of Louis XII and Anne of Brittany

The Tomb of Louis XII and Anne of Brittany is a large and complex silver-gilt and marble sculptured funerary monument. Its design and build are usually attributed to the Juste brothers although the work of several other hands can be distinguished. Design for and installed at the Saint-Denis Basilica, France, it was commissioned in 1515 in memory of Louis XII (d. 1515, aged 52) and his queen Anne of Brittany (d. 1514, aged 36), probably by Louis' successor Francis I (reigned 1515–1547), and after years of design and intensive building was unveiled in 1531.The tomb effigy represents a break from traditional representations in this format, and as an Early Renaissance work seems, in its monumentality, influenced by classical sources, especially Roman, probably borrowed from Andrea Sansovino and contemporary Florentine sculptors.

Art historian Barbara Hochstetler Meyer describes the tomb as portraying the deceased "with a verism, poignancy, and sensitivity to nature rarely equalled in the north of Europe during the sixteenth century."

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