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.[1] 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.

Cardinal richelieu tomb statue sorbonne
A baroque elaboration: Tomb of Cardinal Richelieu in the Chapelle de la Sorbonne, by François Girardon (ca. 1675-94), Paris. The Cardinal is dying in the arms of Piety.
The tomb of Lion Gardiner in East Hampton, New York
Tomb of Lion Gardiner, East Hampton, New York — built in 1886 and designed by James Renwick, Jr. — comprises a 19th-century adaptation.
A 20th century recumbent effigy at the Sun Yat-sen Mausoleum, China


Ancient precursors

Recumbent effigies were a common tradition in Etruscan funerary art, examples are known in both ceramic and stone. The deceased was typically depicted alive as at a feast, lying sideways, propped up on one arm and sometimes holding a cup. Usually these were rather smaller than life-size. The Romans continued this tradition, though they also created many other types of funerary effigy. Their faces are often clearly portraits of individuals.


The first medieval gisants emerged in the 12th century. They were executed in low relief, and were horizontal, but appeared as in life. The faces were generalized rather than portraits. Gradually these became full high-relief effigies, usually recumbent, as in death, and, by the 14th century, with hands together in prayer. In general, such monumental effigies were carved in stone, marble or wood, or cast in bronze or brass. Often the stone effigies were painted to simulate life, but in the majority of the medieval monuments, this has long since disappeared. The cross-legged attitude of many English armoured figures of the late 13th or early 14th centuries was long supposed to imply that the deceased had served in the Crusades, had taken crusading vows, or more specifically had been a Knight Templar; but these theories are now rejected by scholars.[2]

By the early 13th century, effigies began to be raised on tomb-style chests (known as tomb chests or altar tombs) decorated with foliage, heraldry or architectural detailing. Soon such chests also stood alone with varying degrees of decoration. By the end of the century, these often had architectural canopies and figured "weepers" or "mourners" — representing friends or relatives and identified by their coats of arms — were popular decorative features.

In Britain the "large-scale production of military effigies" began in the middle of the 13th century, as the result of the "emergence of a new patron class" of knights, who were fewer in number but wealthier than before.[3]

Another late medieval fashion was to show the person in an advanced state of decomposition, perhaps as a secondary effigy. This type of tomb is known as a transi.


In Spain the iconography of Christ lying ('Cristo yacente'), as though an effigy, was very popular until the late 18th century. One of the famous sculptors known for this iconography was Gregorio Fernández, see Cristo Yacente of El Pardo.

A late example of a stone effigy is that of T. E. Lawrence ("Lawrence of Arabia") by Eric Kennington, in St Martin's Church, Wareham, Dorset, installed in 1939.[4]

Another example is the effigy of Aubrey Herbert (d. 1923) in the Church of St Nicholas, Brushford in Somerset.


  1. ^ Lucie-Smith, Edward (1984), The Thames and Hudson Dictionary of Art Terms, Thames and Hudson, pg 89.
  2. ^ Harris, O. D. (2010). "Antiquarian attitudes: crossed legs, crusaders and the evolution of an idea". Antiquaries Journal. 90: 401–40. doi:10.1017/s0003581510000053.
  3. ^ Stone, 114
  4. ^ Knowles, Richard (1991). "Tale of an 'Arabian knight': the T. E. Lawrence effigy". Church Monuments. 6: 67–76.


  • Stone, Lawrence, Sculpture in Britain: The Middle Ages, 1972 (2nd edn.), Penguin Books (now Yale History of Art)
  • Tummers, H. A., Early Secular Effigies in England: The Thirteenth Century, 1980, Brill Archive, ISBN 9004062556, 9789004062559, google books
Bradgate House (16th century)

Bradgate House is a 16th-century ruin in Bradgate Park, Leicestershire, England.

Edward Grey's son Sir John Grey of Groby married Elizabeth Woodville, who, after John's death married King Edward IV. Their son Thomas Grey, 1st Marquess of Dorset made preparations for building the first Bradgate House in the late 15th century but died before work began. It was his son, Thomas Grey, 2nd marquis of Dorset who built the first Bradgate House, completing it circa 1520. This is one of the first unfortified great houses in England and one of the earliest post-Roman use of bricks. It was lived in by the Grey family for the next 220 years. It is believed that the house was the birthplace of Lady Jane Grey, later Queen, ruling for a mere 9 days before being overthrown by Mary I. Jane was executed in 1553 and when her father was executed the following year the estate passed to the crown. Local history claims that groundskeepers marked the occasion of Jane's execution by pollarding the estate's oak trees in a symbolic beheading. Examples of pollarded oaks can still be seen in the park. In 1563 the family regained favour, and the Groby manor, including Bradgate, was restored to Jane's Uncle, Lord John Grey of Pirgo. His great-grandson was made Earl of Stamford. Later earls acquired estates in Enville, Staffordshire, and Dunham Massey, Cheshire.

Sometime after 1739 they moved out of Bradgate, which began a long decline. The spectacular ruins of the house are still visible at the centre of the park. The house was approximately 200 feet (61 m) long, featuring a main hall measuring 80 by 30 feet (24.4 m × 9.1 m). As well as considerable remains of walls and fireplaces, it has four truncated towers and the chapel is still intact, containing a tomb effigy to Henry Grey, 1st Earl of Stamford and his wife.In the mid-19th century, George Harry Grey and the 7th Earl of Stamford and Warrington commissioned a new house to be built designed by the architect Mr M.J. Dain of Dain and Parsons, London, and built by the local builder Mr Thomas Rudkin. Bradgate House was completed in 1856 in the village of Groby, Leicestershire and built in the Jacobean style it has been referred to as the Calendar House because it had 365 windows, 52 rooms, and 12 main chimneys. The house was sadly demolished in the mid-1920s when Leicestershire estates were sold by late Earls niece Katherine Henrietta Venezia Grey, who incidentally changed her surname to Grey on the condition of her inheritance of the estates from her deceased uncle. Bradgate House in the village of Groby is frequently confused with the 16th-century ruined house of the same name in Bradgate Park 2 miles in distance.

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.

Eric Kennington

Eric Henri Kennington (12 March 1888 – 13 April 1960) was an English sculptor, artist and illustrator, and an official war artist in both World Wars.As a war artist, Kennington specialised in depictions of the daily hardships endured by soldiers and airmen. In the inter-war years he worked mostly on portraits and a number of book illustrations. The most notable of his book illustrations were for T. E. Lawrence's Seven Pillars of Wisdom. Kennington was also a gifted sculptor, best known for his 24th East Surrey Division War Memorial in Battersea Park, for his work on the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon and for the tomb effigy of Lawrence at Wareham in Dorset.


Finlaggan (NR 388 680, Scottish Gaelic: Port an Eilein) is a historic site on Eilean Mòr in Loch Finlaggan. Loch, island, and Finlaggan Castle lie around two km to the northwest of Ballygrant on Islay.

Finlaggan was the seat of the Lords of the Isles and of Clan Donald.

Two of the three islands that lie in the expansive scenery surrounding Loch Finlaggan, Eilean Mor (large island) and Eilean na Comhairle (council isle), were the administrative centre of the Lordship of the Isles during the 13th to 15th centuries, until 1493 when the lordship of the Isles fell to James IV of Scotland, who administered the territory via a tenant-in-chief.

The Finlaggan Trust maintains the site and also refurbished a derelict cottage that has been converted into a comprehensive museum. The centre contains numerous artefacts discovered during archaeological excavations: from a sheep wool quilted aketon, worn under armour, to an ancient cross related to the lords.

The site has been the subject of recent archaeological investigations and hosted an episode of Channel 4's archaeological television programme Time Team in 1995.

During summer 2008 the centre was extensively refurbished and extended. The stone walls of a medieval chapel dedicated to St Findlugan on Eilean Mor have been stabilised and several 16th century graves put on display and covered by large glass panels.

Hedwig of Bavaria

Hedwig (c. 778 – 19 April 843) was a Saxon noble woman, the wife of Count Welf and mother-in-law of Emperor Louis the Pious through his marriage to Judith, her daughter.


Emma of Altdorf, also known as Hemma (c.  803 – 31 January 876), a member of the Elder House of Welf, was Queen consort of East Francia by marriage to King Louis the German, from 843 until her death.


A herigaut is a gown-like garment worn in the thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries. Alternative spellings include herigald, heregaud, gerygoud and herigans. It was three-quarters to full length with hanging sleeves. Sometimes the sleeves were tucked at the top to increase fullness below. Although it was primarily a men's garment, women occasionally wore it as well. Along with the garnache, it is a variant of the garde-corps, and it is also related to the houppelande.

Krzysztof Szydłowiecki

Krzysztof Szydłowiecki (1467–1532) was a Polish noble (szlachcic), magnate, Count of Szydłowiec.

He was courtier since 1496, Podstoli of Kraków, Treasurer and Marshal of the Court of Prince Zygmunt since 1505, Podkomorzy of Kraków and Court Treasurer of the Crown from 1507 to 1510, castellan of Sandomierz since 1509, Deputy Chancellor of the Crown since 1511, Great Chancellor of the Crown and voivode of Kraków Voivodeship from 1515 to 1527 and castellan of Kraków since 1527.

Starost of Sieradz, Gostynin, Sochaczew, Nowokrocze and Łuków.

He is one of the characters on the famous painting by Jan Matejko, Prussian Homage.

Louis, Count of Évreux

Louis of Évreux (3 May 1276 – 19 May 1319, Paris) was a prince, the third son of King Philip III of France and his second wife Maria of Brabant, and thus a half-brother of King Philip IV of France.

Louis had a quiet and reflective personality and was politically opposed to the scheming of his half-brother Charles of Valois. He was, however, close with his nephew Philip V of France.

He married Margaret of Artois, daughter of Philip of Artois and sister of Robert III of Artois, and had five children:

Marie (1303 – 31 October 1335), married in 1311 John III, Duke of Brabant

Philip III of Navarre (1306–1343), married Joan II of Navarre.

Charles (d. 1336), Count of Étampes married Maria de la Cerda, Lady of Lunel, daughter of Fernando de la Cerda.

Margaret (1307–1350), married in 1325 William XII of Auvergne

Joan (1310–1370), married Charles IV of France

Philip I of France

Philip I (23 May 1052 – 29 July 1108), called the Amorous, was King of the Franks from 1060 to 1108, the fourth from the House of Capet. His reign, like that of most of the early Capetians, was extraordinarily long for the time. The monarchy began a modest recovery from the low it reached in the reign of his father and he added to the royal demesne the Vexin and Bourges.

Pierre de Chelles

Pierre de Chelles was a French architect from the late 13th and early 14th centuries. He was one of the architects of the Notre-Dame de Paris Cathedral. He completed the choir began in 1300, the high flying buttresses above the apse, and the building of the rood screen. He was also a sculptor.

De Chelles was related to Jean de Chelles, who was his father or uncle.


Pleurants or weepers (the English meaning of pleurants) are anonymous sculpted figures representing mourners, used to decorate elaborate tomb monuments, mostly in the late Middle Ages in Western Europe. Typically they are relatively small, and a group were placed around the sides of a raised tomb monument, perhaps interspersed with armorial decoration, or carrying shields with this. They may be in relief or free-standing. In English usage the term "weepers" is sometimes extended to cover the small figures of the deceased's children often seen kneeling underneath the tomb effigy in Tudor tomb monuments.

These figures represent the mourners, who pray for the deceased standing during the funeral procession. Because many of the original tombs have been vandalised or destroyed, relatively few examples remain to be studied. Many figures have been detached from their original context, which is not always known.

In the 16th and 17th century the practice of placing anonymous pleurant figures disappeared, although the group at Brou for Margaret of Bourbon were not begun until 1526 at the earliest. But these were commissioned over 40 years after her death by her daughter, along with tombs for herself and her husband, and reflected the taste of Margaret's lifetime.


Romaldkirk is a village in Teesdale, in the Pennines of England. The village lies within the historic boundaries of the North Riding of Yorkshire, but has been administered by County Durham since 1974.

It is thought that the name might be derived from St. Rumwold, a little-known Saxon saint who is said to have preached the Gospel after his baptism as an infant; his resting place is recorded as being in Buckingham. The village church at Strixton, Northamptonshire is unusually dedicated to him.

The village was formerly served by Romaldkirk railway station.

Thomas Page, the engineer, grew up in Romaldkirk.The architects Maxwell Fry and Jane Drew, and famous farmer Hannah Hauxwell are buried near the village church.

The church is a Grade 1 listed building, containing surviving sections of Anglo-Saxon walls either side of the chancel arch, as well as a late medieval rood stair, a stone tomb effigy of Hugh Fitz Henry (who died on campaign with Edward I in 1305) in chain mail, a 12th-century font, and a pulpit (originally part of a three decker) from the early 18th century.

Rowland Cotton

Sir Rowland Cotton (baptized 29 January 1581 – died 22 August 1634) was an English politician who sat in the House of Commons at various times between 1605 and 1629.

Cotton was the son of William Cotton, a London draper. He matriculated from St John's College, Cambridge in 1596 and was admitted at Lincoln's Inn on 13 June 1599. He was a friend and patron of John Lightfoot. He succeeded his father in 1607, inheriting estates in Shropshire and Staffordshire. He lived at Bellaport Hall, Norton in Hales, Shropshire.

In 1605, he was elected Member of Parliament for Newcastle-under-Lyme and knighted in 1608. He was appointed to the bench as Justice of the Peace for Shropshire by 1614 to his death, and as a commissioner of oyer and terminer for Wales and the Marches by 1616 to death. He served as Mayor of Newcastle in 1614-15. He was appointed also High Sheriff of Shropshire for 1616–17 and the following year a member of Council of the Marches for life.In 1626 he was elected MP for Shropshire. He was elected MP for Newcastle-under-Lyme again in 1628 and sat until 1629 when Charles I decided to rule without parliament for eleven years.He married twice: firstly Frances (who died in childbirth in 1606), the daughter of Sir Robert Needham of Shavington Hall and secondly Joyce, the daughter and coheiress of Sir Richard Walsh of Sheldesley Walsh, Worcestershire.He died in August 1634 aged 53 and was buried at Norton in Hales, whose parish church contains a tomb effigy, of he and his first wife, that was designed by Inigo Jones. He left no children and his estates reverted to his brother William on the death of his wife.


A sarcophagus (plural sarcophagi) is a box-like funeral receptacle for a corpse, most commonly carved in stone, and usually displayed above ground, though it may also be buried. The word "sarcophagus" comes from the Greek σάρξ sarx meaning "flesh", and φαγεῖν phagein meaning "to eat"; hence sarcophagus means "flesh-eating", from the phrase lithos sarkophagos (λίθος σαρκοφάγος), "flesh-eating stone". The word also came to refer to a particular kind of limestone that was thought to rapidly facilitate the decomposition of the flesh of corpses contained within it due to the chemical properties of the limestone itself.

St Stephen's Church, Bristol

St Stephen's Church in St Stephen's Avenue, is the parish church for the city of Bristol, England.

It has been designated by Historic England as a grade I listed building.

Tomb Effigy of Jacquelin de Ferrière

The Tomb Effigy of Jacquelin de Ferrière is usually on display in the Medieval Art Gallery of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. The effigy is of the French knight, Sir Jacquelin de Ferrière, who was from Montargis, near Sens in northern France. The effigy is dated between 1275-1300 CE. It is 73 3⁄4 in (187 cm) long, 24 5⁄8 in (63 cm) wide, and 5 inches (13 cm) deep, and carved into a flat limestone slab, which now has a wooden frame. Effigies were often commissioned by the nobles or their families, as a means of remembrance. They would normally be found covering the sarcophagi of the knight, or installed in or near a church that the family were patrons of. Although the inscription on this effigy is not clear, most effigies contained similar inscriptions that would include the name and title, dates of birth and death–or approximates, a link between the date of death and a notable holy figure or day, and petitions of prayer that would offer pardons to those that prayed for the depicted soul–largely an attempt to create a tangible link between the nobility and divinity.

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."

William II Canynges

William II Canynges (c. 1399–1474) was an English merchant and shipper from Bristol, one of the wealthiest private citizens of his day and an occasional royal financier. He served as Mayor of Bristol five times and as MP for Bristol thrice. He was a generous patron of the arts in Bristol, particularly concerning the church of St Mary Redcliffe in Bristol, "The crown of Bristol architecture". Following the death of his wife Joan in 1467, he renounced civic and commercial life and was ordained a priest in 1468, in which capacity he remained until his death six years later. His tomb effigy in St Mary's later inspired the boy poet Thomas Chatterton to write the romantic poem "The Storie of William Canynge".


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