The iconographic programme of the interior courtyard

The artistic programme of the House known as ‘Duchess Anne’s House’ was intended to affirm the status of the first owner, who commissioned the works.

 © Maison dite de la duchesse Anne - Morlaix - Tous droits réservés

The interior courtyard—or lantern—harks back to a kind of architecture found only in Morlaix. This four-sided space situated at the heart of the building was originally lit by a light fitting under a blind roof. In the case of the House known as ‘Duchess Anne’s House’, the courtyard is just over 25 m2 in surface area and is around 16 m high up to the timber structure.

Against the south-east wall, facing the huge fireplace, is the spiral staircase, built entirely from oak. A gallery opens off at each level and leads to the rooms at the back. Oak balustrades ensure the safety of anyone using these galleries. The thrust generated by the staircase is taken by a pillar—the column—carved from a single tree trunk and measuring 10.8 m high.

 

 Frise © Maison dite de la duchesse Anne - Morlaix - Tous droits réservés  If one disregards the two friezes of vine branches and masks that decorate the mantelpiece, the staircase carries the entire iconographic programme of the interior of the house. Every surface is worked and finely carved in keeping with the tastes of an epoch that had a horror vacui, a horror of the void.  Frise © Maison dite de la duchesse Anne - Morlaix - Tous droits réservés

Mantelpiece frieze: mask

 

Mantelpiece frieze: mask

 

The column is ‘inhabited’ by four holy figures set in niches in the Gothic manner on each floor at the level of the openings towards the galleries.

From the first to the third level

Saint Roch © Maison dite de la duchesse Anne - Morlaix - Tous droits réservés 

 St. Roch, hermit (Montpellier, c. 1350 – † Lombardy? c. 1380). Feast day: 16 August.

According to legend, St. Roch caught plague (which was endemic in Europe from the time of the Black Plague of 1346-1350 to the plague outbreak in Marseille of 1720) on his way back from a pilgrimage to Rome. To protect the populace, he hid in the forest where, miraculously, the local lord’s dog brought him bread every day. Eventually the saint was cured by an angel.

His story is recounted in his pilgrim’s dress, the angel displaying the bubo (a symptom of plague), the dog and a bit of bread.

Invoked against plague, St. Roch is the very symbol of the pilgrim after St. James the Great, depicted on the façade.

St. Roch

 

 

St. Martin, apostle to the Gauls, bishop (Pannonia, now in Hungary, c. 317 – † Candes, Touraine, c. 397). Feast day: 11 November. 

The legend of St. Martin has it that, in the winter of 337 AD, while he was a young soldier in the Roman army, he gave half his blanket to a beggar at the gates of the city of Amiens. He is often portrayed cutting this garment in half with his sword. In this instance, he is presented in all his splendour as the archbishop of Tours, though the beggar is present, kneeling in prayer at his feet.

During the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, St. Martin was extremely popular in the West. He became venerated as a saint, especially in Tours, where his relics are held. Tours developed into one of the most important pilgrimage sites in the Christian world and is the starting point of one of the four major routes to Santiago de Compostela, the others being Le Puy-en-Velay, Vézelay and Saint-Gilles-du-Gard.

Saint Martin © Maison dite de la duchesse Anne - Morlaix - Tous droits réservés 
 

St. Martin

 

 Saint Christophe © Maison dite de la duchesse Anne - Morlaix - Tous droits réservés

 St. Christopher, martyr († Samos, Lycia, 3rd century?). Feast day: 25 July.  

The life of St. Christopher is a matter of legend, though tradition has it that he was beheaded for his faith and so became a martyr. He was first venerated in the 5th century and remained important until the 16th century. In Greek he is Christophorus, Christ-bearer.

The saint is depicted here in the usual manner as a large man dressed in a tunic in the old style, leaning on a twisted branch as he crosses a river while bearing on his back the Child, who is also dressed in a tunic.

St. Christopher is the patron saint of travellers.

St. Christopher

 

 

St. Michael, archangel. Feast day: 29 September.

The archangel St. Michael is portrayed at the top of the column. He is the leader of the heavenly hosts and the defender of the Church. He fights against rebellious angels and the dragon of the Apocalypse. A psychopomp, (from the Greek psukhopompos, he who leads the souls of the dead), he weighs souls on the day of the Last Judgement.

In the 16th century, the Church placed itself under his protection in its struggle against the Protestant Reformation.

St. Michael is portrayed traditionally here as a knight in combat against the dragon of the Apocalypse, which lies at his feet as he readies himself to expel it from Heaven (Revelations 12: 7-9). In its agitation, the dragon has coiled its tail around the column. Faith triumphs over Evil.  

 Saint Michel © Maison dite de la duchesse Anne - Morlaix - Tous droits réservés
 

St. Michael

The other themes

Homme sauvage © Maison dite de la duchesse Anne - Morlaix - Tous droits réservés

The wild man, an important figure in the medieval imaginary is found decorating both religious and civil buildings and monuments. On the façade of the mansion or holding a coat of arms in the interior courtyard, the portrayals of the wild man armed with a club give him the role of guardian of the house.

The angel, the messenger from God, whose praise he sings, provides the link between Earth and Heaven. Like the wild man, he often bears a plain blazon as a decorative motif. 

Putto © Maison dite de la duchesse Anne - Morlaix - Tous droits réservés

Wild man holding a coat of arms

 

Putto

The role and attributes of the angel and the wild man which decorate the column allow us to perceive a subtle symbolism of union between Heaven and Earth. 

Analysis of the column

At the height of its spread during the opening 30 years or so of the 16th century, Protestantism shook the Roman Catholic Church to its spiritual and temporal foundations. In this context, the iconographic programme of the column reaffirms the saints’ role as intercessors and so demonstrates the personal beliefs of the first owner, who was evidently a good Catholic.

St. Roch is a relatively recent saint. St. Martin evokes Tours and his pilgrimage: the apostle to the Gauls harks back to the time of Christianity’s establishment as the official religion of the western Roman Empire. St. Christopher, a martyr and the patron saint of travellers, takes us back to the origins of Christianity and the time of persecutions. He is privileged in that he carries the Child on his back. At the top, St. Michael casts Evil out of Heaven and opens the gates of Paradise.

The higher we climb towards Heaven, so the saint becomes more important and the more distant chronologically. Consequently, this column helps us to relive Christianity and serves as a kind of map showing the way to Paradise. To expiate one’s sins and to avoid Purgatory or eternal damnation, it is necessary to go on a pilgrimage. As he contemplates the column, the believer sees himself as a pilgrim in the image of St. Roch. Protected by St. Christopher, he reaches Tours, Santiago de Compostela, Rome or Jerusalem and hence the remission of his sins.

In its decoration, the column leads the spectator on a spiritual pilgrimage, a symbolic climb up towards Heaven. There is no reference to the Passion or any other passage from the New Testament: the entire iconography evokes a spiritual quest, that of the owner in search of his spiritual health.

The acrobat: placed on the upright of the door of the room on the first floor at the rear—above the kitchen—the acrobat seems to invite the visitor to enter what must have been the drawing room.

As if alone and free from competition on this side of the courtyard, the acrobat is accorded as much importance as the religious motifs on the column. The two themes co-exist in perfect balance. The first owner took pains to demonstrate his wealth and rank and shares his spiritual concerns and hopes, but does not ignore the simple pleasures of the table and the importance of hospitality.

 L'acrobate © Maison dite de la duchesse Anne - Morlaix - Tous droits réservés
 

The acrobat

The courtyard as a whole bears witness to the impressive preparatory work, which itself is illustrative of the excellence of the master builder and the sculptors’ workshop employed.

 Ange © Maison dite de la duchesse Anne - Morlaix - Tous droits réservés

Angel holding a coat of arms

The façade - The iconographic programme iconographique of the interior courtyard
Section of the House known as Duchess Anne’s House

 

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© Maison dite de la duchesse Anne - Morlaix, 2006 - info@mda-morlaix.com