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Romanesque sculpture

For people who don’t know how to observe, the Limousin seems far away from the grand sculptors work places of the bordering regions in the Middle Age. Often this mistake of judgment is made because we used for the most important buildings the most famous stone in Limousin: the granite, dark and more difficult to work than the limestone.


We invite you to avoid this wrong perception and discover to the contrary the finest work made with this difficult stone and the variety of sculptor’s places who worked in Limousin.

For a long time the Limousin had been considered as the poorest region concerning the Romanesque sculptures with its “barren stones” contrary to the nearby regions like Poitou, Quercy and Auvergne where the wealth was unanimously known.


If the authors have the worry to affirm the architectural creation in Limousin during the Romanesque time, therefor they don’t seem to be convinced of an interested sculpture.


However it just needed the time to observe and inventory theseabandoned sculptures to appreciate their wealth, their qualities and the creativity they manifested. Such a census right away shows that we are in the presence a major art in the southern part of the region where the artists could have the light sandstone and even the limestone. But the sculpture is also widespread in the highest part of the region where few buildings are without them.


The granite didn’t allow a grand refinement in the motifs. However it is important to imagine for these pieces a different aspect of the one they present today: the details realized in painting oncoatings should highly valorizedthose decorations. In the most important buildings, the prime contractors went up to the point of recovering the limestone in the capitals. This exogenous supply of material is remarkable in the chevet of Solignac while they stay in minority  inDorat and they concern all the capitals of the windows in Saint-Léonard.



The historians of art analysis in the 21th century put in evidence artistic areas where technics, workplaces habits were spread over with the artists’ movements. We can signal for example an example of the sculptures around Vigeois and Lubersac




(Source - "Le Limousin, pays et identités" / PULIM)

With Britany, the Limousin is one of the rarest French regions where Romanesque sculptors had to face the granite in their works. Do we have here a mark of identity? As everywhere in the Romanesque world, the first limousine sculptors, looking for motifs, collected in the antic repertories and in the manuscripts with mediocre results because of the stone constraints.


But at the beginning of the 12th century, in Saint-Junien first and then in Le Dorat, probably thanks to the tools improvement, they found a way to elaborate a very specific art of capitals adapted to this stone. Of course, on those sculptures the rare characters remained as shapes state and the historian’s scenes are quasi absents. But we are present at a true success in the domainof capitals with vegetal decoration. Obviously all the finesse in the size is excluded; the reliefs don’t present a work of an elaborated surface. However we notice a grand sense of composition, a movement and an exceptional strength of the relief. This movement of the Romanesque sculpture is characterized with leaves extremely dynamic where deep digs produce a powerful effect of clear-obscure. It has been probably appreciated to its just value at that time, like it was adopted in the Southern Limousin such as in Lubersac on the limestone.


This tributary art of the granite, dominated by the research of the plastic effect survived until around 1150 and even beyond concerning the capitals in Saint Léonard and in Solignac but it didn’t get out of the region. It is in that way we could qualify it as a limousine Romanesque sculpture.


(Source - Limousin, pays et identtités / PULIM)

If there is well a Romanesque sculpture in Limousin, can we talk about a limousine romanesque sculpture? Did the importance of the diocese in the 11th and 12th centuries induce a particular art? It would be amazing because contrary to the medieval uses, artists and ideas didn’t care about the geographic and even ecclesiastic limits.


Can we qualify of limousine art the work of the same artists we find in Saint-Jean de Côle or Tourtoirac in Dordogne? By the way, a study of styles of those buildings shows that some details seem to have an origin in the art of Moissac where perhaps the limousine sculptors had been initiated. We could also talk again about the southern portal of the abbatial church inBeaulieu which is neither limousine nor from Quercy but a major piece of an artistic place that gave also the southern door of Moissac and the elements of the door of Souillac.


(Source - Le Limousin, pays et identités / PULIM)

Chapiteau de la Collégiale du Dorat

In a region where we notice « a predilection of the masons for a mass effects” like underlines Claude Andrault-Schmitt, the sculpture plays a relative small role.


However, limited to very precise areas, the sculpture plays two main functions. On one hand it underlines highly the essential articulations of a building, the effect is more accentuated with a polychromic contrast introduced with the frequent use of different stones as the ones used in the biggest walls (sandstone, limestone, serpentine). On the other hand it is in all probability charged of a symbolic role focusing the attention of the bays, a light source, and especially on the portals, the access to the divine house.


(Source - E. PROUST / La sculpture en Bas-Limousin)

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