Benedictine Abbey of Saint-Gilles: Front facade--Saints and Angels on the left side of the central portal (page 1 of three pages)

The front facade has twelve saints (or apostles) and 2 angels--about two meters high. Although today they show the results of wanton destruction as well as the results of modern pollution, they were originally a fine-grained white marble. Scholars have analyzed the stylistic variants and debated the authorship of these large scale works. Whitney S. Stoddard claims that "five sculptors carved these fourteen life-size figures, and three of them were responsible for most of the sculpture on the tympana and friezes of the superstructure" (17). In his massive and authoritative text, Stoddard carefully analyzes the sculpture of the front facade and associates certain features--kinds of folds and drapery, degree of volumetric bodies, soft or hard modeling, use of decorative details, and the like--to attribute various sculptures to particular artists. His book has been invaluable to me in the identification of the sculptural works as well as in an understanding of them.

The far left: Saint Michael subduing a dragon

Like the heads of most of the life-size figures on the front facade, Michael's head is set against an undecorated capital. Michael's face is squarish with repeated linear incisions for the hair and with drilled eye holes. While most of the heads of the figures no longer exist, Michael's head resembles one of the few remaining heads. See the head of the unidentified saint. This figure is matched on the extreme right by a grouping of archangels subduing Satan. (See page 3.)

Apostles to the left of the central portal: Matthew, Bartholomew, Thomas and James the Less

A structure extends above the apostles supported by large single columns. The columns are different heights and sizes and materials and vary in date as well. Behind these columns on the front the monumental statues of the apostles and angels are inserted, framed in most cases by flat pilasters. A frieze of acanthus decoration runs above the heads of the eight apostles and angels on the front.

Matthew and Bartholomew

These figures in voluminous drapery seem imprisoned by the architecture. Like all these large statues, they are frontal, but here they are notably static. Both wear sandals and both have distinctive drapery folds.

Thomas and James the Less

The figure of Thomas is more elongated with elegant crossed legs. Note the unique "S"-curve folds at the hemline. James has a decorated halo as well as bordered cuffs and facings on his mantle.

Go to page 2 of Saints and Angels.

Works consulted or quoted: Whitney S. Stoddard. The Facade of Saint-Gilles-du-Gard: Its Influence on French Sculpture. Middletown, Conn: Wesleyan UP, 1973.

Go to Saint-Gilles Index.

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© 2007 Mary Ann Sullivan. I have photographed (on site), scanned, and manipulated all the images on these pages. Please feel free to use them for personal or educational purposes. They are not available for commercial purposes.