Saint Michel crook, was discovered in Saint-Marguerite’s chapel in Amiens cathedral, inside Guillaume de Mâcon’s grave, who was bishop of Amiens between 1278 and 1308. So the crook must have a « funeral » vocation, since it was buried with its last owner. It was made in Limoges around the first decade of the XIIIth century. So, between 1210 and 1308 (which corresponds to Guillaume de Mâcon’s death), the crook was held by several bishops, before being buried, perhaps because the object had gone out of fashion.
Photo : © Irwin Leullier / Musée de Picardie
But first of all, what is a crook ? A crook is a stick decorated with a volute; it is one of the abbots’, bishops’ and popes’ liturgical and symbolic attributes, in the same way as the mitre, for example. Its form may result from shepherds’ crooks. Indeed, if shepherds assemble their flocks and guide lost sheep, abbots and bishops guide the faithful towards the straight and narrow.
The crook as a liturgical attribute, appears in the IVth century ; however its form will evolve. It will take the form of a Tau, and then will become figurative around the IXth century. It is Aaron’s stick (in reference to the miracle of the Old Testament) which was used for the first figurative illustration of crooks. Later, historical scenes like the Annunciation decorated the crook volute. However it is the scene of Saint Michel bringing the dragon down which prevails.
In this way, a parallel can be made between this scene of the Apocalypse, the archangel Saint Michel bringing down the devil, most commonly represented in the form of a dragon. One of the abbot’s or the bishop’s tasks is to dispel the fears and doubts that the faithful can experience. Therefore the décor of the crook reinforces the symbolism of the object.
Photo : L’œuvre de Limoges, Émaux limousins du Moyen Âge, Catalogue de l’exposition à Paris, Musée du Louvre, 23 octobre 1995-22 janvier 1996 et au New York, The Metropolitan museum of art, 4 mars-16 juin 1996, Paris, Réunion des musées nationaux, 1995.
Photo : L’œuvre de Limoges, Émaux limousins du Moyen Âge, Catalogue de l’exposition à Paris, Musée du Louvre, 23 octobre 1995-22 janvier 1996 et au New York, The Metropolitan museum of art, 4 mars-16 juin 1996, Paris, Réunion des musées nationaux, 1995
It is interesting to notice that the decoration dealing with the scene of Saint Michel and the dragon doesn’t end at the engraving at the centre of the volute. The latter is built as a dragon body, the enamel bringing out the lizard scales. The knot which connects the volute to the cartridge, has an openwork design and also includes intermingled lizard motifs. Finally, the cylindrical and hollow cartridge (so that the crook stick can be inserted) was originally decorated with three small reptiles with turquoise dorsal prickles. Today just one is still on, but, among the forty-six Limoges crooks dedicated to the fight between the archangel and the dragon, some are intact and do present three lizards on their cartridges (among the three hundred crooks listed by Marquet de Vasselot, forty-six include a scene with Saint Michel’s fight).
This kind of ornament can be found in medieval illumination ; indeed dropped initial capital letters at the beginning of each paragraph are decorated so that each side or part of the letter serve as support for the decor.
Source : Wikipédia
A last word about the context of the creation of the object. It was made in the XIIIth century in Limoges, a period which corresponds to the height of the goldsmithing and illumination production of Saint-Martial abbey in that city. Indeed, the abbey was an important stopping place on the pilgrims’ route to Santiago de Compostela. Because pilgrims were passing through Limoges, the production of liturgical objects, such as crosses, pyxides, reliquaries or crooks as the one conserved in the Musée de Picardie of Amiens, was very extensive.
The composition of the object and method of production is quite typical of Limoges art. The base material is copper, coming from Ambazac quarry, located 20 kilometers away to the north of the city. So the main material is cheap, light and easily accessible. Copper is covered with gold which is then chiseled in order to create historiated decors in the volute or for the openwork knot. Finally, the champlevé technique, which consists in carving small cavities in the copper thickness which receives the enamel, is a specialty of Limoges. Because the production of the site was not expensive, it had a huge success and was exported even out of France. Furthermore, if nowadays we can find so many objects made in Limoges, it is exactly thanks to their composition : because they are made with various materials, and not in pure gold, nobody tried to melt them during the various revolutions and wars that France went through.
To conclude, this crook of Saint Michel bringing down the dragon, exhibited in Amiens Museum, is far away from being a unique piece of work, because it is the result of a series production. However, this piece is interesting because it is a witness of a local know-how, and the bearer of a strong iconography and symbolism.
Article : Marjolaine David (UPJV – L3 Histoire de l’Art)
Traduction : Thérèse Kempf (UPJV – L3 Histoire de l’art) et Jean-François Fournier (UPJV – auditeur libre)
Marcel Jérôme RIGOLLOT, Essai historique sur les arts du dessin en Picardie, Amiens, Société des antiquaires de Picardie, 1840.
Marquet de VASSELOT, Les croix limousines du XIIIe siècle, Paris, Firmin-Didot et cie, 1941.
Colette LAMY-LASSALLE, Les représentations du combat de l’Archange en France au début du Moyen Âge, Paris, Lethielleux, 1971.
L’œuvre de Limoges, Émaux limousins du Moyen Âge, Catalogue de l’exposition à Paris, Musée du Louvre, 23 octobre 1995-22 janvier 1996 et au New York, The Metropolitan museum of art, 4 mars-16 juin 1996, Paris, Réunion des musées nationaux, 1995.
Sous la direction de Daniel GABORT-CHOPIN et Frédéric TIXIER, L’œuvre de Limoges et sa diffusion, INHA, Rennes 2011.
Dossier de l’œuvre, par Catherine RENAUX et Jean-Lou LEGUAY. Consulté aux archives du Musée de Picardie d’Amiens, département art médiévaux, le 6 et 20 mars 2014.