September 26, 2007

The Cloisters Up Close: Ermengol X

Ermengol X (1254-1314), Count of Urgel, wore pointy shoes, organized a lovely tomb chapel for family members, and he died without heirs. I know this because I researched his life. I spent part of Sunday in the Gothic Chapel at The Cloisters drawing his shoes, and it seemed kind of rude not to know more about him. I don't know how to pronounce his name.

I wasn't at all familiar with the territory of Urgel, Ermengol's home base, but I have since learned that the area belongs to Catalonia, Spain, and it's near the Pyrenees. The area also benefits from historical ties to Andorra.

The Ermengol family looked comfortable enough in their tomb effigies (other members are in the same chapel at The Cloisters), despite the fact that Ermengol X intended everyone to stay together at the Church at Las Avellanas back in Spain and not at the Cloisters at Las Henry Hudson Parkway in Nueva York. I doubt he expected to have his feet sketched and blogged 700 years later by a Texan.

In tomb effigies it is common to see the individual resting his or her feet upon a lion, a religious symbol of virtue. For example, we see this in the effigy of Jean d'Alluye, the handsome knight in the center of the Gothic Chapel. See him on The Cloisters site here.
However, in Ermengol X's case, I think the animal is not a lion but a favorite dog. It looks more like a dog than a lion, because it has floppy ears. Funerary imagery often included dogs, a symbol of loyalty.

I wondered if E. was comfortable in his pointy shoes. Fortuitously, I found a website that's the final word on this type of footwear - poulaines, complete with instructions on how to make them and a scratchy picture of Ermengol X's shoes.*

* A friend from rural Texas told me that she had an ignorant history teacher in high school who referred to the important American Black Muslim leader as "Malcolm the Tenth."

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