This incredibly detailed stripped oak oval medallion plaque depicting the profile of a monk comes from France, circa 1860.
Our monk is turned to his left, so that the right side of his face is visible. The expressionless monk has a tonsure haircut, which was the signature style of medieval monks. In 1073, Gregorio VII was elected pope of a highly corrupt church. As part of his efforts to reform the church, Gregorio standardized clergy haircuts. Monks were to symbolize “giving their lives to god” by shaving their heads in honor of Saint Paul, who was bald. However, the biblical verse of Leviticus 19:27, stated “do not cut the hair at the sides of your head…”, thus the tonsure haircut was created to honor Saint Paul and adhere to the bible.
The wavy hair, the depth of the ear and other facial features have all been realistically carved by a very talented woodcarver. The folds of fabric in the monk’s cloak were also given careful consideration. On the monk’s chest is a sun that has been anthropomorphized with a human face. This is often referred to as “Sun in Splendor” and has been used in heraldry by kings and countries for centuries.
At the bottom of the profile, the monk is superimposed over cavetto molding that runs along the inside of the oval. At the crest of the oval is a decorative volute scroll adorned with foliate vines. The monk and the scroll have both been carved with great thickness, while the molding has less shallow recessions. The different depths of the carvings once again indicate that our 19th century French plaque of a monk in profile is the work of a master craftsman. The work is robust, yet delicate in its details. The proportions of the facial features, hair, and ear have been expertly represented. A plaque like this may have been part of a series, hanging in a monastery.
CONDITION: Good antique condition with age cracks and shrinkage as seen. Minor losses to hair and cowl of monk. Old repairs visible. Traces of the original finish can still be seen. The back of the plaque has a large iron hook for hanging.