Chauvigny’s Thinker – Amuse-bouche #7 (Dennis Aubrey)


Chauvigny is one of our favorite towns in France. I lived there as a child and Chauvigny is the proud possessor of two wonderful Romanesque churches. The more famous of the two is the Collégiale Saint Pierre on the hill overlooking the town which features a wonderful array of capitals.

As many times as we have visited and photographed there, Saint Pierre always has something to surprise us. This June when we were there I noticed for the first time Chauvigny’s deep thinker, hidden away on one of the ambulatory capitals.

Capital, Collégiale Saint-Pierre, Chauvigny (Vienne)  Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Capital, Collégiale Saint-Pierre, Chauvigny (Vienne) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

I love the pose and the furrowed brow, but especially the “worry lines” around the eyes. So what is he considering? This figure is a solitary element in a series of images on this capital, unconnected to the demon (diabolus) on the left or the shepherd (pastores) on the right. The key to the meaning is the inscription on the tablet above and the detail on both sides of that tablet. The inscription reads Babilonia desertus, “the desert of Babylon”. The images on either side are the ruined walls of the great city of Babylon.

I believe our thinker was a Percy Bysshe Shelley before his time and was pondering his own private Ozymandias.

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: “Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear:
`My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings:
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!’
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away”.

This is part of a series of posts featuring an amuse-bouche, a bite-sized appetizer to whet the appetite of diners. Each of these will explore a single interesting feature of medieval architecture or sculpture. To see other amuse-bouches, follow this link.

6 responses to “Chauvigny’s Thinker – Amuse-bouche #7 (Dennis Aubrey)

  1. What a delightful sculpture. As I scrolled the computer screen I started to smile. I am still smiling and expecting him to expound upon some great historical theory

  2. Surely it illustrates Psalm 137, especially as the sculptor has also carved the Whore of Babylon. “By the waters of Babylon there we sat down and wept . . . O daughter of Babylon you devastator. . .” Yes, I know the Whore comes in the Apocalypse, but the association lingers. Lovely Chauvigny, just a couple of hours along the road from here!

  3. I never before realized what a great poet Shelley was and not just for the imagery or thoughts; the rhythm and sound of each line in this poem is perfect. It’s as if the words were created for him. Thanks for this and for the great photograph, too, Dennis.

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