Medieval Romanesque Sculptor Noted for Portals at Autun Cathedral.

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High relief sculpture by the medieval
craftsman Gislebertus of Autun which
shows Judas Iscariot hanging himself, helped by devils. A masterpiece of
Romanesque art by one of the
greatest sculptors of the 12th century.

Gislebertus (active 1120-1135)


Saint Lazare Cathedral, Autun
Annunciation to the Magi
More About 12th Century Romanesque Art

To learn how to judge artists like the Romanesque sculptor Gislebertus, please see: How to Appreciate Sculpture.

For details of the origins and
development of the plastic arts
see: History of Sculpture.

German Gothic Sculpture
Strasbourg, Bamberg Cathedrals
English Gothic Sculpture
Wells, Westminster Cathedrals.

For a list of the world's top 100
3-D artworks, by the best sculptors
in the history of art, see:
Greatest Sculptures Ever.

Benedetto Antelami (active 1178-1196)
Nicola Pisano (c.1206-1278)
Giovanni Pisano (c.1250-1314)
Arnolfo di Cambio (c.1240–1310)
Giovanni di Balduccio (c.1290–1339)


One of the greatest practitioners of medieval sculpture, the French artist Gislebertus (Giselbetus or Ghiselbertus) of Autun - was active in the early part of the 12th century. His expressive and imaginative Romanesque sculpture made him one of the first artists in the era of medieval art to be known by name across Europe. He is best known for his relief sculpture on the portals of the French Cathedral of Saint Lazare, Autun. Gislebertus's techniques helped pave the way for the development of French Gothic sculpture.

Note: compare Gislebertus with other medieval artists such as the Master of Cabestany and Master Mateo (both 12th century).

Unfortunately almost next to nothing is known about his life, or who taught him the art of sculpture. His first recognised stone carvings can be seen in the Abbey of Cluny - one of the great sites of Romanesque architecture in Burgundy - where he worked as one of the chief assistants in the workshop of the Master of Cluny, another of the outstanding medieval artists active in France.



In 1115, Gislebertus contributed some decorative sculptures to the Abbey of Cluny (the most influential of all Romanesque monasteries) which can still be seen in the western doorway today. Following his apprenticeship in Cluny, Gislebertus moved to Vezelay, where the cathedral was attracting huge amounts of pilgrims on their way to Santiago de Compostela and crusades to the Holy Land. Flush with funds, the bishop of Vezelay commissioned Gislebertus to decorate the tympanum for the main doorway – along with other reliefs inside the cathedral.

Saint Lazare Cathedral, Autun

In 1125 Gislebertus moved to Autun, where the local Bishop had expansion plans of his own. Saint Lazare Cathedral was originally built as a pilgrimage church to hold relics of Lazarus, which were discovered in the early 12th century. Lazarus was the brother of Mary Magdalene, and according to the bible was raised from the dead by Jesus. The Bishop of Autun, aware of all the tourists flocking to Vezelay, wanted to create an equally 'grandoise' cathedral in Autun. At this stage, Gislebertus reputation as one of the foremost sculptors of Christian art was firmly established. He first worked on the eastern part of the cathedral, which was finished and dedicated in 1130. Then he worked for the remaining four or five years on the West Tympanum. His work on the Western Typanum are celebrated for their expressionistic manner, and some of the designs, particularly the demon forms, almost verge on abstraction and contain echoes of Surrealism from the 20th century. The large scale sculpture on the western tympanum of the Last Judgement, which is over 6 metres high, is considered his masterpiece.

On the northern side of the cathedral, the large reclining nude of 'Eve' also exemplifies Gislebertus' excellence in expressionism and carving technique (although 'Eve' is now housed in the Rolin Museum, Autun). Gislebertus also created 60 capitals in the interior and doorways, most of which depict scenes from the bible. The imagination the artist showed in creating these pieces is renowned – for example, the tenderness he managed to portray in the sculptures of Christ's infancy, in stark contrast to the frightening scenes of judgement and damnation.

The Annunciation to the Magi (Saint-Lazare, 1120-30)

This famous capital from the church of Saint-Lazare in Autun is masterful in how much it conveys through its simple effective composition. the three kings are shown sleeping; they are identified by their number and their crowns. As they sleep, they have a vision of an angel, only the upper part of whom is shown, the rest being hidden behind the blanket of the sleeping magi. The angel gestures to the magi, and to the star above them, and we can almost hear his directions to them. The lines marking the folds of the angel's robes, and of the blanket, add dynamism to the composition that evokes the swirling drapery of the metopes at the Parthenon: see for example south metope No 30, Battle of the Lapith and the Centaurs.

Although Gislebertus would undoubtedly have worked with numerous assistants, his works from this period can be clearly identified as he took the unusual step at the time of signing his work very prominently with the words 'Gislebertus hoc fecit' (Gislebertus made this). The fact he was allowed to do so, is an indication that he was highly regarded in his own time.


Gislebertus (not to be confused with Gilabertus, another sculptor of the same period who signed two figurative sculptures at St Etienne Cathedral in Toulouse) is considered one of the masters of Romanesque-style medieval sculpture. It was his vivid imagination, combined with practical skill that inspired a generation of other sculptors who would march towards the expressive style of Gothic art and architecture.

More About 12th Century Romanesque Art

For more about Christian Romanesque art in Western Europe, please see the Belgian school of Mosan Art, exemplified by the outstanding metalwork of Nicholas of Verdun (1156-1232) and Godefroid de Claire (1100-1173).

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