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Crucifixion of the Parliament of Toulouse


Crucifixion of the Parliament of Toulouse,
after restoration.

Photo : Daniel Martin.
The Christ on the Cross in the Musee des Augustins in Toulouse, which is unusual in that it is accompanied by royal donors, originally hung in the Main Chamber of the Parliament of the States of Languedoc which had its seat in the Chateau Narbonnais in times gone by, on the site of the city’s present Palais de Justice. Generally known as the Retable du Parlement de Toulouse, we prefer, given its original location, to call it the Crucifixion of the Parliament of Toulouse; the word "retable" usually refers to a work placed above an altar. This is a rare painted wooden panel, commonly accepted as having originated in Toulouse. Unfortunately, there is no archive material in existence which might be able to throw light on the circumstances in which this work was commissioned: painted in the late Middle Ages, it remains anonymous.

Its material history includes irreparable damage sustained during the unrest of the Revolution. Transferred to the store of the future Musee des Augustins, the work was only rediscovered in 1853 in a picture gallery in the church in the old monastery buildings. The Crucifixion then aroused the interest of local scholars, but a scandal caused by the invention of a false payment order given to the Capitouls caused it to sink once more into oblivion. It was then exhibited at the Musee Saint-Raymond in 1900 before being reintegrated into the collection of the Musee des Augustins in 1949 as part of a plan to reorganize the museums of Toulouse.

Rarely on display to the public, having suffered from poor storage conditions since the 19 th Century, the work has undergone different interventions over the years due to its worrying state. Some have been unfortunate in that they have led to the almost total disappearance of the golden background and numerous repaints.

The necessity of restoring overall cohesion via a large-scale restoration (with the added intention of removing previous additions) also offered the possibility of carrying out an in-depth study at the same time.

Its date and origin, however, continue to be problematical: the designation School of Toulouse was invented in 1864 but no longer seems appropriate because of the erratic quality and the lack of stylistic consistency in the few surviving works. Other hypotheses put forward, such as an affiliation to the School of Avignon or an Occitan-Flemish, Southern or Aragonese origin merit further investigation.

Although it is considered to be an isolated work, a product of painting in Toulouse in the late Middle Ages, it is nevertheless an irreplaceable example of the easel painting which blossomed in the 15th Century in different French provinces.