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Gothic royal tombs of Northern Europe

The king never dies

Regia maiestas non moritur.

In the Middle Ages it was believed that the King never died. Or rather that, while his Body natural perished, his Body politic, this "persona idealis" adorned and invested with the "Estate and Dignity royal", always prevailed. These two entities that comprise temporal royal power - Body natural and Body politic - became inseparably fused in the ritual of coronation. The funeral offices manifested a belief in their consolidated existence, and Gothic royal tombs of Northern Europe depicted it in a perpetual image. For why otherwise would an effigy, which, though placed horizontally with head resting on a pillow, as if lying on a bier, appear so animated as if ready to rise? The deceased were portrayed with eyes open, holding a sceptre or a sword, their dress modeled to fall in straight, vertical folds, natural for a standing rather than reclining, position; their feet resting on a corbel, lion or dog.

The dichotomy implicit in the recumbent figure of the deceased composed as if a living person, standing with his eyes open, reveals the ambivalent nature of medieval effigies; their "inextricably intermingled" earthly and heavenly existence. A reclining but active position declares a state of sacred sleep: the body is dead but alert in its anticipation of rising to eternal salvation on the day of Judgement.

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