The Origin of the Effigies
An effigy is a funerary sculpture, painted, placed on a tomb. The effigy represents an ideal image of the deceased, lying, serene and usually asleep. The goal is to leave a trace, an ideal image of oneself and of his reign: often in a royal posture or prayer. Before his death in 1204, Eleanor of Aquitaine commissioned her own effigy, as well as those of Henry II and Richard. The sovereign made the Royal Abbey a royal necropolis, located in the heart of continental possessions of the Plantagenets. Historian Alain Erlande-Brandenburg wrote an article in this collective work, page 561 : https://books.google.fr/books?id=1RIAeAMUJywC&lpg=PA417&dq=exposition%20the%20year%201200&hl=fr&pg=PA417&output=embed
Installation in the Church
The effigies of the Plantagenets have rested in the nun's choir, in the nave, since the XIIIth century. But in 1638, the abbess Jeanne-Baptiste de Bourbon built the Mausoleum of the Cemetery of the Kings, which welcomed the four effigies. Located in the heart of the abbey church of Fontevraud, this mausoleum was destroyed in the Revolution.
A 40-year Stay in the Roman Kitchens
In 1814 the Royal Abbey of Fontevraud was converted into a prison. The effigies that were miraculously spared during the French Revolution were transferred to the Roman kitchens. They were considered at the time as a funeral chapel by local historian, Jean-François Bodin.
A Trip to the Cloister
In 1834, Prosper Mérimée, inspector of historic monuments has the effigies classified. After a short stay in Paris from 1846 to 1849 to be restored, the effigies returned to Fontevraud and were placed in the Chapter Hall.
Anecdote: in 1867, Napoleon III proposed to offer the effigies to Queen Victoria of England, convinced they would be better showcased in the UK. But a wave of protest from French intellectuals prevented him from making this happen.
Back in the Abbey Church
In 1860 the Royal Abbey of Fontevraud was classified a historic building and restoration work was started, even though it was still a prison. Between 1902 and 1914, architect Lucien Magne restored the abbey church. He demolished floors that had allowed the dormitories for prisoners to be built and recovered the original volume of the church. The effigies returned to their first location. A donation in 1922 allowed them to be displayed on pedestals, behind a locked gate in an apse of the church choir.
The Effigies Exhibited in the Church Nave
In 1930, the work begun by Lucien Magne was completed with the laying of new tiling in the abbey church. This layout allowed the display of the effigies to be reconsidered. A new provision is born, near the mausoleum of the Cemetery of the Kings of of which a mural painting remains.
Direction Paris & New York
In 1962, Eleanor's effigy left Fontevraud for the Louvre as part of the "Cathedrals" exhibition, then on to New York in 1970 for the "The Year 1200" exhibition.. For more information on the exhibition (page 15 for the effigy of Eleanor of Aquitaine): https://books.google.fr/books?id=ZDhmk3ntSkwC&lpg=PP1&hl=fr&pg=PP1&output=embed
Back in the Transept
In 1975, another move, of uncertain motivation, brings the four effigies to the South Transept arm, near the old sacristy. Curiously, the new provision does not include any means to keep visitors at a distance.
Abbey Excavation Spectators
In 1990, fives years of archaeological excavations in the abbey led the restorers to move the effigies one again. Provisionally placed in the transept crossing, they were protected by a glass surface.
Settled in the Heart of the Church
April 1992: The royal effigies are placed in the fourth bay of the nave. This new provision proposed by the chief architect of historical monuments, Pierre Prunet, is completed when new tiling is laid. This move leads the the restoration of effigies.
What will the effigies next destination be?
Today, the rest of the effigies is disturbed only by the hundreds of visitors to the Royal Abbey. "Was ist das?", lodging available right in the abbey allows visitors to spend a night in the company of the royal effigies. They are also honored in the Model of the time by François Delarozière (creator of Machines of the Isle of Nantes).