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Tomb Effigy of a Recumbent Knight from the Abbey of Sainte-Marie, La Genevraye, Lower Normandy
Tomb Effigy of a Recumbent Knight from the Abbey of Sainte-Marie, La Genevraye, Lower Normandy , 1230-40
13 9/16 x 70 5/16 x 23 inches (34.4 x 178.6 x 58.4 cm)
Purchased with Museum funds from the George Grey Barnard Collection, 1945
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Looking and Discussing

Initial Observation
Have students work as a group to create a list of everything they see in the sculpture. Encourage students to list patterns, textures, and shapes, as well as objects.

Open Discussion
Begin an open discussion about the sculpture by asking students to share their first impressions of the work. Encourage students to think further by asking them if they are responding to what they see in the sculpture or if they are inferring things based on what they already know. What visual information in the sculpture is leading them to certain conclusions or assumptions? What life experiences are informing their responses?

Directed Looking
  • What was this man’s profession? How do you know?
    The figure is wearing armor, which indicates that he was a knight. His armor is mail, a material typical for thirteenth-century armor. He wears a surcoat and a belt for a sword; he also has a shield. We do not know who the knight was, but the blackbirds that appear on his shield were probably his coat of arms, which would have identified his family.
  • What words (adjectives!) would you use to describe knights? Looking at his expression and pose, what words would you use to describe this knight? How are your two lists different? What do they have in common?
    Words often used to describe knights, such as "noble" and "brave," may or may not describe the character of any individual knight. Students might enjoy writing a short story or drawing an imaginary scene from the life of this knight.
  • What does the position of the knight's body tell us about where this sculpture was and what it was used for?
    He is shown lying in repose, as if dead. The sculpture was carved for the lid of a tomb in a medieval French church. Tomb sculpture reminded later generations of the identity and achievements of the dead. From the position of the figure's arms we can see that he once had hands held in prayer. This pose represented him as a pious soul and reinforced the medieval belief that all activity in this life should be focused on reaching heaven after death.
  • The artist who carved this sculpture thought very carefully about how the knight would look lying down. What creates the illusion of gravity?
    Look at the hair as it falls away from the face and piles up on the pillow. Notice also the hood lying on the pillow, and the ripple in the mail sleeve as it drapes down and forms a pile. Small children might enjoy mimicking the pose of the knight, looking for evidence of gravity on their own hair and clothes.

Further Discussion
  • Ask students to find illustrations of military clothing from earlier and later periods in European history and from non-European cultures. How do they differ from this knight's armor? How can these differences be accounted for? Do people wear armor today?
  • Ask students to look at public monuments and statues in their neighborhoods. What is the purpose of these monuments? How do they differ from the knight's tomb? How does the knight's tomb differ from a modern tombstone?
  • Are there still knights in Europe? What sort of people might become knights today? Do knights still have to be warriors?


  • Knights made a coat of arms by combining symbols from both their parents' coats of arms. Have students create their own coats of arms, using symbols that stand for ideas important to their families.
  • Carving is a subtractive process in which you remove what is not wanted and leave what is desired. Have students try carving. Young students may carve in soap with dull instruments. Older students may carve in stone with hammers and chisels.

Time Line

  • 1099 European knights on the First Crusade to the Holy Lands capture Jerusalem and establish a Christian state that lasts for two hundred years
  • 1191 Priest returning from China brings Zen Buddhism to Japan
  • 1194 France’s Chartres Cathedral burns, rebuilding begins
  • 1206 India’s first Muslim empire is established in Delhi
  • 1215 Barons compel King John to issue the Magna Carta, limiting royal power in England
  • 1217–21 Fifth Crusade is led by Louis IX of France, later Saint Louis
  • 1230–40 Unknown artist carves Recumbent Knight from a Tomb Sculpture
  • c. 1240 First Thai kingdom is founded
  • 1248 Construction begins on the Alhambra, Muslim palace and citadel in Granada, Spain
  • 1250 Mamluks seize power in Egypt, beginning 250 years of rule by warrior sultans
  • 1260 Kublai Khan founds the Yuan dynasty, beginning a century of Mongol rule in China
  • 1267 Jacobus de Voragine compiles The Golden Legend, a popular book about the lives of Christian saints
  • 1275 Marco Polo visits the court of Kublai Khan in China
  • 1291 Muslim Mamluks capture Acre, ending Christian rule in Palestine
  • c. 1300 Osman I founds the Ottoman Empire
    Gunpowder is introduced to Europe from China
  • 1305 Giotto paints the Arena Chapel frescos in Padua, Italy

For more information, please contact The Division of Education by phone at (215) 684-7580, by fax at (215) 236-4063, or by e-mail at .

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