Despite the irreparable losses suffered by the artistic heritage of the Nord-Pas-de-Calais region as a result of the Wars of Religion and annexation to France, the Revolution and the two World Wars, the little that remains allows us to situate the origin of this statue of a kneeling Roman soldier within its artistic milieu of the first third of the 17th century, in particular around the sculptor Adam Lottman (Coulogne, near Calais, around 1583- Saint-Omer, around 1658) and more particularly his only known pupil and collaborator, Jaspard Marsy (Salesches 1600 - Cambrai 1674). One thinks in particular of the alabaster statues by Lottman which decorate the altarpiece of the church of Notre-Dame de Calais (1624-1629) and the statuary of the rood screen, converted into an organ loft, of the church of Notre-Dame de Cambrai, formerly the abbey church of Saint-Aubert, made between 1635 and 1641 by Marsy.
Like the figures of Saint Luke of Calais, our Roman soldier has a square-jawed face with a straight, pointed nose. The eyeballs are smooth with linear, protruding lower eyelids and slightly protruding upper ones. As in some angel figures of the same altarpiece, similarities can be found in the half-open mouths framed by finely drawn lips, the upper ones rising in the middle under the median groove, and the lower ones raised at the level of the mento-labial groove in a bowl above the outgoing chin.
The hair, of undeniable originality, is made up of strands with deep furrows forming shell-like curls. Less abundant, however, than the sheep-like hair of the evangelists and angels of Lottman in Calais, it resembles more closely that of several heads of figures in the Cambrian rood screen of Marsy, which would suggest that the statue is more likely to be attributed to attribute the statue to the latter rather than to his teacher. In any case, it belongs to the artistic artistic milieu initiated by Lottman.
The importance of the commissions that were placed with Adam Lottman, sculptor, entrepreneur and architect, makes him the first and architect, made him the leading sculptor in his region in the first third of the 17th century. In addition to the altarpiece of the high altar of the church of Our Lady of Callais (1624-1627), he also made the rood screens of the rood screens in the Parish Church of Notre-Dame de la Chaussée in Valenciennes (1614-1617), in the Benedictine abbey church of Saint-Bertin in Saint-Omer (1618-1622), the church of Notre-Dame-la-Grande in Valencienne (1627-1634) and the collegiate church of Saint-Amé in Douai (1639-1645). For the Saint-Bertin of the Assumption chapel, the organ loft, and at the end of his life, the design of several altars. All these works have unfortunately disappeared.
Although there is a lack of studies on this subject, it is conceivable that he also had to respond to less sumptuous commissions, such as cenotaphs and funeral monuments, statues or groups for altars and chapels, following the example of his pupil Marsy, whose oldest identified statue is the large Saint Sebastian from a canon's tomb against one of the pillars of the church of Notre-Dame in Cambrai (1625, Musée des Beaux-Arts). This statue echoes the half-open mouth of the Roman soldier, albeit with a less grimacing expression of pain, but with the crown of teeth represented, which further strengthens the hypothesis that our statue belongs to this artistic milieu.
Is the Roman soldier the work of Lottman or Marsy ? And what if it is a youthful creation by the latter, a work contemporary with his Saint Sebastian ? This would resolve the question of the hair, clearly his invention, and the very present influence of his master. The Roman soldier does indeed bear the expressive tension and plastic refinement specific to the tradition of the late-Renaissance style of northern France, which had no equivalent elsewhere in the Netherlands at the time, and which was maintained until the mid-1630s in the field of sculpture until the mid-1630s. [...]
Full and illustrated entry by Alain Jacobs available upon request
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