In this scene, monks process into a Gothic crypt bearing a weathered corpse in an open casket. Other members of their order, having opened the tomb to receive it, discover a recently dead body, prompting commotion. There is general agreement that the painting dates to the 1820s, a time when Romantic painters actively sought inspiration for their pictures in popular literature, and that, given the specificity of the action, the painting depicts an episode from a Gothic novel of the period (see Noon 2002; Rébecca Duffeix, email, May 5, 2011, Department of European Paintings files). By contrast, one scholar has suggested that the painting may be inspired by such texts without being based on a specific one (Beth S. Wright, email, November 19, 2011). Whatever the case, the underlying narrative remains unidentified.
Alexandre-Evariste Fragonard—son of Jean Honoré Fragonard—contributed prolifically to this trend. Similar subjects in his oeuvre include Vivant Denon Returning the Bones of El Cid to His Tomb, 1809 (Musée Antoine Lécuyer, Saint-Quentin; see Jacques Foucart in French Painting 1774–1830: The Age of Revolution, exh. cat., Grand Palais, Paris, and elsewhere, Detroit, 1975, pp. 413–15, no. 57, ill. p. 218 ) and The Trapped Lovers (Musée du Louvre, Paris; see Esther Bell in Louis-Antoine Prat and Jennifer Tonkovich et al., David, Delacroix, and Revolutionary France: Drawings from the Louvre, exh. cat., Morgan Library and Museum, New York, 2011, pp. 88–89, no. 34, ill.). The artist’s livre de raison lists two other such subjects, "le tombeau d’eusthene le phisionomiste" and "la mort de diego de Colmenares" (Musée du Louvre, Paris, inv. RF 52597 verso).
Noon (2002) has identified Fragonard’s lithograph Ruins of the Great Church of Saint-Wandrille Abbey, 1820, as a possibly related work. (It was published in baron Taylor et al., Voyages pittoresques et romantiques dans l’ancienne France, vols. 1–2 [Ancienne Normandie], Paris, 1820–25, pl. 23; see Laure Dolan in Lucie Goujard et al., Voyages pittoresques: Normandie 1820–2009, exh. cat., Musée des Beaux-Arts, Rouen, and elsewhere, Milan, 2009, p. 163, no. I-1-11, ill.)
[2013; based on research undertaken in conjunction with Miller 2013]