The Hidden Body Speaks

"The drapery stands in as an expression of the body."—Peter Barnet, curator

Circle of Claus de Werve (Netherlandish, active in France, ca. 1380–1439, active Burgundy, 1396–1439). Saint Paul, 1420–30. Limestone with traces of paint. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Mrs. Stephen V. Harkness Fund, 1922 (22.31.1). Learn more about this object.

How does the sculpted body communicate? Hear from Met experts, leading authorities, and rising stars, each with a unique viewpoint on the language of gesture, facial expression, and pose.

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Will Crow: The sculptor has carved a heavy robe over most of this figure's body, and it conceals much of the figure from us. But what clues can we discover about this person's posture, even with this heavy robe?

Peter Barnet: This heavy drapery that covers Saint Paul really shows the relaxed contrapposto pose that he's in, where his weight is shifted onto one knee. The pose here is neither stiff nor frontal, but neither is it theatrical nor exaggerated.

Narrator: Although we can't see the form of Saint Paul's body clearly, the drapery stands in as kind of expression of the body.

Peter Barnet: I think the drapery serves an artistic function. It's a test that the sculptor has set for himself to convey as much as possible about the body beneath, through the folds of the drapery itself.

Griffith Mann: There is this dynamism that's created between the gravitational pull of the folds on the right side of the body and the shapes that you get on the left side of the body, with all those zigzag lines. So this tension between straight and wavy helps to give a sense of animation to the figure.

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