Cathedral of St. Lazare

This is the central portal on the West façade of the Cathedral of St. Lazare in Autun, France. The structuring around the portal, particularly the two arches on either side of the stairs, are angled towards the entrance as though they are instructing the viewer to look at a focal point or where to go if they intend to interact with the building. Following the loose guidelines which these mini-arcades set, our eye is lead to the central figure of the tympanum. The figure, along with the other images carved in relief around the portal, deal mostly with religious themes present in Christianity, as is expected of a Roman Catholic space of worship. All of these relief sculptures are carved from pale or white limestone.

All elements of the portal seem to suggest that the tympanum, the semicircle above the portal, and lintel are the core components of the entire structure. The central figure is the largest and is surrounded by a mandorla or body halo. He is carved in fairly high relief, though he and the other figures are flat compared to high relief sculpture of the Gothic period—this flatter, more stylized carving is indicative of the Romanesque period in which the cathedral was constructed. The figures are also stylized to be long and lanky, a technique taken up by this specific artist that is very representative of the Romanesque style as a whole.

The entire scene seems to actually start below the tympanum, in the lintel. The figures are naked and seem to be rising from the ground beneath them. Below the primary figure and in the middle of the lintel, an angel guides another figure either to its left-hand side. To central figure’s right, the figures of the lintel look up at him as they are moved along by other angelic, winged individuals. To the left, the figures look ashamed—their heads are bent, almost curling into the chest with the way the relief is stylized, and their mouths are opened mid-wail. As the viewers’ eyes travel more to the left, they can see figures curled in on themselves, as if in anguish, while others simply have terrified expressions. One figure in particular has its mouth open in horror, as two claw-like hands descend from above to grab onto its head.

The sculptor, supposedly a man named Gislebertus, inscribed his name in the frame of the lintel, which separates its scenes from that of the tympanum. In the semicircle above, on the left-hand side of the mandorla, figures even more unnaturalistic than the stylized human sculptures. They are choking the human figures with restraints around their necks, and other hellish creatures with seemingly stretched out bodies attempt to tip a set of scales. In the other side of the tympanum viewers can see figures in buildings depicted by arcades, as well as angels outside of them bringing other figures in. They are very long as the figures on the opposite side are, but they are covered by robes in stark contrast to the starved bodies with exposed ribs that the devilish figures have been given.

Another important part of the portal, which a viewer or congregation member would certainly see when attempting to enter the cathedral, is the trumeau. The trumeau is the middle post between two doors, and this one in particular is decorated with three figures, a man and two women flanking him. Their gazes are fixed straight ahead of them, looking out at those who would like to enter.

The jambs on either side of the portal are decorated by historiated capitals, which depict narrative scenes or allegories. One capital in particular is decorated with a man and a lion.  The lion’s mouth is open as if roaring, while the man holds one of the beast’s paws and looks down at it, as if studying it. Like the tympanum, the capital is sculpted in a flat, stylized way.


Works Cited:

Harris, Beth, and Steven Zucker. “Last Judgment Tympanum, Cathedral of St. Lazare, Autun.” Khan Academy, Khan Academy, 13 May 2012,

Seidel, Linda. Legends in Limestone: Lazarus, Gislebertus, and the Cathedral of Autun. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999. Print.

Cathedral of St. Lazare