Meet the mourners

(I am indebted to Book Glutton, who is responsible for much of the research in this post.)

[Parker] motioned them in. Bett came in first, and her father followed, clutching the book protectively to his chest. It was a large, slender book with a red binding and a picture on the cover of some people in a balloon.

He held it up, and Parker saw above the picture a title: Horizon. And below the picture a date: September, 1958. So it was a magazine that looked like a book.

The above passages (pages 29-30 of my Avon edition) introduce what was almost certainly Richard Stark’s inspiration for Parker’s fourth adventure, The Mourner. Yes, the magazine exists, just as described in the novel.

Horizon: A Magazine of the Arts, was published by the American Heritage Foundation (in hardback, like its flagship American Heritage), and the issue described by Stark is its very first. Harrow futilely tries to get Parker to read an article beginning on page 62: “You see the title? ‘The Missing Mourners Of Dijon,’ by Fernand Auberjonois.”

And sure enough, that’s the article on page 62.

What are the Mourners of Dijon? Here is the description from The Mourner:

“These statuettes, eighty-two of them, were made for the tomb of John the Fearless and Philip the Good, Dukes of Burgundy,” Harrow said. “John was murdered in 1419, but not before ordering the tomb to be built. Philip was his son, and survived till 1467, when he–“

“The statues,” Parker said.

“Yes. The statues. They are sixteen inches high, made of alabaster, and were placed in niches at the base of the two memorials. No two of them are precisely alike, and they all express an attitude of mourning. Every possible variation on mourning, both true and false. There are monks, priests, choirboys–Well. At any rate, they are priceless. And at the time of the French Revolution, many of them were stolen or lost. At the present time, seventy-four of the statuettes are still in Dijon; some were always there, others have been found and returned. Of the remaining eight, one is owned by a private collector in France, two by a private collector in this country, in Ohio, and two are in the Cleveland Museum. The other three mourners are still missing.”

Some of the information in the novel (and I assume the source article) seems to be inaccurate. What I’ve found online indicates that the Mourners were made in honor of Philip the Bold (John the Fearless’ father) and John the Fearless, but not Philip the Good (John the Fearless’ son). The error is strange–how could a highly respected journalist in a high-end publication like Horizon screw up something as major as an entire king? I have no clue, and the Internet was not much help in solving this mystery.

It didn’t help in trying to get to the bottom of it that what I’ve found online on the Mourners isn’t very in-depth. This is also surprising, because the Mourners from the tomb of John the Fearless are on tour in the United States at this very moment, on the following schedule:

  • March 2, 2010 – May 23, 2010: Metropolitan Museum of Art (NYC, NY) (sorry I was late!)
  • June 20, 2010 – September 6, 2010: Saint Louis Art Museum (Saint Louis, MO)
  • October 3, 2010 – January 2, 2011: Dallas Art Museum (Dallas, TX)
  • January 23, 2011 – April 17, 2011: Minneapolis Institute of Art (Minneapolis, MN)
  • May 8, 2011 – July 31, 2011: Los Angeles County Museum of Art (Los Angeles, CA)
  • August 21, 2011 – January 1, 2012: Legion of Honor (San Francisco, CA)
  • January 20, 2012 – April 15, 2012: Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (Richmond, VA)

One would think this would mean that there would be a good, short history of the Mourners of Dijon online somewhere, but so far as I can tell, there isn’t. There isn’t even a Wikipedia article.

However, there is this official Mourners website. It looks like an ambitious project that was unfortunately dropped in its early stages, so there isn’t as much information there as one would hope. But it does feature rotating 3-D photographic renderings of the touring Mourners that are a pleasure to look at. Here’s one that is in some ways similar to the missing mourner described in the novel:

Mourner #60: Mourner with an uncovered head, his hands clasped before his chest

(You can check out the rotating 2-D and 3-D version here.)

If you do go see the Mourners exhibit, you probably won’t be able to take pictures. For those who want pictures, there’s the official site and the companion book to the exhibit, The Mourners: Tomb Sculpture from the Court of Burgundy by Sophie Jugie, director of the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Dijon. (I think this book only covers the touring Mourners, not the ones remaining in France or elsewhere.)

I’d eventually like to transform this very rough first draft into a brief background section to be linked from The Mourner page, to include the original article from Horizon, a short and accurate history of the Mourners, updates on changes to the status of the various Mourners since The Mourner was published in 1963, information on anything the novel (or the Horizon article) got wrong, and anything else that may be of interest to readers seeking to dig a little deeper. Contact me if you can help with any of this.

In the meantime, go check out the Mourners of Dijon if the tour takes them near your part of the country. I’m hoping to catch them in Dallas.

(Last two pictures swiped from the New York Times.)

Is it wrong of me to wish they sold reasonably priced reproductions of these guys? Collect ’em all!

Yeah, probably wrong, but it wouldn’t stop me from buying them.