The strongly representative character of the Calvary of Champmol is based, however, on something other than its purely sculptural qualities; that is, on the splendor in which the entire work was cast. It should be imagined as if it were painted in polychrome by Jean Maelweel and gilded by Hermann of Cologne. Not a single colorful or dramatic effect had been left out. The prophets in their golden coats were standing on green pedestals; Moses and Zachariah in red robes, their coats lined in blue; David entirely in blue with golden stars; Jeremiah in dark blue; Jessiah, the saddest of them all, in brocade. Golden suns and initials filled the empty areas. Add to all this the coats of arms! The proud coats of arms of the ducal region gleamed not only on the shaft of the base below the prophets, but even on the crosspiece of the great, entirely gilded cross—on its extensions shaped like capitals had been placed the coats of arms of Burgundy and Flanders! This, perhaps more than the gilded copper pair of glasses, supplied by Hannequin de Hacht for the nose of Jeremiah, testifies to the spirit that gave rise to this grand ducal work of art.
The dependence of this work on its princely sponsors contributes to a somewhat tragic and elevated element because of the greatness by means of which the artist manages to evade the restrictions of his commission. The representation of the “Plourants” around the sarcophagus had become obligatory in Burgundian funeral art long ago. Its aim was not a creative expression of pain in all its depths, but rather only a very realistic depiction of a part of the actual procession that had accompanied the body to the grave and with all the dignitaries readily recognizable. How skillfully Sluter and his assistants managed to turn this motif into a profound and dignified depiction of grief, into a funeral march in stone!
But this may perhaps be overstating the assumption of disharmony between sponsor and artist. It is not entirely certain that it was not Sluter himself who found the pair of glasses on Jeremiah to be a great idea. Taste and tastelessness were, so to speak, not separated in the minds of that age; the genuine appreciation of art and the infatuation with pomp and curiosities had not yet parted company. The naive imagination was still able to enjoy without embarrassment that which was bizarre as if it were beautiful. A collection such as that in the Green Vault in Dresden displays the separated caput mortuum that had once been a whole with the princely art collections. In Hesdin Castle, which was both a treasure house of art and a pleasure garden filled with those mechanical amusements, engine d’ esbatement Caxton came across a room decorated with paintings depicting the story of Jason, the hero of the Golden Fleece. For the sake of greater effect, lightning, thunder, snow, and rain making implements were attached in imitation of Medea’s magic tricks.
Imagination was also freely indulged in creating the performances, the personages which were placed on street corners during princely entry processions. During the 1389 entry into Paris of Isabella of Bavaria as wife of Charles VI, a white stag with gilded antlers and a crown around its neck was placed among the holy scenes. The stag rested on a lit de justice and moved his eyes, antlers, feet, and, to conclude, raised a sword. During the same procession an angel “par engins bien faits” descended from the tower of Notre Dame, entered through a gap in the blue taffeta canopy covering the entire bridge just at the moment the queen passed by, placed a crown on her head and disappeared in the same way it had arrived “comme s’il s’en fust retourné de soy mesmes au ciel.” Philip the Good is presented with a similarly descending maiden during an entry into Ghent, as is Charles VII in Reims in 1484. We are hard put to imagine anything more silly than a so-called pantomime horse moved by a man inside, but during the fifteenth century this was apparently not the case. In any event, Le Fèvre de Saint Remy reports, without a trace of ridicule, about a performance by four trumpeters and twelve noblemen “sur chevaulx de artifice,” “saillans et poursaillians tellement que belle chose estoit à veoir.”