Mischief and humor abound on the ten architectural supports set around the perimeter of this gallery. Naked grimacing acrobats wrestle and pull violently at each others’ beards; a snarling beast proudly claims a bone. Similar mischievous, and sometimes mystifying, motifs are often found on corbels set just under the eaves of the roof on the outside of a church.
Notre-Dame-de-la-Grande-Sauve, the church from which these corbels come, was situated on one of the routes to the shrine of Santiago de Compostela in northern Spain. Set next to a great forest (the silva major from which its name comes) and dominating a hill overlooking the Gironde River, its community grew from seven monks at its founding in 1079 to some 300. The abbey benefited from donations from famous patrons, including a gift from Eleanor of Aquitaine, and Henry II king of England, in 1156.
In the aftermath of the French Revolution, the monastic buildings served as a prison. The church vaults collapsed in 1809, and a fire in 1910 further compromised the site. Still, some related corbels survive on the church exterior.
From the abbey of Notre-Dame-de-la-Grande-Sauve, near Bordeaux; George and Florence Blumenthal, Paris and New York (until 1934)