Bar-le-Duc, France

Transi de René de Chalon

Statue of a decomposing prince that once held his heart in its hand


Displayed in the Saint-Étienne church in the city Bar-le-Duc in France, is the figure of René de Chalon, Prince of Orange. The prince died at the young age of 25 during the siege of Saint-Dizier in 1544. Rather then memorialize him in the standard manly hero form, his wife requested (or René himself requested, or possibly both) that he be shown as "not a standard figure but a life-size skeleton with strips of dried skin flapping over a hollow carcass, whose right hand clutches at the empty rib cage while the left hand holds high his heart in a grand gesture." (Medrano-Cabral)

Rendered as a rotting corpse, complete with exposed muscles and skin flaps hanging off of his body, the statue served as a reliquary as well, and once held the Prince's actual dried heart — contained in a heart-shaped reliquary — in its outstretched hand.

Known as a "transi," the rotting body was a Renaissance form in which the process of decomposition and death were shown clearly as the "transition" from earthly body to decomposition. "Dust to dust," it was a reminder that flesh is temporary and we will all pass into the afterlife -- presumably meant to inspire feelings of penitence and a desire to get right with God.

Sculpted by Ligier Richier in 1547, a pupil of Michelangelo, the white stone "Transi de René de Chalon" is one of the finest and most ghoulish in the world. Sadly, the sculpture no longer contains Chalon's heart; it is believed to have been stolen during the French Revolution.

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    Saint-Étienne church, Place Saint-Pierre, Bar-le-Duc, 55000, France
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