Depictions of early sieges at Foix Castle and Jerusalem
When depicting the past the medieval artist would portray it as a contemporary event. Centuries later we view history as he saw it but what was castle warfare really like in 12th and 15th century France? Two sculptures and a tapestry provide an answer.
The Château de Foix is situated in the town of Foix (Midi-Pyrénées). Its museum houses two carvings from the 12th century cloister of Saint-Volusien Abbey. These depict the siege and destruction of Foix Castle in the 5th century by the Visigoths but portrayed as a present day event. Artefacts from a siege at Montsegur in France also survive in its museum.
The object of their wrath was the Bishop of Tours, later to be canonised as Saint-Volusien.
Here we have one of the earliest depictions of the siege and capture of a castle.
One depicts a towered and battlemented stone castle with its gate firmly shut and under attack. A crossbowman keeps heads down as a sapper undermines the wall. A defender is being dealt a heavy blow on his head by a shield-bearing, sword-wielding attacker.
In the other, it is all over. The door is smashed and the castle is being demolished. Volusien, distinctive in his twin-pointed mitre, with bound wrists and rope around his neck, is being led off by two Visigoths for what will be an unpleasant end – what else would one expect from a Visigoth!
The Château de Saumur is located in the French town of Saumur, in the Maine-et-Loire. Its museum hosts a 15h century tapestry depicting the capture of Jerusalem in 1099. The Crusading forces, splendidly protected in plate armour and carrying firearms, are storming the city walls.
Take a closer look at the firearm. While one soldier takes careful aim his companion applies a match to ignite the charge. Jerusalem fell by conventional means and not by gunpowder but what a splendid depiction of its time is left by this tapestry.