Godefroid de Claire (de Huy)
Biography of Mosan Romanesque Goldsmith and Enameller.

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The Stavelot Triptych (1156)
(Central Panel) An exquisite piece of
Romanesque Mosan metalwork,
possibly by Godefroid de Claire.
Morgan Library & Museum, New York.

Godefroid de Claire (de Huy) (c.1100-1173)


Stavelot Monastery
The Stavelot Triptych
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According to early sources, Godefroid de Claire (or de Huy) was one of the great representatives of Mosan art, a regional school of Romanesque art which grew up in the valley of the Meuse River, particularly the area around Liege and the Benedictine monastery of Stavelot. Like his younger contemporary Nicholas of Verdun (c.1156–1232), he was an expert in goldsmithing and associated jewellery art, such as enamelling, and some scholars believe that he may have trained in the workshop of Rainer of Huy. Born in Huy-sur-le-Meuse, he was active between 1130 and 1150, chiefly in the area of Stavelot and the Meuse valley, in present-day Belgium. Sadly, there is little firm evidence of his life and works, except that he seems to have been closely associated with Stavelot Abbey, an important and prolific patron of religious art, including Romanesque illuminated manuscripts, metalwork and other forms of decorative art. Among the masterpieces of medieval Christian art attributed to him, are a bronze aquamanile reliquary of Saint Alexander (Pope Alexander I and Bishop of Rome 107-115.) (c.1145, Royal Museums of Art and History, Brussels) and two enamel plates decorated with the baptism of Christ and the Crucifixion. His involvement in the Stavelot Triptych remains a matter of conjecture.


During the 11th century the Roman Church began an ambitious program of church building which was closely associated with the acquisition and storage of venerated relics of Saints and other holy artifacts, many of which were acquired during the crusades. As a result, Rome quickly became Europe's most important patron of Romanesque architecture (cathedrals, abbey churches), Romanesque sculpture (column statues, portal reliefs), metalwork (shrines, reliquaries, liturgical vessels, crosses and plate) and Romanesque painting (11th century Stavelot Bible) as well as altarpiece art (Klosterneuburg Altar) of various kinds. Funds for Christian art in the Meuse River valley were typically managed by the larger monasteries, like those of Aachen, Floreffe, Lobbes, Maastricht, Nivelles, Sint Odilienberg, Sint-Truiden and Stavelot, as well as through the Prince-Bishopric of Liege. And in terms of styles, the Meuse area - being quite close to the Aachen of King Charlemagne - was strongly influenced by Carolingian art, and by the Ottonian art that followed. Meantime, the Romanesque revival led to the breakdown of artist anonymity, with several medieval artists becoming widely known within their field. Examples include: Gislebertus (active 1120-1135), the Master of Cabestany (12th century), Master Mateo (12th century), Nicholas of Verdun, and Rainer of Huy.

Although the main Romanesque art form was architecture, the most important form of medieval art was metalwork, not least because it created the repositories for the Church's precious relics. So cathedrals, churches and important people would show off their wealth and power through their possession of beautiful reliquaries and other objects of decorative art - the more expensive, enamelled and jewel-encrusted, the better.

Stavelot Monastery

Stavelot was the centre of the Principality of Stavelot-Malmedy, a small Principality of the Holy Roman Empire, governed by the Prince-Abbot of the local Benedictine monastery. Around the middle of the 12th century, the Prince-Abbot of Stavelot monastery began giving financial support to a number of metalworking workshops and goldsmiths who specialized in producing champlevé enamels, including Godefroid de Claire. In fact, it was in 1156, during the reign of Prince-Abbot Wibald (1130–58) - a very important patron of the arts of the time - that the celebrated Stavelot Triptych was created, as a repository for two fragments of the True Cross owned by the monastery. Since Godefroid de Claire was one of the finest craftsmen in the region, and closely associated with the monastery, and active at the time, it seems most likely that he was heavily involved in the creation of the triptych.

The Stavelot Triptych (1156)

The Stavelot Triptych (now in the Morgan Library and Museum, New York) is a medieval 12th century reliquary and portable altar, overlaid with gold and enamel, which was designed to house fragments of the True Cross. Created by Mosan goldsmiths and enamellers at Stavelot Abbey in present-day Belgium, the Triptych is a hinged three-part shrine which measures 48 cm (19 inches) in height and 66 cm (26 inches) in width, when fully extended. The middle section itself contains two smaller triptychs, each containing slivers of the True Cross. The work has been created using both cloisonné and champlevé enamelling techniques, in which Mosan artists were European leaders.

There is no record of who designed the Stavelot Triptych, or who assisted in its manufacture and ornamentation. Nor do we know with certainty who commissioned it, or paid for it. We do know that the monastery of Stavelot that ruled the Principality of Stavelot-Malmedy, ordered a number of sumptuous pieces of religious metalwork, and also ran a busy scriptorium which was responsible for making a series of important illuminated manuscripts including the well known Stavelot Bible of 1093–97. We also know that in 1154 Emperor Frederick Barbarossa dispatched Prince-Abbot Wibald on a diplomatic trip to Constantinople, where he may have received the two smaller triptychs as diplomatic gifts from the Byzantine Emperor.

On balance therefore, the likelihood remains that Godefroid de Claire, through his ties to Wibald, assisted in the creation of the Stavelot Triptych, thus confirming his contribution to the Mosan art of the period.

At any rate, the work is seen as a masterpiece of Mosan metalwork and a clear illustration of the diverging traditions of Eastern and Western art during the Romanesque period. The smaller inner triptychs feature static, hierarchal figures - created in the style of Byzantine Art - who stand silently in adoration of Christ and the cross. In contrast, the outer triptych features Western-style narrative storytelling with dynamic figures enacting dramatic battles and miracles.

Related Articles

Early Christian Art (c.150-1100).
Architecture, sculpture, mosaics, ivory carving, illuminated gospel texts.

Medieval Sculpture (c.300-1000)
From Late Antiquity to Romanesque.

Byzantine Christian Art (c.400-1200)
Mosaics, architecture, panel paintings, icons from Ravenna, Constantinople.

History of Illuminated Manuscripts (600-1200)
Evolution of Gospel illuminations across Europe.

German Medieval Art (c.800-1250)
Carolingian, Ottonian and other styles of architecture, sculpture, illuminations.


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