French, Romanesque portal, ca. 1150, Limestone; 386.1 x 422.9 cm (152 x 166 1/2 inches), Museum Appropriation Fund 40.014
This massive portal served as an entrance to a church in the Loire Valley in western France. Typically Romanesque in its rounded, heavy appearance, it is composed of three set-back arches resting on two broad and four slender, engaged columns. A narrower outer arch is decorated with a saw-tooth design that is repeated along the continuous cornice above the capitals. Although the sculptural decoration of Romanesque churches frequently served an instructive purpose, the capitals on this portal are predominantly secular in design, consisting of combinations of palm fronds, stars, ribbons, flowers, and small mask-like faces. One notable exception is the inclusion of two standing birds that drink from a single vessel on the inner capital at left. Long familiar in Christian art, this group served as an allegory of baptism and resurrection and also symbolized Christ’s presence in the consecrated wine of the Mass.