Les statues-menhirs du musée FenailleLes statues-menhirs du musée Fenaille
©Les statues-menhirs du musée Fenaille|Office de tourisme Rodez Agglomération
The statues‑menhirs rouergates.at the Fenaille Museum

Meet the Lady of Saint Sernin in Fenaille museum

Meet the Lady of Saint-Sernin at the Fenaille Museum.  This statue-menhir was found in 1888 in South Aveyron

Feature of a

Statue-menhir.

This statue-menhir was found in the Saint-Sernin-sur-Rance area in South Aveyron and is the reason why these monuments were researched. Mentioned in 1888, the young curate Frédéric Hermet was the first to identify it and invented the term “statue-menhir“.

Statue-menhirs are sculptures made from earth whose overall shape looks like a menhir. But the front, back and sides of the entire character are sculpted on these unique statues.

 

The figure is portrayed:

  • at the bottom: straight legs, belted waist,
  • bent arms on the bust are extended at the back by cross-shaped shoulder blades,
  • only the eyes and nose appear as well as tattoos in the form of parallel stripes on the cheeks. The mouth rarely appears.

The Lady of Saint-Sernin wears a large coat with heavy parallel pleats.

Female or male figure.

 

Statue-menhirs use bodily signs, costumes and accessories worn by the people who created them to reflect gender. You can distinguish between female and male figures from the bas-relief or engraved sculpted surface:

 

  • Female figures have button-shaped breasts, rows of necklaces around their necks and pony tails.
  • Men carry weapons (bows, arrows, axes) and a harness across their chest with a fur hanging off it and probably containing a dagger
Unknown meaning

Statue-menhirs.

It’s hard to understand the meaning behind the statue-menhirs: are they gods, heroes, dignitaries? For Rouergue headstones, the lack of related archaeological documents doesn’t help matters.

Statue-menhirs are the oldest monumental statues known to exist in Western Europe: the first sculpted figures date back to the to Upper Paleolithic and rarely exceed 30cm. It wasn’t until the end of the Neolithic Age that man was first depicted in life-size and sometimes even bigger. These statues are contemporaries with the greats of Egypt and Mesopotamia.

The Statues-Menhirs

And Pierre Soulages.

In the 1940s, the young Pierre Soulages encountered them in a small ground floor gallery at the Fenaille Museum.

“When I first saw the engraved headstones at the Fenaille Museum, they came as a shock”. (Pierre Soulages)

The lighting isn’t great but a small group of a dozen sculptures are presented to visitors in relative secrecy. The collection is still a prehistoric source of fascination.

The stunning series of walnut stains by Pierre Soulages (1947-1949) has the same frontality and radical construction. Some of the artist’s etchings, real future headstones, draw us in. Since we’re looking at similarities, the perfectly aniconic Glassblower statue-menhir is a powerful eye-opener. It’s still Pierre Soulages‘ favourite.

 

 

“It may be because of how I felt when I saw these pieces that I was led to look elsewhere and maybe even keep an eye out for these original moments whilst painting.”

Pierre Soulages