This painting, by the French artist Albert Maignan (1845–1908), depicts the death of Chlodobert, son of the Frankish King Chilperic I (r. 561-584) and Queen Fredegund. Chlodobert’s death occurred in the year 580, when a great outbreak of dysentery tormented the several kingdoms that made up the empire of the Franks. Gregory of Tours (c. 539-594), a bishop and historian who lived contemporaneously to that time, described Chlodobert’s final moments:
“As for Chlodobert, they placed him on a stretcher and carried him to the church of Saint Medard in Soissons. They set him down before the Saint’s tomb and made vows for his recovery. He died in the middle of the night, worn to a shadow and hardly drawing breath. They buried him in the church of the holy martyrs Crispin and Crispian. The whole populace bewailed his death” (History of the Franks, V.34).
Albert Maignan admirably followed Gregory’s account in painting the scene shown above. The background behind young Chlodobert clearly shows the tomb of Saint Medard, and Chilperic and Fredegund are displayed offering their vows and prayers in hopes of a miracle that, unfortunately, would not come. Many more deaths would result from the dysentery outbreak of 580, affecting the nobility seemingly just as bad as the commoners. Chilperic and Fredegund would lose a second son to the disease, and the king’s brother, Guntram of Burgundy, also lost his wife, Queen Austrechild, in the same epidemic.
Written by C. Keith Hansley
- The History of the Franks by Gregory of Tours, translated by Lewis Thorpe. New York: Penguin Classics, 1971.