Mourner No. 78, with a drawn hood lifting his right hand and holding a book in his left hand, within a fold of his cloak. Courtesy


Mourner No. 26, on iPhone tweeting, “OMG, almost @cathedral steps. Is that Snooki?”

Actual descriptors for The Mourners, 38 French medieval tomb sculptures from the Court of Burgundy, on exhibition at the Minneapolis Institute of Art, read more decorously.

Mourner No. 52, with drawn hood drying his eyes with a fold of his cloak held in his right hand, his left hand on his chest

Mourner No. 73, mourner with hood folded back, both hands at his belt, a dagger at his left side

These exquisite figures in alabaster, only 16 inches tall, portraying individual expressions of grief, are touring the U.S. while their home at the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Dijon is renovated. At the Art Institute, they are displayed in single-file procession on a long, narrow, runway-like pedestal. Entering the gallery, you feel as if the procession of Mourners is moving toward you. It’s a little disconcerting, like the experience of realizing you have barged into a line of cars in a modern-day funeral procession. (No, of course you haven’t.)

I’m entranced by the quiet dignity of these figures. Not that this keeps me from irreverently spinning their 3D images at, a gem of a website where you can manipulate each figure 360 degrees for closer inspection.

The individual mourners beg contemplation: What is the book carried by Mourner No. 63, with hood folded back, pointing with his right hand to a wrapped book held in his left hand? How does Mourner No. 53, hood drawn, hands clasped at his waist see where he’s going?

Sculpted in our age of social media, The Mourners would, undoubtedly, leave us less to mull.

Mourner No. 12, texting about the slow progress of the procession

Mourner No. 25, with cell phone, cursing poor coverage

Mourner No. 18, uploading photo of herself and Mourner No. 19 to Facebook

Mourner No. 34, shooting YouTube video of himself  whispering, “Winning!”

We live in indecorous times.

Perhaps that’s worth mourning.