Skip to Content

To best protect the health and safety of our community, the museum is temporarily closed. Learn more.

Head of an Apostle

A work made of limestone.
CC0 Public Domain Designation

Image actions

  • A work made of limestone.


About 1210


French, Paris

About this artwork

This imposing head probably comes from a full-length sculpture of an apostle that was one of the column or jamb figures flanking the portals of the west facade of Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris. Showing the heritage of ancient and Byzantine models, it bears all the stylistic hallmarks of the beginning of the Gothic style in the region around the year 1200. The object’s origin was the subject of heated scholarly debate for several decades. Neutron activation analysis has shown that the limestone came from a quarry that also supplied stone for other carvings on Notre-Dame. The discovery of sculptural fragments from the cathedral’s Gallery of Kings above the west portals, dated to between 1220 and 1235 (and now in the Musée National du Moyen Âge, Paris), provided an important point of comparison. The Art Institute’s head is said to have been found during excavations for the modernization of Paris in the mid-nineteenth century. Medieval sculpture from Notre-Dame was purposefully damaged in the 1790s during the French Revolution because of its presumed royal associations. Fragments of some of the sculpture removed at the order of the revolutionary tribunal were buried out of a lingering respect for its tradition and quality, to be rediscovered in later years.

On View

European Painting and Sculpture, Gallery 236


Head of an Apostle








H: 43 cm (17 in.)

Credit Line

Kate S. Buckingham Endowment

Reference Number


Extended information about this artwork

Object information is a work in progress and may be updated as new research findings emerge. To help improve this record, please email . Information about image downloads and licensing is available here.


Sign up for our enewsletter to receive updates.

Learn more

Image actions