Well of Moses

Claus Sluter | Artist

approx. 1360-1406  

Born in Haarlem in the County of Holland in the mid 14th century, Sluter worked as a paid assistant to Jean de Marville who worked on tombs for the Duke of Burgundy. In 1389, Sluter was appointed to take over for his late employer Jean de Marville as the Chief Sculptor to the Duke of Burgundy in Dijon. In 1395 was commissioned by the Duke to begin work on the great sculpture to exist in Chartreuse de Champmol, later known as the Well of Moses. Work on the Well lasted throughout the remainder of Sluter’s life, even through serious illness in 1399. Sluter completed several works in his lifetime, along with the Well of Moses, they include the Portal of Chartreuse de Champmol and Philip the Bold’s Tomb before his death in 1406.

Claus Sluter, Well of Moses, 1395-1406, Web Gallery of Art

Time Period

The beginning of the Northern Renaissance signaled the eventual end of many long-held traditions, including the tyranny of Feudalism and the theological monopoly held by the Roman Catholic Church in Northern Europe. The flourishing of philosophies like Humanism and the development of individual artistic expression are also products of this shift in society. The Well of moses was constructed at an early point in this transition and displays the conjoined power of the Duke of Burgundy and the Catholic Church, but the technical developments by the artist, Sluter, emphasize the beginning of individual expression.
Claus Sluter, Well of Moses, detail Moses, 1395-1406, Web Gallery of Art

Chartreuse de Champmol | Location

Chartreuse de Champmol is a Carthusian monastery outside of Dijon in Burgundy that was originally erected by Philip the Bold as a family mausoleum in 1383. The Chartreuse de Champmol consisted of a church, a ducal oratory (a private area where the ducal family could observe the monks), ducal tombs, and a courtyard bordered by small houses for the monks to reside. Chartreuse de Champmol was demolished during the French Revolution in 1792.
Aimé Piron View in perspective of the Chartreuse de Champmol, 1686. Arts MIA


The original sculpture was topped with Mount Golgotha, and a huge cross showing the crucifixion of Christ, and people mourning him (John, Mary Magdalene, and Mary).  The Well of Moses was the base for the crucifixion scene.  The entire sculpture was placed on top of a fountain shaped like a hexagon.  The sculpture served as a fons vitae, or fountain of life. The monastery also housed the tomb of Philip the Bold, and his family.  The Well of Moses served as a site of pilgrimage when it was first erected, and presently. 
Claus Sluter, Well of Moses, Prophet Jeremiah, 1395-1406, Web Gallery of Art


The process of building the Well of Moses was far from a simple procedure.  The overall plans for the fountain began in early 1393.  Claus Sluter was then given the authorization to gather stone materials he would need to create the fountain's foundation in 1395 by the Duke.  The foundations of the fountain were laid in 1396 due to the availability of stone from local quarries.  Though everything would appear to be falling into place for the construction of this fountain, the abundance of water that would eventually fuel it also threatened to slow the construction process considerably.  Work was done throughout the day and night in order to prevent flooding from happening. The next step in the building process was to successfully erect a freestanding cross.  The cross was required to be able to hold a life size body representing Christ's crucifixion, so added reinforcement of the stone was necessary.  At the end of 1396 all the necessary materials had been collected and were either present at the building site  or remained at the other crucial location, Sluter's workshop.  The next  part of the procedure would be adding the decorative elements to the fountain however the work was delayed until two years later when the pedestal would once again be reinforced to support to the overall mass of the structure.  In 1399 protective wooden elements were used to shield the pedestal while the cross was finally installed.  At the time, stone from Resne and Asnieres (France) had been used for decorative features had been swapped out for stone from Is-sur-Tille due to its pliability.  The addition of the cross was made possible by machinery and the diligence of several craftsmen and workers to which Sluter oversaw as he battled with illness.  Later that year, the Duke ordered an inspection of the monument to which Sluter was awarded a bonus of 60 escuz for his acceptable work.  Everything was done with meticulous detail and it was even said that the prophet Jeremiah was originally designed to have had copper spectacles.  The Well of Moses was created with the intention of color being added.  The bases of the structure were painted green while the overall statues were covered with gold and painted by John Maloel and Herman of Cologne.  Attention was brought to the figures by painting black into the crevices to give the statue more depth. The overall installation of the figures proved to be problematic as the remaining three were not added to the piece until 1404. 
Claus Sluter, Well of Moses, Angel,  1395-1406, Web Gallery of Art


Claus Sluter’s Well of Moses is constructed of limestone quarried from Tonnerre and Asnières, which was then taken to Sluter’s workshop at the ducal palace in Dijon. There, he and his assistants crafted the limestone into the figures, pillar, and the, now absent, crucifixion scene. After these pieces were assembled they were decorated with polychrome, multi-colored pigments, to accentuate features in the sculpted elements that required a more colorful translation. Of these accentuations, the wounds of Jesus were among the the most noted and evident.
Claus Sluter, Well of Moses, Christ, 1395-1406, Web Gallery of Art