Private collection, France
J. A. Schmoll, gene. Eisenwerth, Die Lothringische Skulptur des 14. Jahrhunderts (Michael Imhof Verlag, Petersberg, 2005), pp. 158, 494, 534
W. H. Forsyth, ‘Mediaeval Statues of the Virgin in Lorraine Related in Type to the Saint-Dié Virgin’, Vol. V, Pt. 2 (Metropolitan Museum Studies, 1936), pp 235-258
P. Quarré, ‘Les Statues de la vierge à l’enfant des confins burgondo-Champenois au début du XIVe siècle’ (La Gazette des Beaux-arts, 1968), pp. 193-204
Musée du Louvre, Nouvelles acquisitions du département des sculptures:1992-1995 (Réunion des Musées Nationaux, Paris, 1996), pp. 18-21
This superb respentation of the Virgin and Child is carved in the round from fine grain hard limestone. Produced in the second quarter of the 14th century, the state of preservation is exceptional with extensive remains of the original polychrome and gilding. The Virgin sits on her throne with decorated side arcatures leaning slightly on her right hip, this posture caused by the position of the Christ Child who stands on her left knee. He has delicately carved curled tufts of hair and wears a long tunic with three diagonal pleats from beneath which his feet appear, the folds of material expressive of the youthful movements of the Child who turns to his mother holding a bird in his right hand. The bird may be seen a reference to an episode from the childhood of Jesus when he modelled sparrows from clay and gave them life or more commonly as symbol of the Eucharist and redemption.
As with many of the Virgins and Child produced during the 14th century in Lorraine, Mary wears a draped red coat covering a tight belted green dress. Her forehead is crowned by a tiara decorated with flowers and finials, a veil hiding her curled locks of hair. Her nose is straight, her lips thin, her dimpled chin small. Her almond-shaped eyes are fixed with a poetic distant gaze suggestive of a motherly premonition of her child's fate. With her right hand she holds a closed book on her knee, perhaps the Gospels or a prayer book reflective of Mary's piety.
Although the precise origin of the present work remains unknown, it can be attributed without doubt to Lorraine.
The exact origin of this Virgin and Child is unknown to us but can with no doubt be attributed to Lorraine. The subject of the Virgin presenting the Child on her left knee can be seen throughout the kingdom of France during the 13th and 14th century and especially in Lorraine and in the Rhine valley.
Although carved in the round, this petite sculpture was not conceived to be viewed from every angle and would most likely have been placed in a niche. It's small dimensions suggest it was commissioned for an oratory and used for private devotion. The Marian cult and that of the Virgin and Child saw a renewed interest during the 14th century in such objects from those seeking a new spiritual sensibility and a more intimate religious observance.
The present work shows strong similarities to a number of other Virgin and Child produced in Lorraine during the first half of the 14th century. One example now in the Louvre (Inv. Nr. R.F. 4511) (fig. 1) shows Mary with a closed book resting on her right knee, gazing at her child who stands on her other knee clothed in a long pleated tunic. Similar representations with the standing Christ Child may be seen in the Catharijneconvent Museum, Utrecht (Inv. No. 2313) (fig. 2) and in the Suermondt-Ludwig-Museum, Aachen (Kat. Nr. 356) (fig. 3) (see Schmoll, op. cit. pp. 494, 534). Noteworthy also is the very similar Virgin and Child from the parish church in Rosnay-l’Hôpital in the Aube region (Kat. Nr. 98) (see Schmoll, op. cit, p. 158) (fig. 4). As in our example, Mary is depicted seated on a bench like throne, positioned in the same manner with her child standing on her left leg, holding a closed book on her right leg. Jesus is swathed in his tunic holding a bird with both hands.
Located between the valleys of the Moselle and of the Meuse, framed north by the duchy of Luxembourg and south by the Vosges, the duchy of Lorraine is the product of a successive partitions. Beginning during the 9th century with the partition of the Carolingian empire and continuing until 1736 when it became part of the Kingdom of France. Its geographical position has long made it a crossroads of artistic influence throughout the centuries. By the late 13th century, Lorraine had become a significant artistic centre where there developped a particular stylistic represention of the Virgin and Child. As Schmoll (op. cit.) observes, the characteristics of Lorraine sculpture appear around 1280 –1300 in the Aube region. Characterised by restrained movement and an internalised somewhat severe expressivity, Mary appears with a large forehead, full oval face, strong neck, thin lips and a cleft chin. Comparisions may be made with three similar examples in our collection, two now sold, the third produced around the same time as the present work in Mussy sur Seine (Aube).
Surviving in excellent original condition, this representation of the seated Virgin and Child is an exquisite example of ealry French medieval stone carving.
Her back arched, the Virgin supports the weight of her child carried on her left hip. Her long heavily pleated blue dress falls to the ground, her right leg resting slightly to the side.
A thin green and gold belt, adorned with alternating rosettes and loops, highlights her high wasted ensemble, the end falling diagonally with the folds of the dress. She wears a rich red cloak, held together at the front with a thin cord fastened with two floral tassels. The treatment in relief and volume of the cloak contrasts with the flat pleats of the dress, the design similar to that seen on examples from the region now in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (from the church of Saint Maurice d'Epinal, Vosges) and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (from Chatenois near Saint Dié, Vosges). Carved largely in the round with a flatened decorated back, the reverse of the figure is as beautiful as the front, the veil draped with delicate vertical folds, the cloak falling in three large V-shaped folds on each side.
A crown with foliate and floral motives tops the Virgin’s short veil, her elegant hairnet, painted in red, green and gold, holding her hair in place, visible on each side underneath. At the top of her forehead, waves of blond hair peak from beneath, her locks tucked behind her ears. Her face is wide with a straight nose, long arched eyebrows and slightly open blue almond-shaped eyes, her small mouth perfectly formed, a slight double and dimpled chin outlining her red lips and sweet smile.
The treatment of the Virgin’s hair contrasts with the regular well drawn strands of the hair of the Christ Child. His long folded golden tunic opens at the neck to reveal two inverted red triangles, typical of the period, held at each edge with a button. Under the tunic, at his neckline, can be seen a small green shirt, visible also at the forearms. The Christ Child holds out his right hand in response to the gesture of his mother who, in the same way as the Virgin found in Our Lady of the Fontenilles Hospital in Tonnerre, would have lifted her hand as a sign of prayer. In his left hand the infant Jesus holds a wild rose flower. As seen on other similar works of the region, his bare feet emerge from the bottom of his tunic. In our example, both feet are exposed with the sole of the turned right foot more visible, the toes clenched. His face, framed by his little ears, looks across the distant gaze of his mother.
Although displaying characteristics similar to the group of Virgins produced in Lorraine during the early 14th century, those from the churches around Mussy sur Seine and the dioceses of Langres are subtly different. As with our representation, the position of the hips of the Virgin is less noticeable than those of Lorraine. The dress, taken in at the waist by a delicate belt, is pleated above. The right arm of the Virgin is raised causing the bottom of the cloak to lift. The veil is short and the crown is often comprised of fine floral motifs, as it is here. The Virgin has a wide neck and a dimple on her chin. The hair that peaks from beneath the veil or hairnet at the centre of a bare high forehead is similar to our example. The right hand of the Christ Child reaches out to touch his mother’s hand. His long tunic does not cover his forearms revealing his under shirt. His hair is comprised of what Quarré described as ‘diamond-shaped tufts in transverse and parallel bands’.