Private collection, France
B. Béranger-Menand, La statuaire médiévale en Normandie occidentale: La Vierge à l’Enfant, XIIIe -XVIe siècle, Tome 2, Corpus (Conseil Général de la Manche, Saint-Lô, 2004), p. 188, fig. 160
This exceptional limestone representation of the Virgin holding the Christ Child was produced in a workshop of Basse-Normandie on the Cotentin Peninsula operating at the end of the fourteenth century. Of the highest quality and in an extraordinary state of preservation with traces of the original blue and red polychromy, this beautiful sculpture is a rare intact example of superior devotional art of medieval Lower Normandy.
Carved in the round, the Virgin wears a magnificent high crown decorated with the foliage of intertwined oak leaves and diamond-shaped cabochons, her wavy shoulder-length hair emerging from beneath it to caress the sides of her face and held in place beneath her mantel. With high smooth forehead and pronounced cheekbones, the delicate features of her beautiful face transfix the viewer; almond-shaped eyes with tapered ends, elongated fine nose, thin lipped mouth, prominent small round chin and elegant neck.
Mary stands cradling her naked son in her left arm and, in a gesture of intimacy, holds delicately his small right foot between the thumb and forefinger of her right hand, the ring on her middle finger symbolising devotion to God visible. The Christ Child places one hand on the top of his mother’s chest, the other resting beneath her mantel to touch her hair, movements reflective of the bond, familiarity and love between them. The Virgin wears a dress with a round neckline, its folds and those of the mantel draped around her falling to the ground, the tips of both shoes exposed. She stands, in a fully frontal position, on a monolithic base decorated with branches of oak leaf and acorns.
Carved with great finesse, the present Virgin and Child is very close in style to a known work thought to have been located in a chapel in Coutances or its surrounds, a commune in the Manche department in Normandy, which sculpture was destroyed during the Second World War (see Béranger-Menand, op. cit.). With near identically decorated high Crowns, similar facial features, positioning of the clothing and child and, most significantly, the same delicate gesture of mother holding the right foot of the child between her thumb and forefinger of her right hand, as well as the same placement of her left hand underneath her son, it is highly probable that the two sculptures were produced in the same workshop and, in all likelihood, by the same master.
Highly sophisticated in style, this refined early north-western French sculpture is an object of superior quality, rarity and aesthetic value.