A polychrome sculpture depicting the Virgin and the Child
Mosan region, second half of 13th century
73 x 29 X 12 cm
Former Belgian private collection from the beginning of the 20th century
This outstanding early work depicts the Enthroned Virgin and Child or Sedes Sapientiae (the ‘Seat of Wisdom’ or ‘Throne of Wisdom’). The Latin phrase likens the Mother of God in majesty to the Throne of Solomon, the Prophet King, referring to her exalted status as a vessel of the incarnation carrying the Holy Child. The association of the Blessed Virgin with glory and teaching in this tradition was popularized in Catholic imagery from the mid 11th century.
The Incarnation gave Mary a unique role as principal mediator between heaven and earth, and between God and humankind. As a result, her image proliferated in art, especially after the 12th century, a period in which there was surging interest in Mary’s life and increasing devotion to her person and images.
The familiar Gothic depiction of an approachable Virgin as a beautiful young queen, standing in an S curve and delicately balancing the small Christ Child on her hip, was preceded by the more sober and hieratic Romanesque depiction of a seated Virgin holding the Christ Child on her lap.
Finely carved in three quarters, Mary sits, enthroned, in a strict frontal upright position, the Christ Child standing on her left knee. The entire work was carved from the one block with hollow back, a design driven by the desire to reduce the risk of exposed cracking following shrinkage over time. Traces of a curved gouge are clearly visible in the back.
Mary faces forward, her gaze toward the beholder; the head of the Virgin is oblong with a high forehead; a hint of a smile seems to be crossing her face. She wears a short veil and her face’s features are delicate and regular. The nose is long and straight, the eyes are almond-shaped.
Mary’s is wearing a tunique which falls to rest just above the ground, only one shoe is visible. Although the Virgin seems perfectly still, her son is instead depicted in a more animated way thanks to the position of his feet.The Christ Child represents divine wisdom incarnate, whose wisdom is communicated through his adult features, making him look like a miniature man.
While rigid composition of the work are characteristic of Romanesque sculpture, these qualities are disrupted by the soft lines of falling drapery and by the expression of the faces. The drapery is refined, and it is convincing in the way it flows over and cloaks the three dimensional form underneath. Both faces are enlivened with a discreet smile.
The present sculpture is characterized by a more humanized representation of its figures and the relative naturalism of its smoothly modeled flowing drapery: the supple drapery, the almond-shaped eyes, the straight nose and the discreet smiles - indicate that it can be fitted within a distinguished group of „Sedes Sapientiae" sculptures located in the modern Belgium part of the Mosan region, and dating to the end of 13th century.
Romanesque wood sculptures from the 13th century are scarce, compared to the healthy number of later ones; this magnificent representation is of high quality and greatest rarity.
3 200 €
14 000 €