Since the beginning of the “First Renaissance”, the Loire Valley saw the arrival of terracotta specialists, among them Antonio, Giovanni and Andrea Giusto, a family of Tuscan sculptors who settled in the region between Tours and Amboise and who introduced the tradition of Italian clay modeling. During the 16th and 17th centuries, the workshops in regions of Le Mans and Angers welcomed a considerable number of terracotta sculptors whose influence extended throughout western France. These ambitious workshops were in direct competition with Paris for production and for a prominent place in the history of French sculpture.
The historical and spiritual context promoted the repetition of religious terracotta sculpture commissions, which took part of the great Reformation movement following the Protestant destruction carried out during the War of Religions. Among the devotional genres, the Virgin and Child occupied a place of honor. It is the court sculptor Germain Pilon (1528-1590) who sets up the type of the Virgin and Child in 1570 in the church of Notre-Dame de la Couture in Le Mans. Sculpted in marble, this sculpture served as a model to sculptors and local workshops for almost a century.
Inspired by the pilonesque model, our statuette depicts Mary is shown standing on a pedestal carrying on her left arm the Child Jesus, while her right arm lies along her body and her hand holds a flower bouquet. Wearing a very decorative braided hairstyle covered by a thin veil, and antiquestyle sandals, she is draped in a soft-folded dress. The accurate modeling and classical design allow us to attach our Virgin and Child to the work of Charles Hoyau
(active between 1631 and 1644). Comparable features and elegance can be found in The Virgin seated with the Child on her lap, dated from the second quarter of the 17th century and exhibited in Paris at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs (Inv. N° 10667). The group is a good example of comparison in terms of polychromy, the gestures of the Virgin’s hand, and the morphology of the Child’s face. The singularly oval face shape, the small heart-shaped mouth and eyelids are characteristic of the style of Charles Hoyau that can be particularly admired in the figure of Sainte Marguerite, signed and dated 1633, in the Cathedrale of Saint-Julien in Le Mans.
The author of our group therefore appears to be under the influence of Charles Hoyau’s style in the region of Le Mans during the years 1630-1640.