Virgin Enthroned

Upper Rhine (Strasbourg?)
ca. 1470

Lindenwood, original polychromy
Height 61 cm



This figure of the Virgin with the Christ Child on her lap, worked completely in the round, resembles the Hospice Madonna—a work older by approximately four centuries—in that it illustrates two central principles of Christianity: Mary is the physical mother of Christ, the son of God, and God has come into the world as a human being in the form of his son. The execution of the later work, however, could scarcely be more different from that of the earlier, and it illustrates the great transformation that took place over the centuries with regard to the conveyance of such articles of faith.

The older sculpture embodies the majestic, sacred mother of the divine Jesus Christ, elevated above everyday life, and is at the same time a sublime symbol of the institution of the Church and an expression of its claim to power. These functions explain her strict appearance, which demands reverence. By contrast, the more recent work seems at first to represent an entirely normal, loving mother, not a saint. The lively boy is no different from other children. Here the human aspect, not the sacred and divine, is emphasised. Closer inspection does ultimately reveal the identities of the two: the Virgin’s face is of a perfect, almost otherworldly, grace. Moreover, she turns not to her son but to the viewer, so that her simple act of holding the child takes on the quality of a presentation of the Saviour.

The fabrics of her dynamically draped and powerfully modelled garments are not only very lavish with regard to quantity; they are also conspicuously costly and hence worthy of the Queen of Heaven: her cloak golden, her dress an expensive azurite blue with gold and gilded leather ornaments. A majestic effect is also created by the clear, triangular outline of the figure seen frontally: this contour serves to subdue the lively interior forms and lend them calm and dignity.