Description & Technical information
This extraordinarily beautiful early 14th century Virgin and child is a rare sculpture from the old diocese of Langres, on the border of Burgundy and Champagne, around the town Mussy sur Seine (Aube), the former residence of the Bishop of Langres in the 14th century.
Supporting the weight of the Christ Child who sits on her left arm, the Virgin’s stance is slightly bent over. Her right foot appears from beneath her long dress, its folds falling to the ground. Traces of the original polychrome in the creases of the drapery reveal that her dress was once blue. The Virgin wears a cloak, formerly red, like other examples from the region of the same period. The cloak passes over her right arm falling down her front in flat yet sinuous folds. The length of the folds varies, covering most of the right hand side of the body. On the reverse, the cloak falls down her back directly below the left shoulder. The Virgin’s dress is held up by a traditionally crafted plain belt. Worn high, it is visible from the front and left side where the cloak does not cover it. The long and thin appearance of the folds in the dress and the cloak, as well as the plain edging style of the cloak, indicate that the work dates from the first quarter of the 14th century.
On the back of the delicately carved figure, the short flat folds of the Virgin’s veil spread down over her shoulders. The veil ends in two longer folds which point downwards. On the right hand side of the cloak, there are three large V-shaped folds, sitting one above the other, a feature characteristic of the period. The folding veil is encircled by a delicate crown which would have had flower and foliage motives, like those of the Virgin found in Our Lady of the Fontenilles Hospital in Tonnerre. The Virgin’s hair falls gently, separating into two waving locks and disappearing under a hairnet which is carved beneath the veil covering her ears.
Her facial features are particularly delicate and symmetrical, contrasting with the faces of other Virgins from the region which are more rounded with a larger neck. Exquisitely beautiful, our Virgin has almond-shaped eyes, arching eyebrows, perfectly sculpted upper and lower eyelids, a straight nose, a delicate mouth and a small chin.
In exceptional condition, this Virgin retains both hands with slender refined fingers. On one of the fingers on her right hand she wears a ring. In the same hand she carries a bouquet of flowers. With the other she supports the infant Jesus.
Beneath the long tunic of the Christ Child – typical of the 14th century – a small shirt covering his forearms is visible. Traces of original polychrome in the folds gathered around his feet tell us that the tunic was originally red. The loose-fitting sleeves spread over his shoulders as if they were part of a cape. The tunic folds over where he sits on his mother’s arm creating fluted pleats that hang down. As seen on other similar works of the region, his right foot emerges from the bottom of the tunic. His face, framed by his little ears, is close to that of his mother’s and turned towards her right hand side. He holds a globe in his hands, a symbol of his destiny and the sacrifice of his life.
Although exhibiting characteristics similar to the group of Virgins produced in Lorraine during the early 14th century, those from the dioceses of Langres are subtly different. As with our work, the back of the Virgin is less arched than those of Lorraine. The dress, taken in at the waist by a delicate belt, is formed of three folds whose contact with the floor creates two splits at the centre accentuating the angles. 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 foliate motives. The hair that peaks from beneath the hairnet at the centre of a bare forehead curls as it does in our example. The Christ Child is turned to the side. His long tunic does not cover his forearms revealing his under shirt. The ears are more pronounced and protrude in Lorraine sculpture.
Studios of the border region of Burgundy and Champagne flourished at the end of the 13th and beginning of the 14th centuries, especially in Tonnerre (Yonne), Mussy sur Seine (Aube) and Langres (Haute Marne). Surviving virtually completely intact, this outstanding Virgin and Child is perhaps the finest example of early 14th century workmanship from the region to appear in recent times.
Date: 1300 – 1325
Period: Middle Ages, 14th century
Origin: France, Mussy sur Seine (Aube)
Medium: Limestone, with traces of original polychrome
Dimensions: 89 x 30 x 28 cm (35 x 11³/₄ x 11 inches)
Provenance: Private collection, France
Literature: 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
J. A. Schmoll, gene. Eisenwerth, Die Lothringische Skulptur des 14. Jahrhunderts (Michael Imhof Verlag, Petersberg, 2005)
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
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