Located between Moselle valley and Meuse valley, framed by the Vosges Mountains on the south side and the duchy of Luxembourg on the north side, the duchy of Lorraine is the result of several partitions. It starts with the 9th century when the Carolingian empire is divided, with Lothar 1st inheriting Lotharingia. In 959 this territory was in turn divided in two; Lower and Upper Lotharingia, the latter being the forebear of the duchy of Lorraine. This duchy was under the rule of the Holy Roman Germanic Empire until 1736 when it was absorbed by the kingdom of France.
All along its history the duchy of Lorraine has found itself in the midst of many conflicts. Alliances and feuds marking European history were always particularly sensible in Lorraine where instability was frequent. Because of its geographic position the duchy of Lorraine was also an artistic crossroad.
Hence the duchy of Lorraine becomes from the 13th century onwards an important artistic centre where a particular type of Virgin and Child appears. According to professor J. A. Schmoll the characteristics of Lorraine sculpture burgeon around 1280-1300 in the Aube region. It presents “vigorous volumes, restrained movements, rare but solemn gestures and a strong interiorised and stern expression”. Those Virgins look similar with a wide forehead, a shield- or oval-shaped face, large neck, small lips and a cleft chin.
This model is particularly in favour during the 13th century because of the revival for Marial worship and for the theme of the Virgin and Child. It bears witness to a new religious sensibility with a more intimate vision of religious practice.
The important 14th century Virgin we present to you is one of the most beautiful examples of sculptural art from Eastern France, with her fascinating distant gaze.
Her contrapposto posture is induced by the weight of the child she carries high on her left side. The child has a chubby face framed by blond hair with well defined curls and he wears a long red V-collared tunic from which emerge his feet. The fabric is animated by long folds. The position of the right foot turned to the back is a detail we can notice on several Virgins from Lorraine. He holds a bird that seems to be pecking his thumb.
“The bird /held by the child in his hands/ has been read as a reference to an episode from Christ’s childhood when he has moulded sparrows with clay before giving them life. It appears in the apocryphal gospel of Pseudo-Matthew (ch. 27) and later in the Quran (III, 43, v. 110). However the iconography seems to be more influenced by the concept of Redemption or of Eucharist, the bird symbolising the soul of the Christian about to be redeemed or revitalised.”
Mary wears a long dress with two rock crystal cabochons remaining from the original five. She is covered by a red cloak enriched with old-gold motifs draped as an apron falling in long pleats along her left hip. The relief treatment and the volume of the cloak developing a network of concentric pleats contrast with the the flat pleating of her dress. They nevertheless suggest the curve of her bent right leg.
She wears a floret crown securing a short thin veil carved in very low relief. From it emerges her blond curled hair characteristic of the 13th century. The large face with almond-shaped eyes, straight nose, small lips and cleft chin casts its gaze afar in a fashion typical of 13th century Virgins.
In her right hand she holds a lily flower. In a very refined manner the artist has carved a band on her right ring-finger.
In the back, carefully sculpted, spreads the minutely detailed short veil.
This sculpture of great quality presents obvious similarities with Virgins from Lorraine, designated by William Forsythe as the group of Saint Dié (Vosges region) in an article from 1936. He gathers those Virgins around the one group in particular, made for the cloister of Saint-Dié cathedral. Additionally to this Virgin we can also compare the Virgin and Child we present here to two other sculptures belonging to a same group; the Virgin and Child from the church of Sion monastery (Meurthe-et-Moselle region) as well as the one in the provincial museum of Trier.
Indeed those Virgins all present:
- – A strong stature
- – A contrapposto induced by the weight of the child
- – The right knee bent
- – A long oblique pleat going from below her left arm to the right foot
Thus, according to this article our Virgin and Child was undoubtedly made by a brilliant artist working in the heart of the Lorraine region.
- – J.A.SCHMOLL gene. Eisenwerth, Die Lothringische Skultur des 14. Jarhunderts, Michael Imhof Verlg, D-36100 Petersberg, 2005.
- –William FORSYTHE, Medieval statues of the Virgin in Lorraine related in type to the St Dié Virgin, Metropolitan museum studies, 1936.