Between 1300 and 1330
Ivory, original polychromy, retouched
Height 28 cm
One of the prime examples of small-scale Medieval sculpture in the Liebieghaus is this ivory sculpture of the seated Virgin with the Christ Child. Ivory was a popular and frequently used material in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. Paris was one of the strongholds of ivory carving in this period, and its workshops exerted an influence far beyond the borders of France. On the basis of comparison with other sculptures, the Liebieghaus Madonna is thought to have been produced in the first third of the fourteenth century.
The delicately executed figure is distinguished by fragile grace, noble elegance and an effect that can be described as monumental, despite the small format. Although only four centimetres deep, it suggests an astonishing spatiality, attributable to an artifice: Mary is not seated frontally on the bench but turns slightly to the right, towards Christ. Her body and limbs are so skilfully foreshortened and the garments so effectively draped that she appears to occupy far more depth of space than she actually does. The figure is full of significant references. The circlet and the only partially surviving sceptre, for example, identify Mary as the Queen of Heaven. The sceptre’s original lily form symbolized her virginity.
The Christ Child turning to bless his mother alludes to the words that the angel spoke to the Virgin at the Annunciation: “Blessed art thou among women”, for she would bring the son of God into this world. And in the eyes of the church, as the woman who gave birth to God she played a part in salvation from the original sin that came into the world through Adam and Eve when they ate from the Tree of Knowledge. Christ is holding the fruit of that tree in his left hand: an apple.