January 24, 2016

At the Met: The Presence and Clarity of a Medieval Sculpture


Virgin and Child in Majesty, French, ca. 1175-1200; walnut with paint, tin relief on a lead white ground, and linen; overall 31 5/16 x 12 1/2 x 11 1/2 in. 


I love wandering about in the medieval galleries at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Form is stylized for maximum expression, but the feeling is contained; there's a powerful emotional reserve. Virgin and Child in Majesty is such a beautiful work, one of my favorite medieval sculptures, so on a recent visit I took several photographs of it. Its frontality and symmetry are arresting, as are all the rhythmic curves as they descend over the Virgin's arms and flow like a halo around the head of the child Jesus. Her headdress encloses the oval of her face; folds of cloth are poignantly draped over feet.




The clear and simple forms of the heads bring quiet, calm, and inward expressions to the faces of Virgin and child. The child Jesus has the proportions of an adult's face; according to the Met's web page on this sculpture, Jesus "the son of God is Wisdom incarnate". This type of sculpture is known as a "Throne of Wisdom". The still intensity of these figures reminds me of statues of the Buddha. 




Powerfully large hands hold the infant. Although they are almost flat, more the idea of hands than actual representations, their large size makes them as important as the faces. It is the Virgin as compassionate, as a mother and caregiver,.




From the side (sorry about the reflections), we can see the repetition of forms, the simple upright postures.




I love the opposing curves; such fluid elegance.




The curves meet the beautifully patterned cushion in a sensitive sweep. The upward curves in the throne repeat the curves of the figure's clothing. This is a piece where abstract form carries so much feeling: I am moved at the way lines meet, and shift, and describe a volume. I am also moved by this portrayal of humanity.


12 comments:

  1. Thank you for stopping to examine and share a beautiful piece. I'd probably have trotted right past it.

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  2. I'm glad you both like this piece. The great thing about the Met is that it has such extensive collections that I can always discover something new there.

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  3. It is gorgeous.She seems so peaceful.

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    1. I'm pleased that you like it, Lisa.

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    2. Now Venus de Milo was noted for her charm
      But strictly between us
      You're cuter than Venus
      And what's more, you've got arms

      Thank you!
      You never cease to amaze me with your observations, and the care about "us" to share them.
      This piece is also Sphinx-like in its aspect - calm, watchful, serenity.

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    3. Yes, she is sphinx-like, isn't she?
      I enjoy writing down my thoughts, and it's a bonus that I can share them here.

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    4. The Met web page on this piece states that it may have been carried in church processions, which reminded me of the statue of the "Scourged Saviour", around which the Pilgrim Church of the Gegeisselten Heiland near Steingaden, Bavaria Germany was built. The church "DIE WIES" was built in the middle-decade of the 18th-century, by Dominikus Zimmerman, with frescos by his brother, Johann Baptist Zimmerman. It is an incredible, glorious sight to behold...and I've seen it only in photos.
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wieskirche

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    5. JBS, that church is about as far as it gets from medieval simplicity.

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    6. Agreed, but the statue enshrined in it is not.

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  4. That is awesome - I will be looking more closely on my next visit!

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    Replies
    1. Yes, it is. There's a lot to discover if we pay more attention.

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