French; Made in Auvergne
Walnut with paint, gesso, and linen; H. 31 in. (78.7 cm)
Gift of J. Pierpont Morgan, 1916 (16.32.194)
This type of sculpture, with the Christ Child seated in the Virgin's lap in a frontal pose, is known as a Sedes Sapientiae (Throne of Wisdom). These seemingly straightforward images convey complex theological ideas. Mary serves as Christ's throne. Like his ancestors King David and King Solomon, Christ possesses wisdom and justice. He would have held a Bible, the divine wisdom that he himself embodies.
From the 1100s, Mary was increasingly revered as a nurturing, merciful intercessor. Such statues were used as devotional objects, and were carried in church processions. This image might have also functioned as a container for holy relics, since it has two cavitiesone behind the Virgin's shoulder, the other at her chest, probably added later.