Standing Virgin and Child, ca. 1470
Attributed to Nikolaus Gerhaert von Leiden (Northern Lowlands, act. 1460–73)
Boxwood; H. 13 1/4 in. (33.6 cm)
Purchase, The Cloisters Collection and Lila Acheson Wallace Gift, 1996 (1996.14)
Gerhaert was the finest and most influential sculptor active in the third quarter of the fifteenth century, a pivotal period in the development of late Gothic sculpture in northern Europe. Gerhaert was either born or trained in Leiden and was later active in Strasbourg and Vienna. There are only four works in wood that, though undocumented, have been seriously considered as coming from his hand. Of these, this sculpture is especially notable for its sense of drama, monumentality, and elegance. The authority of the formal conception and the eloquence of the execution evidence the gift of a great artist. The rhythm and balance of the drapery folds are counterpoised by the linear details and textural contrasts. Among the naturalistic elements is the delicate manner in which the Virgin’s finger tips press into the chubby flesh of the child. The statuette, which continues a long tradition of devotional works in boxwood, may have been commissioned by a member of the Viennese court. The base with a fictive Dürer monogram is nineteenth century; the child’s arms and the drapery extending from his left hand are repairs that probably date from the same time.