Bust of the Virgin

Date: ca. 1390–95

Geography: Made in Prague, Bohemia

Culture: Bohemian

Medium: Terracotta with paint

Dimensions: 12 13/16 x 8 13/16 x 5 7/16 in. (32.5 x 22.4 x 13.8 cm)

Classification: Sculpture-Ceramics

Credit Line: The Cloisters Collection, 2005

Accession Number: 2005.393


Elegaic, dignified, and poised, the Virgin tilts her youthful head as if burdened by the weight of the ornate crown, and her downcast eyes and pursed lips convey her sorrowful resignation. This bust, the upper portion of a standing or enthroned figure that would have included the Christ Child, is a textbook example of the so-called Beautiful Style, which originated in Prague at the end of the fourteenth century. A technical tour de force, it is the only known terracotta sculpture from medieval Bohemia. Artists working in clay normally cut larger figures horizontally with a wire to ensure that they dried evenly. Once fired, the sections were reassembled with mortar, which would be disguised under the polychromy. Thanks to the hardness of terracotta, the sculptural form of this bust is virtually intact except for minor losses, and the details remain as crisp as they were when it left the potter's kiln. The complete original figure, more than a meter high, was probably installed above an altar in a church. Traces of several campaigns of paint attest to its long history as an object of veneration.