French; Made in Auvergne
Walnut with paint, tin relief on a lead white ground and linen; H. 31 in. (78.7 cm)
Gift of J. Pierpont Morgan, 1916 (16.32.194a, b)
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. Christ, as the Son of God, is Wisdom incarnate. Mary, who carried Christ in her womb and who holds him on her lap serves as his seat, or throne. Christ would have grasped a Bible, a further representation of 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 a cavity located behind the Virgin's shoulder.