Long hidden in private collections, this ivory sculpture is one of the great masterpieces on view at The Cloisters. It belongs to a larger series of European thirteenth- and fourteenth-century, generally small-scale, precious ivory statuettes of the Virgin and Child in seated and standing postures. Most of the series is French, and certainly from the Île-de-France if not from the preeminent center, Paris. All of these statuettes—the rare English examples and the numerous French works—are devotional in nature and date from the height of popularity of the cult of the Virgin.
The Cloisters' Virgin turns slightly to her left to face the blessing Christ Child, who at one time climbed up over her left knee. Only a portion of the toes of the infant Christ's right foot and of his lowered left leg and foot remains. The Virgin's back is carved in low-relief folds, suggesting that this sculpture was not meant to be seen in the round.