Virgin and Child in Majesty

Date: ca. 1175–1200

Geography: Made in Auvergne, France

Culture: French

Medium: Walnut with paint, tin relief on a lead white ground, and linen

Dimensions: Overall: 31 5/16 x 12 1/2 x 11 1/2 in. (79.5 x 31.7 x 29.2 cm)

Classification: Sculpture-Wood

Credit Line: Gift of J. Pierpont Morgan, 1916

Accession Number: 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 Throne of Wisdom (Sedes Sapientiae). This seemingly straightforward image conveys 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.
Beginning about 1100, Mary was increasingly revered as a nurturing, merciful intercessor. Such statues of her were used as devotional objects and may have been carried in church processions. This sculpture probably functioned as a container for holy relics, as it has two cavities—one behind the Virgin’s shoulder, the other at her chest.