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Work Virgin and Child of Jeanne d'Evreux

Department of Decorative Arts: Middle Ages

Virgin and Child

© 1999 RMN / Martine Beck-Coppola

Decorative Arts
Middle Ages

Author(s):
Muriel Barbier

In the 13th and 14th centuries, a new type of statue emerged in which the principal figure itself presents the reliquary to the viewer. This is the case with this Virgin and Child, made of gilded silver, in which Mary is shown holding a reliquary in the shape of a lily. The statuette is typical of Parisian metalwork of the first half of the 14th century. The enamelwork on the pedestal is an early example of translucent basse taille enamelwork.

Jeanne d'Evreux, benefactress of the abbey of Saint-Denis

Jeanne d'Evreux, wife of King Charles IV, known as Charles le Bel, presented the abbey of Saint-Denis with her crown, a reliquary containing some of the relics from the Sainte Chapelle, and two reliquary statuettes, including this Virgin and Child. The inscription on the pedestal shows that the gift was presented to the abbey in 1339.

A harmonious figure, typical of Parisian precious metalwork

The Virgin is shown standing on a rectangular entablature. In her hand she holds a fleur de lys of gilded silver and crystal. The lily contained relics such as scraps of clothes, hair, and milk of the Virgin. This type of reliquary in the shape of the Virgin derives from a Byzantine model called a Virgin of Tenderness. Her rounded face, the slight jut of her hips, and the cascading folds of her robe are typical of Parisian metalwork dating from the first half of the 14th century. Although the Virgin and Child now stands alone, it would originally have been one of a group of large gilded statuettes of the Virgin; however, the others have all been lost. The Virgin in the cathedral of Mantua indicates that this tradition survived into the second half of the 14th century. 

Scenes from the life of Christ in basse taille enamel

The statue's pedestal rests on four tiny lions. The architectural base is structured by miniature buttresses framing niches that house small statuettes of the prophets. Between the buttresses are fourteen plaques of translucent basse taille enamel depicting scenes from the childhood and Passion of Christ. These scenes run right round the base in dark blue, emerald green, yellow, and garnet-red basse taille enamel on gilded silver. These are the earliest dated French examples of translucent basse taille enamelwork—a technique developed by Tuscan craftsmen in the late 13th century.

Bibliography

Exposition Le trésor de Saint Denis, Paris, Louvre, 1991, p.246-258.

Technical description

  • Paris (between 1324 and 1339)

    Virgin and Child

    Given in 1339 by Jeanne d’Evreux to the Abbey of Saint-Denis

  • Gilded silver, basse-taille enamels on gilded silver, stones and pearls

  • MR 342, MR 419

  • Decorative Arts

    Richelieu wing
    1st floor
    Jeanne d'Evreux
    Room 3
    Display case 30

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Additional information about the work

On the pedestal: "ceste image donna ceans ma dame la Royne Jehanne devreux, Royne de France et de Navarre Compaigne du Roy Challes le XVIIIe jour d'avril l'an MCCC.XXXIX."