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Work Virgin and Child from the Sainte-Chapelle

Department of Decorative Arts: Middle Ages

Statuette : Vierge à l'Enfant

© 2001 RMN / Jean-Gilles Berizzi

Decorative Arts
Middle Ages

Author(s):
Bardoz Marie-Cécile

The growth of the Marial cult in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries led to the creation of many Virgin and Child figures. This one, mentioned in the first inventory of the Sainte-Chapelle before 1279, is considered the most successful example that Parisian ivory carvers ever achieved; so perfect that many statuettes from the second half of the thirteenth century appear to have been based on this prestigious model.

Paris, the capital of ivory carving

In the thirteenth century, Paris became the undisputed capital of ivory carving. The material, which during the eleventh and twelfth centuries had reached western Europe only with difficulty, started arriving again in larger quantities, thanks to the development of new shipping lanes to ports on the Atlantic and, above all, Norman coasts. With the new influx of raw material, and the presence of a royal and church clientele, workers in ivory could give free rein to their skills, carving a wide array of objects, including statuettes in the round, diptychs, small plaques, caskets, mirror cases, and tabernacles.

An ideal of beauty

The statuette of the Sainte-Chapelle is unquestionably the most beautiful piece of ivory carving in the round ever made. Rivaling more monumental works, it features all the canons of that art form then in force. Slightly slouching hips, a lissom, slender body, a fine, triangular face surrounded by wavy hair, eyes drawn out toward the temples, and a small, smiling mouth form a complete portrait of the Gothic period's ideal of beauty.

Elegance and harmony

This Virgin and Child comes from the treasury of the Sainte-Chapelle in Paris, to which it was probably given by St. Louis. In the fourteenth century, Charles V had a gold plinth and emerald-encrusted ornamentation added, which was removed during the Revolution. The exquisite elegance and harmonious proportions of this statuette explain why it was so admired and imitated from the time of its creation.

Bibliography

Gaborit-Chopin Danielle, "Les ivoires gothiques français", Louvre. Trésors du Moyen Âge, Dossier de l'Art, n 16, décembre 1993 - janvier 1994, pp. 34-43.Gaborit-Chopin Danielle, "La Vierge à l'Enfant d'ivoire de la Sainte-Chapelle", La Sainte-Chapelle. L'art au temps de saint Louis, Dijon, Dossiers d'archéologie n 264, 2001.Gaborit-Chopin Danielle, Le trésor de la Sainte-Chapelle, Paris, musée du Louvre, 2001, notice 39.Gaborit-Chopin Danielle, Catalogue des collections du département des Objets d'art, Les ivoires médiévaux, Paris, Editions de la Réunion des musées nationaux, 2003, n 100.

Technical description

  • Paris (troisième quart du XIIIe siècle)

    Statuette : Vierge à l'Enfant

    Avant 1279

    Provient du trésor de la Sainte-Chapelle de Paris

  • Ivoire, traces de polychromie

    H. : 41 cm. ; L. : 12,40 cm.

  • Ancienne collection A. Lenoir, Debruge-Duménil, Soltykoff ; acquisition 1861

    OA 57

  • Decorative Arts

    Richelieu wing
    1st floor
    Jeanne d'Evreux
    Room 3
    Vitrine 15

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