The vierge romane or Sedes Sapientiae (Throne of Wisdom) madonna is one of the most sublime artistic creations of Romanesque times. Carved of wood and painted, these statues represent Mary with Jesus on her lap. They are generally about 30 inches high.
The particular example that we feature today is from the 12th century and is located in the Église Saint-Martin in the Puy-de-Dôme town of Courpière. The ateliers of the Auvergne created the most recognizable of these carvings and they continue to be deeply venerated. The vierge in Courpière is a magnificent example of the Auvergnat style.
This shot from another angle shows the faces of both figures, the Virgin and Jesus, in profile. We see that, like most of the representations, Mary is not a young woman but quite mature. We see from this direction the deep sadness in her face, a sadness stemming from her foreknowledge of the fate of her son.
There is a common misconception about medieval sculpture and the ability of the artists to make naturalistic representations of human subjects. I think that these madonnas prove that these sculptors were capable of the most beautiful and true-to-life portraits of the women who were used as the subject of Mary, Mother of God. Father Joseph Raaymakers, a sculptor in Villefranche de Conflent in the Pyrénées, told us of his belief that they were carved from life: “Go to Montserrat,” he said, “and you will see the Madonna walking in the town.”
When PJ and I began photographing the Romanesque churches in France in 2006, our first trip was primarily to photograph these statues and the mysterious Black Madonnas. We will follow soon with an amuse-bouche on the subject of these fascinating variants of the vierges romanes.
This is part of a series of posts featuring an amuse-bouche, a bite-sized appetizer to whet the appetite of diners. Each of these will explore a single interesting feature of medieval architecture or sculpture. To see other amuse-bouches, follow this link.