This antique wooden statue depicting an enthroned Madonna and Child came to the Vatican Museums in 1978 as a gift from Pope Paul VI (Montini, 1963-1978). The work was part of a group of medieval and Renaissance wooden sculptures purchased in Milan from the antiques dealer Nella Longari, but their original provenance is unknown. The status of its conservation is damaged: the Virgin lacks part of her right arm and her crown. Most glaringly, the Christ Child is missing his head.
Such a critical state of preservation is unfortunately common in medieval wooden statuary precisely because of the fragility of its constituent element, – wood -and the age of the artifacts.
This means that, with the passage of time, artifacts that were damaged or that no longer appealed to the taste of the devoted were abandoned in sacristies or storage deposits, and often ended up on the antiques market. This was probably the case for this work.
This statue is part of a typology that was common in the eleventh and twelfth centuries and continued up the beginning of the fourteenth century (the date of this statue). These centuries preferred hieratic representations of the Virgin – those in which the Virgin is shown as a queen with veil and crown, covered by a large cloak, and seated on a throne with the Christ Child supported on the left arm and resting on her lap.
Medieval theology intended to represent the divine incarnation of Christ and the figure of the Madonna as the Mother of God. The Virgin was also associated with Divine Wisdom, alluding to the throne of Solomon (I Kings 10, 18-20), and also as a dispenser of justice. Above all, however, she is the Sedes Sapientiae, the concurrent receptacle and throne of Divine Wisdom.
As a queen, it is possible that the Madonna originally held a scepter, while the Christ Child was often depicted in the act of blessing or holding a globe. At present, it is only possible to present these hypotheses in the light of comparisons with similar works diffused in the central regions of Italy that have reached us in better conditions.
In this regard, it is particularly important to restore this antique sculpture, which is a valuable testimony to art and faith as an object of devotion, as well as an expression of medieval theological thought.