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Humanizing Mary: the Virgin of Jeanne d’Evreux

Video transcript

[Music] we're in the Louvre in Paris looking at an extraordinary sculpture from their first half of the 14th century this is an incredibly luxurious object it's made out of silver covered in gold clearly this was made for someone very important and very wealthy in addition to the gold and silver there's an ammo there are pearls and there's crystal and she originally wore crown on her head this was likely commissioned by the King of France Charles the fourth for his wife Jean Devereaux and so this is known as the Virgin of Jean de Rome but this beautiful golden figure is more than a sculpture it's a reliquary it was intended to hold sacred relics associated with the Virgin Mary it was given to the abbey of santa need just north of Paris this was an especially important religious center it was where the kings and queens of France were buried what makes this so typical of the Gothic period is the extraordinary tenderness we see between the mother and child earlier in the Gothic period we saw Mary represented very frontally holding the Christ child also positioned frontally on her lap but here in Christ is propped up on her hip in a way that seems very natural and tenderly touching her mouth with his hand the frontal image that you referred to comes out of the Byzantine tradition but as the Virgin Mary gains increasing prominence in the medieval era especially in Western Europe as the cult of the Virgin grows there is the introduction of new ways of representing her look at the Virgin's long neck and the way that it tilts gracefully toward the Christ child in his left hand here's a pomegranate a symbol of Resurrection recalling not the beginning of his life but the end which is not unusual and images of the Virgin and Child we frequently see a foreshadowing of Christ's suffering and death on the cross but if it wasn't for the pomegranate we would have no inkling of that terrible end because there seems to be nothing but tenderness that's represented here we see this increasing interest in human emotion human interaction here in this small statuette but we also see it on the Gothic cathedrals that were built in and around Paris and in fact in notre-dame de Paris the major Cathedral in the city itself there is a large sculpture that looks quite similar to this it has the same emphasis on an elegant drapery on an elegant sway to the body especially at the jutting hip and we see it in a manuscript that had also been owned by the screen that is now in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in one particular elimination that shows the Annunciation to me this sway of the body gives the figure a sense of movement and animation that's incredibly lifelike but we shouldn't confuse this with the later contrapposto that develops in the Renaissance or that we see an ancient Greek and Roman sculpture where we clearly see a bent knee pressing through the drapery and a figure that's in correct proportion this figure is very elongated and that sway is not so much created by a body that's realistic but instead on this very complicated curving of the drapery the metal workers who produce this we're taking great care with that drapery I'm particularly fond of the way that her sleeve wraps over her arm and I like the way it pulls down at her feet if we go to the Virgin's left side there's this wonderful passage of drapery where it forms a zigzag pattern down her legs the figure stands on a base that is itself at the work of art the base is carried by four lions and then we see figures in niches and these frame enamel scenes showing moments from the life of Christ so for example we see the Annunciation where the angel Gabriel tells Mary that she will conceive Christ and then as we move around to the reliquary we get the scenes of the crucifixion and the resurrection of Christ enamel is the addition of usually ground colored glass that's heated on a metal surface and adheres to that surface and creates these lovely deep colors in this case and it makes sense to me that the prophets are on the base that the Virgin Mary stands on the prophets or figures from the Old Testament who according to Christian tradition foretell the coming of Christ and above we see Mary holding the Christ child the sumptuousness of this sculpture creates a clear relationship between the political power the king and queen of France and the spiritual power that the Virgin Mary in Christ represent [Music]