La Vierge et l’Enfant Jésus
bois (peint, doré) H. 35 cm
legs Marmottan Paul (testateur) (1932 acquis)
In the early 16th century, the town of Mechelen, once part of the Netherlands, exported polychrome statuettes throughout Europe. These objects made for private devotion depict the Virgin Mary, the Saints, or the Christ Child. They were turned out in large numbers using established, reproducible designs. Of modest size, they were carved from a single block of wood that yielded a robust body. The delicacy of the Mechelen faces with their child-like features and almond-shaped eyes was one reason for the success of these figures. But these general principles did not prevent the works from showing real individuality, as this remarkable Saint Barbara clearly shows. The daughter of a rich Phoenician living in the 3rd century, Saint Barbara converted to Christianity against the wishes of her father, who locked her up in a tower. Still, the young woman refused to abjure her faith and was decapitated, martyred by the hand of her own father. The statuette in the Musée Marmottan Monet displays the saint’s traditional attributes, namely, crown, prayer book, the martyr’s palm (since lost), and her high prison, whose three upper windows symbolize the Holy Trinity. The elegance of Saint Barbara’s sinuous profile, the folds of her velvet dress, and the rendering of the folds in her woolen coat all make this sculpture exceptional. The delicacy of the polychrome on the face and the painter’s careful treatment of the details (the decoration of the tower and holy scripture) bestow great freshness on this valuable piece.