Lot 2
  • 2

French, Auvergne, second half 12th century

60,000 - 80,000 GBP
104,500 GBP
bidding is closed


  • Sedes Sapientiae
  • wood, with traces of polychromy
  • 62cm., 24 3/8 in.


private collection, France;
Sotheby's London, 5 July 2000, lot 8;
private collection, Belgium

Catalogue Note

The present statue is part of a famous group of Romanesque Madonnas from the French Massif Central region. They are amongst the earliest sculptures in Western Europe to represent the Sedes Sapientiae (Virgin on the Seat of Holy Wisdom). The Virgin is carved with long fingers in a formal frontal pose, of impressive nobility wearing an elegant intricately pleated robe. She is seated on the Throne of Solomon, holding the Christ Child, who is an upright position and balanced evenly on her knees. The imagery seems to have been inspired by depictions of the Gallo-Roman goddesses that Christianity adopted for the Mother of God.

In France, one of the earliest examples to appear must have been that described in the inventory of the treasury of the cathedral of Clermont at the end of the 10th century. It was commissioned in 946 by Bishop Etienne II of Clermont to store the relics he had collected. It was described as follows: "Ame de bois, recouvertes de feuilles d'or. Respectant des loins de la frontalité, elle est assise sur un trône à arcades comme Jésurasalem soutient la chrétienté. Elle est trône de son fils qui témoigne de la toute Puissance divine en bénissant de sa Main droite aux longs doights." 

This late 12th-century Madonna belongs to a distinct group of seated Virgins from the Cantal region of the Auvergne. The group includes the sculpture known as the Notre-Dame-des-Claviers, another from Puy de Dôme and a third in the Metropolitan Museum of Art (inv. no. 16.32.194a-b). Each of these examples are carved from walnut and are of a similar size of around 75 centimetres high, have a removable head, and a throne which is carved in several sections. Most have a cylindrical cavity in the left shoulder for the safe keeping of relics. Further accounts suggests the statues were carried in processions to give courage to their inhabitants and were occasionally moved from church to church for adoration.

I. H. Forsyth, The Throne of Wisdom, Princeton, 1972, p. 172; La Vierge dans la statuaire du Cantal, exh. cat. Amis du patrimoine de Haute-Auvergne, Aurillac-Mauriac-Saint-Flour, 1989; F. Baron, Sculpture française. I. Moyen Âge, cat. Musée du Louvre, Paris, 1996, p. 33; W. Cahn (ed.), Romanesque sculpture in American collections, II. New York and New Jersey, Middle and South Atlantic States, the Midwest, Western and Pacific States, Turnhout, 1999, p. 126, no. 1