The first workshops to settle down in Le Mans at the end of the 16th century are characterized by an adapted mannerism style. Germain Pilon's Virgin and Child set the example for representation which was to influence generations of sculptors in Maine from 1570 onwards, when it was placed in the Couture Abbey (now in Le Mans Cathedral). Among the most influential workshops active in the first half of the 17th century were those of the Delabarre family, Charles Hoyau and Pierre Biardeau. They were organized in family structures and dominated by dynasties of modellers connected together by multiple marriages. The longest established dynasty was that of Gervais I Delabarre (circa 1560 / 1570-1640) and his sons, Gervais II (1603-around 1650) and Louis (1612-1655), and his grandson, François (1629-1688). Therefore, the attribution of a terracotta to a specific Maine workshop is complex, since documentary sources are limited and family traditions perpetuated from one generation to the next and from one workshop to another.
The emergence and vitality of Maine's artistic centers was the consequence of a troubled religious context which had previously resulted in widespread destruction. Moreover, the following Counter-Reformation motivated a renewal of medieval religious models and subjects. The Virginal cult grew to new heights and the number of her representations increased. The education of the Virgin, her marriage, the Annunciation, the Visitation, the Virgin and Child, the Dormition and the Assumption were all subjects produced by the Maine workshops.
The ample silhouette of our Virgin and the draperies of her mantle stand out from the mannerist canon of the early 17th century. It seems rather the work of a sculptor active in the second quarter of the century, in the circle of Charles Hoyau and, even more closely, of Gervais I and Gervais II Delabarre. The classical features of her face, her majestic attitude and the gesture of the Child's hand demanding the breast are found in the Virgin and Child of St. Peter Cathedral, in Poitiers, and that of St. Denis d'Orcques, both by Gervais I Delabarre. It can also be compared to those of Notre-Dame des Vertus, in La Flèche, and Saint-Martin of Rouez, both by his son, Gervais II. Fired in a potter's oven filled with all kinds of dishes, our terracotta bears the expected dripping and splashing of the glaze coating from these articles of every day use.
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