Old Master Sculpture and Works of Art

Old Master Sculpture and Works of Art

View full screen - View 1 of Lot 13. Silesian or Bohemian, circa 1400-1420 | Virgin and Child.

Property from an Important European Collection

Silesian or Bohemian, circa 1400-1420 | Virgin and Child

Lot Closed

December 5, 03:18 PM GMT


50,000 - 70,000 GBP

Lot Details


Property from an Important European Collection

Silesian or Bohemian, circa 1400-1420

Virgin and Child

gilt and polychromed limewood

178cm., 70in.

The Schöner Stil (Beautiful Style) was a distinctive artistic movement that emerged in Europe around 1400. Throughout the continent, artists departed from the generally more expressive style of the 14th century and introduced a more refined language. It focused on decorative effects which were intended to evoke a fairy-tale environment for the viewer. Graceful silhouettes, a serene charm, and an elegant drapery style characterised by sinuous cascading folds became the hallmarks of the style, as exemplified in this impressive, life-size Virgin and Child on a Crescent Moon. 

It was the House of Luxemburg, the ruling family of Bohemia, that gave rise to the prototypes for Schöne Madonnen (Beautiful Madonnas): the statues of the Virgin and Child from Krumlau, Pilzen and Altenmarkt. Their grace was achieved through a set of stylistic traits that would come to influence sculpture throughout Europe. The Virgin was represented with a contrapposto supporting a usually very lively Child on her hip with both hands. Swathes of drapery suspended from one or both arms were given volume and lightness by arranging them in zig-zag folds. Lastly, both the Virgin and the Child have an expression and physiognomy with a somewhat grave sweetness, lending to the figures the noble air for which the Beautiful Madonnas have become so well known. 

The present Virgin is distinguished by her elegantly slender, elongated forms, with only a hint of the S-curve contrapposto that is so pronounced in the Schöne Madonna prototypes from Bohemia. In this aspect, as well as the fluidly cascading folds of drapery of her headdress and mantle, she is reminiscent of the life-size Virgin and Child from the Carmelite Monastery in Cracow, illustrated in Legner, op. cit., p. 488, a Silesian work of circa 1380-1390 under Bohemian influence. Further comparisons can be made with early 14th-century Silesian Madonnas, particularly one formerly in the Simon Collection, Berlin (Braune and Wiese, op. cit., no. 57). The present Virgin's slender proportions and drapery scheme find another close parallel in a Virgin and Child offered at Sotheby's London on 8 July 1998 (lot 24) and catalogued as Silesian based on the same comparisons; note also the similarity between the Virgins' facial features, with round cheeks, a small mouth and a long, thin bridge of the nose. While it is relatively rare for Madonnas of this period to be depicted on a crescent moon, an early 14th-century Silesian Madonna on a closely comparable crescent moon, with pronounced human features, is illustrated in Braune and Wiese, op. cit. (no. 55). 

While this indicates a Silesian origin of the present Madonna, under Bohemian influence, it is nonetheless possible that the sculpture originated in Bohemia itself. The faces of both Virgin and Child, and the Child's plump, elongated torso, find another striking comparison in an enthroned Virgin and Child, dated before 1420, in the Church of Our Lady before Týn in Prague (Legner, op. cit., pp. 697-698). Unlike most Schöne Madonnen, the Prague group is further analogous in the Virgin and Child's direct gaze out towards the viewer, a feature which makes the present Madonna a particularly beautiful and engaging example of her kind.

H. Braune and E. Wiese, Schlesische Malerei und Plastik des Mittelalters, Leipzig, 1926; A. Legner (ed.), Die Parler und der Schöne Stil 1350-1400, Europäische Kunst under den Luxemburgern, exh. cat. Schnütgen Museum, Cologne, 1978

The present sculpture is accompanied by a Radiocarbon Dating Measurement Report prepared by Jill Walker for RCD Lockinge, which states that the wood from the sample dates between AD 1286 and 1396 (95% confidence interval).