The facial features of this sculpture are also analogous of 14th-century French sculpture – they combine the elegance of French Gothic stylisation with the softness of Italian Renaissance works. These characteristics include a soft, unmoving gaze, a small mouth with a slight smile, a small nose with connected brows and almond-shaped eyes. A similar treatment of forms can also be found in the marble head of the Virgin, which has the same dramatic waves, almond-shaped eyes, and fleshy face as our piece. The sculptor of this head may also be looking to the work of Jean Pépin de Huy, especially when the head is compared with his marble tomb effigy of Jean de Bourgogne.
Although the sculptures obviously reflect mid-century Parisian work, the somewhat idiosyncratic facial type, with the slanted almond-shaped eyes, perhaps indicates a regional workshop, active in the Île-de-France, which produced its own distinctive interpretations of the prevailing Parisian style. This is obvious in other works, such as in the abovementioned statue of Veronica, which is clearly looking to Paris but which reinterprets certain forms with a different style – most notably the eyes. Another example is found in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where a statue of the Virgin and Child are sculpted with all the ingredients of Parisian 14th-century sculpture, yet they have their own particular character.
The size, flatness of the reverse and the material of this head suggest that it was probably once a part of a relief. This relief may have been a tomb monument or some other marble furnishing inside of a church.
For more information, see Charles T. Little, Set in Stone: The Face in Medieval Sculpture, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 2007, and Michael Grandmontagne and Tobias Kunz, Skulptur um 1300 zwischen Paris und Köln, Berlin, 2016.
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