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Statuette - Virgin and Child (Theotokos Hodegetria)

Virgin and Child (Theotokos Hodegetria)

  • Object:

    Statuette

  • Place of origin:

    Constantinople (made)

  • Date:

    late 10th century to early 11th century (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Unknown

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Ivory

  • Museum number:

    702-1884

  • Gallery location:

    Medieval & Renaissance, Room 8, The William and Eileen Ruddock Gallery, case 4

This ivory statuette is from Constantinople probably from the late 10th or early 11th century.
Freestanding sculpture is almost unknown in Byzantine Art - this is the sole surviving example - although there is said to have been an ivory statue of St Helena in Hagia Sophia in Constantinople, other similar surviving sculptural represantation are all reliefs.
The figure was probably placed in a small tabernacle to be viewed from all sides.
The Virgin Mary, known as the Theotokos in Greek terminology, was central to Byzantine spirituality as one of its most important religious figures. As the mediator between suffering mankind and Christ and the protectress of Constantinople, she was widely venerated.
Most images of the Virgin stress her role as Christ's Mother, showing her standing and holding her son.

Physical description

Ivory figure of the Mother of God Hedegetria ('showing the way' i.e. through the infant Christ), carved in the round. Part of the base has been lost, and in many areas the details of the figure have been lost through polishing. The head of Christ is a later restoration, most probably in the Castellani workshops in Rome in the 19th century. The proportions of both figures are elongated. Both are identified by small inscriptions on their robes. A lozenge-pattern of dots is visible on the Mother of God's cloak, suggesting that the figure was originally painted and gilded. There is a large dowel hole on the underside, extending 7cm into the statuette.

Place of Origin

Constantinople (made)

Date

late 10th century to early 11th century (made)

Artist/maker

Unknown

Materials and Techniques

Ivory

Marks and inscriptions

MP TH(EOU)
IC XC
Mother of God
Jesus Christ

Dimensions

Height: 32.7 cm, Width: 9.2 cm, Depth: 5.2 cm, Weight: 1.28 kg

Object history note

Formerly in the collection of Alexandro Castellani, Rome, purchsed through C.D.E. Fortnum, Rome, 3rd April, 1884, lot 584, £94.
The statue represents the Theotokos Hodegetria, the 'Mother of God showing the Way' by gesturing towards the Christ Child, a type derived from the celebrated miracle-working icon kept in the Hodegon monastery in Constantinople.
The original setting of this unique statuette reamins uncertain.

Historical significance: The Virgin and Child was an especially popular subject for Byxzantine artists. These representations were invariably in relief, either on a large scale in marble or in smaller versions in ivory, metalwork or semi-precious stones.

Statuary in the round is almost unknown in Byzantine Art - this is the sole surviving example - although there is said to have ben an ivory statue of St Helena in Hagia Sophia in Constantinople, other similar surviving sculptural represantation are all reliefs. There is a monumental marble version in the Istanbul Archeological Museum which is very close, and several ivory plaques, which probably once formed the central panels of triptychs, survive in various museums. The basic format of the Hodegetria remains unchanged; even the drapery patterns hardly vary from one piece to another.
Although the statuette is the only known Byzantine ivory sculpture carved entirely in the round, it is closely related to a small group of Virgin and Child ivory reliefs in Utrecht, Liège, Hamburg and New York, which originally formed the centres of triptychs.

Historical context note

The figure was probably placed in a small tabernacle to be viewed from all sides.

The Virgin Mary, known as the Theotokos in Greek terminology, was central to Byzantine spirituality as one of its most important religious figures. As the mediator between suffering mankind and Christ and the protectress of Constantinople, she was widely venerated.
Most images of the Virgin stress her role as Christ's Mother, showing her standing and holding her son. The manner in which the Virgin holds Christ is very particular. Certain poses developed into "types" that became names of sanctuaries or poetic epithets. For example, the Virgin Hodegetria is a popular representation of the Virgin in which she holds Christ on her left arm and gestures toward him with her right hand, showing that he is the way to salvation. The name Hodegetria comes from the Hodegon Monastery in Constantinople, in which the icon showing the Virgin in this particular stance resided from at least the twelfth century onward, acting to protect the city.

Descriptive line

Statuette, ivory, the Virgin and Child - 'Theotokos Hodegetria' or 'The Mother of God showing the Way', Byzantine (Constantiople), probably late 10th or early 11th century

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Williamson, Paul (ed.), European Sculpture at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 1996, p. 40
List of Objects in the Art Division, South Kensington Museum acquired during the Year 1884. London: Eyre and Spottiswoode, 1885. pp. 63
Longhurst, Margaret H. Catalogue of Carvings in Ivory. London. Board of Education. 1927-9. pp. 41-2
Graeven, H. Frühchristliche und mittelalterliche Elfenbeinwerke aus Sammlungen in England. 1898. I. No. 60
Goldschmidt, A. Die Elfenbeinskulpturen aus der Zeit der karoligischen und sächsischen Kaiser. II. 1918. pp. 46
Pelke, O. Elfenbein. 1920. pp. 86. fig. 53
Dalton. Byzantine Art and Archeology. 1911. pp. 188
Richter, J.P. Quellen der Byzantinische Kunstgeschichte. Vienna. 1897. pp. 14, 17
Beckwith, John. 'Mother of God showing the way. A Byzantine Ivory Statuette of the Theotokos Hodegetria'. The Connoisseur. CL. 1962. pp. 2
Williamson, P. The Medieval Treasury Catalogue. Victoria and Albert Museum, London. 1986. pp. 166-7
Williamson, P. ed. European Sculpture at the Victoria and Albert Museum. London. 1996. pp.40
Cutler, A. 'The Memory Palace of Constantine Porphyrogenitus'. in Reinick W and Stumpet. J. Memory and Oblivion. Proceedings of the XXIX International Congress of the History of Art held in Amsterdam, 1-7 September 1996. Dordrecht 1999. pp. 695-6. fig. 3
Buckton, David, (ed.), Byzantium: treasures of Byzantine art and culture from British collections, London, British Museum Press, 1994
Goldschmidt, A. and Weitzmann, K. Die byzantinischen Elfenbeinskulpturen des X. - XIII. Jahrhunderts, Zweiter Band: Reliefs, Berlin, 1934 (reprinted, Berlin, 1979), cat. no. 51, pl XXI
Williamson, Paul. Medieval Ivory Carvings. Early Christian to Romanesque. London, V&A Publishing, Victoria and Albert Museum, 2010, pp. 112-115, cat.no. 25
Talbot Rice, David, Masterpieces of Byzantine Art, Edinburgh Festival Society, Ediinburgh, 1958
Lafontaine-Dosogne, Jacqueline & de Smet, Robert, Splendeur de Byzance: exposition 2 oct.-2 déc. 1982, Musées royaux d'art et d'histoire, Bruxelles, Europalia,1982

Production Note

probably late 10th or early 11th century

Materials

Ivory

Categories

Sculpture; Christianity; Religion

Collection

Sculpture Collection

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