Virgin and Child thumbnail 1
Virgin and Child thumbnail 2
Image of Gallery in South Kensington
On display at V&A South Kensington
Medieval & Renaissance, Room 8, The William and Eileen Ruddock Gallery

Virgin and Child

ca. 1220-1230 (made)
Place of origin

This was probably an altar figure, one of the most common forms of wooden religious image in the Middle Ages. Very few survive in England as they were removed or destroyed during the Reformation.

Object details

Object type
TitleVirgin and Child (generic title)
Materials and techniques
Polychromed oak
Brief description
Polychromed oak statuette of the Virgin and Child, English, ca. 1220 - 1230
Physical description
The Virgin, wearing a low crown, sits frontally on a backless throne, with the Christ-Child on her left knee. There are a number of losses: the Virgins right hand, the head and left arm of the child (He originally held a book). The present colour scheme is approximately that of the earliest layer: the Virgin's over-mantle is red (perhaps over-patterned with white) and her under-gown is blue, while the Christ-Child's tunic is yellowish white. There are remains of pinkish flesh tones on the face and the neck of the Virgin and the sides of the throne are yellow or gold.
  • Height: 46.4cm
  • Width: 23.8cm
  • Depth: 16.8cm
  • Weight: 3.84kg
Measured for the Medieval and Renaissance Galleries
Credit line
Gift of Mr E. R. D. Maclagan CBE through Art Fund
Object history
Said to have come from Langham church, near Colchester, Essex

Historical significance: The Virgin and Child group represents the transitional phase between Romanesque and Gothic, retaining recognisable twelfth century features while looking forward to the stylistic advances of the thirteenth century.
English medieval figure sculpture in wood excluding effigies and misericords, is of utmost rarity. Although there can be no doubt that such figures were made in large numbers but they suffered more than stone sculptures.
It has been suggested that English sculptors worked in Norway and Sweden in the thirteenth century since sculptures such as the Langham Virgin provided the model for a number of groups now preserved in Scandinavia. The importance of English wood sculpture of the first quarter of the thirteenth century for wood sculpture of this period in Lower Saxony has been recently postulated.
Historical context
The present piece was almost certainly an altar figure, which together with the figures forming part of a rood (Christ crucified, the Virgin and St John the Evangelist), was the most common form of devotional image in wood in the Middle Ages. Probably just such a statuette is described in the Liberate Rolls relating to to the refurbishment of the chapel of St. Peter ad Vincula in the Tower of London in December 1240: 'the small figure of St Mary with her tabernacle, the images of St. Peter, St Nicholas and St Katherine, the beam above the altar of St. Peter, and the small cross with its images are to be repainted and refreshed with good colours'.
Subjects depicted
This was probably an altar figure, one of the most common forms of wooden religious image in the Middle Ages. Very few survive in England as they were removed or destroyed during the Reformation.
Bibliographic references
  • Williamson, Paul, Evelyn, P. Northern Gothic Sculpture 1240-1450, London, 1998. cat. no. 1
  • Andersson, Avon. English influence in Norwegian and Swedish figure sculpture in wood 1220-1270. Stockholm, 1949. pp. 31-32.
  • Review of principal Aquisitions. V&A, 1925 (1927). pp. 2-3. pl. I.
  • Stone, Lawrence. Sculpture in Britain: the Middle Ages. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1955. pp. 104, 107, 249. pl. 78. n. 32.
  • Suckale, R. Zur Bedeutung Englands für die welfische Skulptur um 1200. In: Heinrich der Löwe und seine Zeit. München : Hirmer, 1995. II. pp. 445, 451. no. 30.
  • Cf. Societé francaise d'Archéologie. LXXXII. 227. ill. p. 234.
  • Cf. Hamann, R. Article in Marburger Jahrbuch. III, 1927. p. 77.
  • Williamson, Paul, The NACF and the National Collection of Sculpture. In National Art-Collections Fund Review,1986, pp. 77-78, fig. 1.
  • Alexander, Jonathan, and Paul Binski (eds.), Age of Chivalry: Art in Plantagenet England 1200-1400, London: Weidenfeld and Nicholson, 1987.
  • Graves, Alun and Williamson, Paul. Philip Eglin, London : Victoria & Albert Museum, 2001 handlist, A
  • Hoffmann, Konrad, The Year 1200: a centennial exhibition at the Metropilitan Museum of Art, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Cloisters, New York, 1970
  • Kroesen, Justin, Leeflang, Micha, and Sureda i Jubany, Marc. North & South: Medieval Art from Norway and Catalonia 1100-1350. Exhibition Catalogue, Utrecht, Museum Catharijneconvent; Vic, Museu Episcopal de Vic. Zwolle: WBOOKS, 2020, pp. 128-29 (Micha Leeflang)
Accession number

About this object record

Explore the Collections contains over a million catalogue records, and over half a million images. It is a working database that includes information compiled over the life of the museum. Some of our records may contain offensive and discriminatory language, or reflect outdated ideas, practice and analysis. We are committed to addressing these issues, and to review and update our records accordingly.

You can write to us to suggest improvements to the record.

Suggest feedback

Record createdMarch 5, 2004
Record URL
Download as: JSONIIIF Manifest