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In Focus: New Acquisition - Schöne Madonna

In Focus: New Acquisitions - Schöne Madonna

Schöne Madonna, Bohemia, Prague, circa 1400, Polychromed limewood, UMMA, Gift of an anonymous donor, 2013/1.227

This work, a fragment of what was certainly a full length Schöne Madonna, or “beautiful Madonna,” recently came to the Museum as a gift from a private donor. An example of the late International Gothic style in sculpture, it ranks as one of the most significant additions in many years to the earlier Western collections.

By the fourteenth century, devotion to the Virgin Mary in Europe had become increasingly important, particularly in Bohemia (a region in the present day Czech Republic with its capital at Prague). The tradition of the Schöne Madonna depicts the standing Virgin tenderly holding the infant Christ. She is often portrayed with a crown over her mantle to signal her role as Queen of Heaven, in which she sits at the right hand of her son, interceding on behalf of humankind. Schöne Madonnen—in limewood, limestone, or terracotta—usually possess a courtly grace and elegance. They are frequently painted and some include gilding. Such images were important aids to new trends in prayer and meditation emphasizing the emotional involvement of the faithful, who were encouraged to contemplate events from the lives of Christ, the Virgin, or the saints, as if they were taking place before their eyes.

The quality and exquisite delicacy of UMMA’s sculpture are exceptional. Despite the areas of damage, the pensive expression, the remarkable quality of the carving, and the stylized oval of the face with its high hairline, suggest a connection with the most refined example of the type, the Krumlov Madonna in the collection of the Kunsthistoriches Museum in Vienna. It is likely that UMMA’s sculpture was commissioned by an important patron, someone possibly connected to the Bohemian court in Prague.

The history of the UMMA Madonna is not fully known. The donor’s stepfather purchased the work nearly seventy years ago, perhaps in Europe, where he frequently traveled for business, or perhaps in the United States. Stamps and stickers on the bottom of the work indicate that it was exported from Germany between 1934 and 1938.

The Schöne Madonna will be integrated into the Medieval and Early Western collections in UMMA’s European Art Gallery, and an exhibition around this important sculpture is planned for the future.

Carole McNamara
Senior Curator of Western Art

This recent acquisition will be on view in the first-floor connector between the Museum’s historic wing and the Maxine and Stuart Frankel and the Frankel Family Wing from April 7 to July 7, 2014.
Second image from the top: Madonna of Krumlov, Bohemia, Prague, circa 1390–1400, Polychromed limestone, Kunsthistoriches Museum, Vienna, Inv.-Nr. KK_10156​