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Virgin from Ger

Virgin from Ger, second half of the 12th century, wood, tempera, and stucco, 51.8 x 20.5 x 15.5 cm, From the parish church of Santa Coloma de Ger, Baixa Cerdanya (Museu Nacional d'Art de Cataunya Palau Nacional, Barcelona) Speakers: Dr. Beth Harris and Dr. Steven Zucker. Created by Beth Harris and Steven Zucker.

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Video transcript

SPEAKER 1: We're looking at a small, Romanesque, wooden carving of "Madonna and Child Enthroned." It's actually very well preserved. It's really only missing, as far as I can see, the crowns that they would have originally worn. Christ's right hand is up. His two forefingers are up in a blessing, and he's holding a Bible for our regard. With Romanesque sculpture of this sort, there's the notion that it's not Mary that's enthroned, so much as Christ is enthroned by Mary. SPEAKER 2: They're both very frontal. But Mary does become a throne for Christ, who doesn't look at all like a little baby, but rather like a small man. SPEAKER 1: Now, there's a very specific reason for that. Of course, the artist had seen many babies and knew that Christ would not have looked like this at this age. But this is a symbolic form, and the idea was how does one marry the relationship between an all-knowing god and a young child. SPEAKER 2: How do you represent a baby with the wisdom-- SPEAKER 1: Of all-- SPEAKER 2: --of God himself? This is a remarkably beautiful sculpture. I'm struck not only by the color-- by the painting and the decorative forms on, for example, her mantle, and the clothing that Christ wears, but just the delicacy of the carving, that shawl that goes over his left shoulder and the ripples that come down at the edges of it and ride up back over his left knee. This period of Romanesque in Spain, in the late 11th and early 12th century of building, of painting the walls of these new churches during this period, of decorating them with forms for veneration, worship like we see here. SPEAKER 1: So this would have been one object with in a much more elaborate, decorative program. SPEAKER 2: Perhaps. SPEAKER 1: I think that one of the characteristics that is important for me when I look at the Romanesque, a kind of elegance, but also a kind of massiveness. SPEAKER 2: She has this really elongated face, obviously, that's much too large for her body. But that really focuses our attention on Mary and her importance. And I'm also struck by the way that the coloring of the painting, of the wood, helps to make the figure much more real and how important that must've been if you're in church and you're praying. You're surrounded by these murals, these wall paintings. You come up perhaps to an altar. And this is one figure, perhaps among many, on the altar, and how real she would have seemed. SPEAKER 1: You were mentioning, not only defined carving, but also the painting. There's a lot of the decorative painting is still in place. And you can see that the painting has been built up a little bit of stucco in certain places. SPEAKER 2: Like around her collar, here. SPEAKER 1: That's absolutely right. So there's this beautiful decorative detail that you were speaking of. But there's also, I think, a sense of the maternal. She's very human. There's a great sense of empathy that I feel when I look at her. And of course, there's always a sense of the tragic when we look at the Virgin and Child because of her knowledge of Christ's eventual fate. SPEAKER 2: I think that the artist manages to convey some of the human relationship between these figures even within this formula of representing the Madonna enthroned with Christ.