The commentary of the cover

Tota pulchra est by Pierre-Marie Dumont

During the reign of Charles of Luxembourg († 1378), the kingdom of Bohemia (present-day Czech Republic) became one of the liveliest cen­ters of the international renaissance of French art (opus francigenum)—often imprecisely called “Gothic” art. This renaissance experienced its golden age between 1350 and 1450. Beginning as a monumental art at the service of the Church, French art evolved in part toward an art of the court and of wealthy amateurs, turning toward private and public devotion, and even to secular subjects.

This bust of the Blessed Virgin Mary was executed in Prague around 1390. Remarkably, it was not sculpted in stone or wood, but modeled in terra cotta, then painted. It is doubtless an object for private devotion, a precursor of the two elements—new techniques and new markets for works of art—that, fifty years later in Florence, would give rise to the flowering of the first Italian Renaissance.

Let us then contemplate this sculpture in which realism of form manages to unite high spiritual significance to the very human charm of the most graceful femininity. Starting from a holy union between the grace of Eve before the Fall and the grace of the Immaculate Virgin, the artist succeeds in representing a being of profoundly moving beauty. Here, Mary appears as revealed to us in Scripture: a young woman, full of grace, all beauteous, and our Queen.

Regarding this last title, representations of the crowned Virgin be­gan to appear on the tree of Jesse, to indicate clearly Mary’s royal lin­eage, of the house of David. Then, Virgins appeared inspired by the woman of Revelation, crowned with stars (Rv 12:1-6). Finally, beginning in the 12th century, Coronations of the Virgin by Christ appeared, seen as the culmination of the Assumption. Here, the crown recapitulates all of these meanings, with a view to eliciting our songs of praise to her whom God gave us as sovereign of earth and of heaven as well:

Hail, holy Queen enthroned above, O Maria.

Hail, Queen of mercy and of love, O Maria.

Triumph, all ye cherubim,

Sing with us, ye seraphim,

Heaven and earth resound the hymn:

Salve, salve, salve, Regina!

 

 Pierre-Marie Dumont

 

The Crowned Virgin (c. 1390–1395), The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Cloisters Collection, New York (NY), USA.

© MET, dist. RMN-GP/image of the MMA.