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This paper will attempt to give a descriptive analysis and comparison of two medieval sculptures viewed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The first sculpture entitled, “Virgin and Child;” attributed to Claus de Werve, a Netherlandish sculptor by Pierre Quarre a curator and chief of Musees de Djon and a leading authority on Burgundian sculpture. Claus de Werve was commissioned by the Duke and Duchess of the town of Poligny to create this statue for the convent which was headed by a Francisean nun named Colette between 1415-1417.
The statue which is made of painted limestone is believed to be a gift that was commissioned for the convent. The second sculpture is entitled, “Mother and Child; Mali” which was created in Mali by the Bomana peoples. The statue of Virgin and Child is a religious humane figure of the Virgin Mother Mary and Jesus as a young boy which is associated with the Catholic Church and Christianity. This sculpture illustrates a mother and son involved in a tender moment.
The statue is big in size and its dimensions are 53 x 42 x 28 inches and sits in the center of the Medieval Art exhibit in room 304 of the museum.
The Virgin Mary in this sculpture appears very large in size as compared to the child. Her curly brown hair is positioned back away from her face, which is long and cascades down the sides of her face on to her shoulders. The skin of this sculpture resembles those associated with Caucasians with thin lips and long pointed noses.
Her complexion or skin color I cannot tell because it is featured in a very dark room of the museum. On top of her head there appears to be a cloak or hood like garment that comes up to the middle of her head.
She is wearing a long free flowing gown or dress underneath the cloak while she is sitting on a bench or piece of wood like structure. The child in this sculptured art has short curly brown hair and is wearing loose fitted clothing from that time period while sitting on the lap of the Virgin Mary. He appears comfortable as he sits in an angular position backwards gazing up into her face. As he sits on the lap of the Virgin Mother he gazes up into her face so matter of factly while he talks with her about the discoveries found in this book called the bible.
The child appears to be pointing specifically to an important scripture or words of wisdom to emphasize perhaps to his mother the importance of learning this knowledge from the bible. The child’s actions and facial expressions appear to illustrate that he is the teacher and she is the student getting lessons on Christianity. Upon looking at the child’s posture the viewers can immediately assume that this child possesses a special quality or trait not found in other children. The facial expressions displayed on both mother and child signals a special unique moment that can only be shared between the two.
The loving manner in which she firmly and carefully cradles her son with her left arm while holding the bible with her right lets viewers know that she wants to keep him safe from harm and prevent him from falling to the ground. At the same time her posture appears regal and straight as she looks down adoringly at her son with head slightly bowed while quietly and intensely listens to her son. On her face is a small smile that evokes pride for being selected as the chosen one to give birth to this special gift.
The facial expressions of the Virgin Mary face appears to send encouraging signals to continue practicing his teachings so that she can perhaps help spread words of wisdom to others.. The second sculpture that will be discussed is entitled Mother and Child; Mali, which was created and carved out of wood by peoples living in Western Africa, called Bamana peoples. These individuals have artistic traditions in pottery, sculpture and beautiful cloths that are very distinct and connected to their cultural history that dates back to the 17th century.
This group is located in the Bougouni or Diola area of Mali, which is located in western Africa. The Bamana individuals are part of the Mande culture and reside in the village of Bougouni. These individuals are taught while growing up to follow strict cultural practices regarding life experiences, such as hard work, responsibilities and taking care of a family. All members of this society have a specific purpose and it is up to all individuals who reside within this society to fulfill that purpose.
One of the cultural practices of the Bamana peoples is to have large extended families. These extended families can grow as large as 100 to 1000 members. This may lead others to believe that most individuals within the Bamana society work together towards one common goal and the well being of all individuals regardless of blood ties. . Even though the Bamana society is mostly controlled by males, females or mothers are regarded highly and respected as individuals responsible for bringing forth life in their society.
This respect is illustrated in the wooded sculptured entitled, Mother and Child; Mali. This figure was carved from wood by the elders of the Bamana village and symbolizes a mother or matriarchal figure that appears to act as a protector over her young child. The dark brown wooden sculpture is featured in the African and Oceanic section at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The sculpture is very tall and is approximately 49 inches tall. The material of this sculpture consists of dark brown wood that was just recently cleared by the museum according to one of the security guards there.
At first glance when I approached this sculpture it reminded me of some sort of totem pole, because some of the body features are exaggerated on this sculpture. The torso and arms on the Mother and Child sculpture appear exaggerated and longer than most human figures. The female in this sculptured illustration appears to be seated on a throne like chair protecting her young. The female figure does not have on a top and her breasts are carved like two long triangles. On the female’s lower body a short cloth covers her hips as she sits on a bench cradling a small child.
On the mothers right arm is an upper arm bracelet or rings and on her left arm there appears to be a sheath with a long knife concealed inside. On her head is a hat which is also cone shaped and inserted into the hat there appears to be sharp like objects sticking out. Along the sides of her head coming down from the hat are two thick braids that rest on her shoulders. The facial features portrayed on this sculpture feature big almond shaped eyes with a long thin nose and lips, which is consistent with the features found on the Bomana peoples living in that region or area.
The facial expressions of the woman featured in this sculpture appear to be smiling as the figure looks out from above. Her posture as she sits on her throne like wooden structure is very straight and upright. The infant in this sculpture appears to be clutching or clasping at the mothers body for a secure place to hold onto. The infant featured is completely nude and his face against his mother’s torso as the legs straddles around the waist of the mother. A cloth like fabric appears to be at the waist of the mother separating the lower body proportions from touching.
The mother sculpture is featured without any feet only legs and I do not know if the object was purposely created in that manner or if this art work was damaged and the feet destroyed. The similarities discovered in both sculptures depict the mother and child as aloving caring protectorate of the young. In both of these sculptures the mother is cradling the child in her arms on her lap while sitting down on a throne like structure. The child or son created in both works of art appears to be seated on their mother’s lap. addition the mothers size featured in both works are proportioned larger to the child displayed. others featured in both works of art portray the mother figure as a very large and powerful being in proportion to the child. Both appear to be seated on a throne like structure while holding or cradling a child in their arms. Both sculptures have a deeply rooted spiritual religious connection in their society. The Virgin and Child is a symbol of hope for all who live and believe in Christianity. The young child Jesus is known to all to be the one sent by god to save the peoples of the world from hell. While the mother and Child of Mali sculpture is also viewed and symbolizes the strength and power that a mother possesses.
This art work also is connected to the Bamana society as a religious symbol of hope for the future, because without women in society there would be not be a future. These sculptures also evoke a sense of peace and serenity to individuals when viewing them. The difference viewed in both is that Mother and Child was constructed out of limestone polychromy and gilding, and the Virgin and Child; Mali was constructed from carved wood. The Virgin and Child sculpture appears to have life like features while the Mother and Child sculpture physical features appear to have been exaggerated with the long torso and large hands.
One was created in France and the other in Mali Africa. One artist was used or named on the sculpture depicting the Virgin Mary while a group of Bamana elders are credited with the Mother and Child sculpture. The female body figure’s is completely covered in cloth. Only her hands, face and neck can be viewed, the child she is holding is also covered from head to toe in a loosely fitted garment, which may lead one to believe that the society in which these individuals resided are very conservative.
The Mother and Child; Mali sculpture depicts individuals in a very primitive and natural manner. A society that does not place limits and is not afraid to display the beauty of human anatomy for all to see. The female in the sculpture has hardly any clothes covering her body and the infant is completely naked the physical features on the virgin Child sculpture although created thousands of centuries ago can still be viewed clearly. While the Mother and Child: Mali physical features of the figures appear to be weathering with time.
This artwork in addition is only 500 years old. To conclude both sculptures reflect the ancient cultures by which they were made and focus on the importance of life in their societies during their respective time periods. They were selected because I enjoy observing art work that connects to my culture and history. It is very interesting to look through the eyes of the artist and view their interpretation of how the physical appearances of individuals during the biblical era were portrayed.
I am a Roman Catholic and I was completely drawn to the sculpture at the museum, because it sort of reminded me of the statues in my church it immediately had this calming effect on me while I stood there staring at the piece attempting to sketch it for this assignment. As mentioned earlier in the paper I really thought the Virgin and Child; Mali was a totem pole because of its size and big wide eyes and head. However, after realizing that this sculpture stood as a symbol of motherhood in Africa I began to appreciate for bringing importance to all mothers in that society and around the world.
Unlike the Virgin and Child sculpture it did not bring about a calming effect it kind of emitted power and strength. You got the sense that this mother would attack you in a minute if you attempted to bring harm to her child. All in all my experience at the Metropolitan Museum of Art was very pleasurable and in the future I plan to visit it again to look for other sculptures that I can connect with in the future. Through the eyes of other artist you can visualize history and the life of individuals who lived in the past.
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