Virgin in Majesty


Virgin in Majesty : walnut wood, silver, gilded silver ; about 1170 ; listed as a Historical monument in 1897.

The 1959 restoration revealed that the statue consists of a core of walnut wood covered with plates of silver, partly gilded, and decorated with repoussé work and engraving. The face still has the original. true to life painting. The right hand of the Virgin is XVIIth century, the left hand is of a later date. The silver lace of the right wrist bears the hallmark of François Cellier, an XVIIIth century Clermont goldsmith (1745-1785). In 1896, holes were drilled in the heads for fixing the crowns.

The restoration also revealed a small compartment in the back of the Virgin which was made inaccessible by the original metal plating : it may have been intended in the first place as a reliquary. However the function of the statue is purely symbolic. Indeed, it is thoroughly representative of the vast collection of Virgins grouped by I. H. Forsyth under the term "Throne of Wisdom". In the Auvergne, the probable prototype was the "Golden Virgin" ordered by the Bishop of Clermont in 946. The Virgin of Orcival is in the same family as those preserved in Tournus, Lyon, Marsat and Chalus-Lembron.

The aim is to make the Mystery of the Incarnation visible and tangible. The Virgin has the dual role of representative of the line of David, from which the Holy Infant is descended, and of Throne of Wisdom, on which the Infant-Priest sits.

So it is not a matter of expressing a maternal sentiment but of personifying an institution carrying God as a King. The luminosity of the silver and gold emphasizes the symbolic dimension of the work.

The exact, original location of the statue is not known. Was it on view all year, or only on feast-days or used in performances of mystery plays, for example at the Epiphany, as is suggested by I. H. Forsyth?