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Romanesque Sculpture: Mary as the Throne of Wisdom
In the Roman Catholic tradition, the epithet "the Seat of Wisdom" or "Throne of Wisdom" is one of many devotional titles for the Mother of God. The phrase was coined in the 11th and 12th centuries by Peter Damiani and Guibert de Nogent and likens Mary to the Throne of Solomon, referring to her status as a vessel carrying the Holy Child. As the phrase associates the Blessed Virgin with glory and teaching, Madonnas in this tradition are especially popular in Catholic imagery.
In Christian iconography, sedes sapientiae ("The Throne of Wisdom") is an icon of the Mother of God in majesty. When the Virgin is depicted in sedes sapientiae icons and sculptural representations, she is seated on a throne with the Christ Child on her lap.
This type of Madonna image was a variant of the ByzantineHodegetria type, in which the Virgin Mary is depicted holding the child Jesus at her side while pointing to him as the source of salvation for mankind. It appeared in a wide range of sculptural and painted images in Western Europe, especially near 1200 CE. In these representations, structural elements of the throne invariably appear, even if only handholds and front legs. The Virgin's feet often rest on a low stool. Later Gothic sculptures are more explicitly identifiable with the Throne of Solomon, where "two lions stood, one at each hand. And twelve little lions stood upon the six steps on the one side and on the other" (I Kings 10, 19-20).
In addition to Romanesque sculpture, the sedes sapientiae icon appeared in illuminated manuscripts, frescoes, mosaics, and seals of the time. The icon possesses emblematic verbal components: the Virgin as the Throne of Wisdom is a trope of Damiani or Guibert de Nogent, based on the typological interpretation of the passage in the Books of Kings that describes the throne of Solomon (I Kings 10: 18–20, repeated at II Chronicles 9: 17–19). This motif was frequently used in Early Netherlandish painting in works like the Lucca Madonna by Jan van Eyck.
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“Romanesque Sculpture: Mary as the Throne of Wisdom.”
Boundless Art History
Boundless, 28 Nov. 2016.
Retrieved 20 Feb. 2017 from