(active c. 1240-1250 in Picardy)

Vierge Dorée (Golden Virgin)

Cathedral, Amiens (Somme)

The Vierge Dorée is on the trumeau of the portal of the south transept. Her name derives from the fact that that once - indeed right up to the 18th century - she was gilded. She is smaller than the jamb figures, her pedestal is higher, and she stands under a baldachin that bisects a register on which the Apostles stands. Her shoulders and head reach up into the architrave where three angels hold a rosette with spiraling petals as a nimbus behind her crowned head. The Vierge Dorée is the real center of this portal, partly because of the three-dimensionality that makes her stand forward from the plane of the tympanum. While the upper registers are almost in bas-relief, there is a noticable increase in the three-dimensionality as one moves downward, until the Virgin on the trumeau is almost a fully rounded figure even though she can be viewed only from the front. The right-hand side of the figure is made jagged by a series of folds, while on the left-hand side the bunching of the garments creates a long and smooth curve. As though supported by this gentle curve, the Christ Child sits on the Virgin's left arm, uniting with her to form an intimate group. Turning to gaze at him, the Virgin accords the Christ Child the central position to which the whole composition of the group relates. How clearly this focus upon the the child has always been recognized is shown by the probably mistaken restoration of the Virgin's right hand, which almost certainly did not originally point toward the child.

However, the true significance of the Vierge Dorée in the history of art comes from the figure of the Virgin herself. Her smile, directed toward the child, is quite new, and conveys to us not only the intimate relationship between the two, but also its very human aspect. More important still is the tension that seems to come from within the figure, which shows itself in the position of the slightly extended right leg, and the barely perceptible inclination of the upper torso towards the right, which is countered by a slight turn of the head to the left. Priciples of classical sculpture such as contrapposto (the twisting of the figure in opposite directions) has thus been adopted for the standing figure of the Virgin, a subject that was widespread in the Ile-de-France around the middle of the 13th century, and not only on cathedral façades. The Amiens Vierge Dorée is the starting point for many sculptures of the Virgin and Child, not only in France.