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The Education of the Virgin




The Education of the Virgin


2nd quarter of 16th c.


Polychromed wood


50.8 x 40.5 x 15.5 cm


Gift of L. V. Randall, inv. 1949.Df.12


Western Art

In reaction to the heterodox protesters and then the Protestant movement that minimized the role of Mary, Catholic patrons saw to her much more frequent placement at the centre of altarpieces in German churches in the late Middle Ages. The depictions of the Virgin’s childhood emphasize her exceptional nature and, at the same time, prefigure Christ’s own early years. Like the Museum’s Annunciation and Visitation, the scene takes place in an intimate, bourgeois setting, underscored by the figures’ clothing (the Virgin’s wimple envelops the face of her mother, Saint Anne) and furniture. The contrast between the Virgin’s free-flowing tresses and her mother’s neat coif indicates their age difference. The altarpieces are painted or sculpted vertical constructions, placed behind the churches’ alter. Commonly composed of many parts or sections, these polyptychs were often dismantled which explained the presence of such isolated pieces.

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