Shrine Madonna
Shrine Madonna
Shrine Madonna
Shrine Madonna
Shrine Madonna
Shrine Madonna

A Viennese sculptor
c. 1410


Dom Museum Wien
On loan from the Schwarzau Parish at Steinfeld, Lower Austria


Medieval art

On view

Reproduction request
Loan request

Photo: Leni Deinhardstein, Lisa Rastl, Dom Museum Wien
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A gothic Virgin of Mercy

This type of madonna was far spread during the middle ages. She is shown as bearing the Trinity inside herself and as the protector of all believers.

Although the shrine Madonna—or “Vierge ouvrante” (“opening virgin”) as it is called in France, its country of origin—remained to be a very popular pictorial type far into the sixteenth century, there are only 65 extant specimens that are known today. The Madonna from the Dom Museum dates from the early fifteenth century and corresponds in type to those from the area of the Teutonic Order: closed, it shows the Mother of God sitting on a throne borne by angels, her left hand presumably once held a scepter while the right supported an infant Jesus figure. She is clad in a golden garment, her head slightly tilted, gazing into some remote distance. Opened, this hybrid between sculpture and carved reredos presents St. Mary as the Virgin of Mercy, or sheltering-cloak Madonna who protectively extends her arms over a group of female figures to her right and a group of males to her left, among whom a pope, a canon, and a bishop can identified. These figures were not painted, as was customary, but executed in relief.
On the inside of the shrine, the sculptor chose the (highly popular) motif of the Throne of Mercy to represent the Holy Trinity; however, both the crucifix and the dove are lost today. Although the only part still to be seen is God the Father enthroned, one can easily imagine how the cross once rested on his hands and legs. The piece is very well preserved, though not in its original Gothic coloring, as it was painted over in the Baroque era in a style that has artistic value of its own.

What is genuinely exceptional is the consistency of the formal solution that relates Mary to God the Father: her hips are his shoulders, they are inextricably merged into one another. Other examples are far less convincing in articulating this point. If the shrine is understood as symbolizing Mary’s body, she is represented here as the birth-giver of God who bears the Trinity inside herself.