Attributed to Juan de Anchieta (Azpeitia (Guipúzcoa), ca. 1540 – Pamplona, 1588)
Virgin and Child
Romanist School, 16th century
Carved, gilded and polychromed wood with estofado
Height: 102 cm, Width: 59 cm, Depth: 40 cm

Carved in high relief with gilding, polychromy and estofado, the sculpture depicts the Virgin Mary seated on a throne with a low back, the Christ Child seated on her left knee. The Virgin holds a sphere and rosary in one hand, which represents the universality of Christian doctrine and the redemptive acts of Christ. The child, nude and only partially covered by his mother's veil, raises his right hand in blessing. The Virgin is wearing a red robe (symbol of the Passion of Christ), blue mantle (which refers to the concepts of truth and eternity), and a golden veil that alludes to Divine Glory.

The subject of the Virgin and Child, specifically with the Christ Child either seated or standing in the Virgin's lap, has its origins in the Eastern religions of antiquity. It's closest parallel is the image of Isis with her son Horus. However, the most direct reference is that of the Virgin as the Sedes Sapientiae (Seat of Wisdom), where she is the throne of God, and which can be found throughout Medieval Christian art. With the advent of naturalism, the Virgin's role as the "throne" of the Christ Child gave way to a more intimate relationship between mother and child. During the Gothic period, the Virgin and Child moved closer to one another and the concept of the Virgin as a throne disappeared almost entirely. Instead, the depictions focused on the love between mother and son, an image that was designed to display a level of tenderness intended to stir the souls of the faithful. This shift to a more humanized mother-child depiction resulted in Christ's role as the central figure being displaced and instead the focus being on the personal relationship between the two figures, where the mother is holding her child in a loving embrace.

This piece is typical of the style of Juan de Anchieta, to whom it has been attributed. Anchieta was a Basque sculptor who belonged to the Romanist School of Spanish Mannerism, which exhibits the influences of Italian artists active in Rome, specifically Raphael and Michelangelo. Works from the Romanist School are notable for their size and anatomical strength, traits that can clearly be seen in this piece. In fact, it is believed that Juan de Anchieta trained in Italy, as his style reflects the influences of the Italian masters. Although there is no documentation that supports this theory, his Italian "training" was recognized by Ceán Bermúdez and Camón Aznar.

Works with these traits and characteristics can be found in the main altarpiece of the Church of Santa Maria de Tafalla (Navarra), whose central image of the Assumption exhibits similar anatomical features. It also has flesh tones and polychromy that are nearly identical to our piece. In addition, the Virgin and Child in the Church of San Miguel de Agoitz and the Virgin and Child with St. John the Baptist in the Church of St. John the Baptist de Obanos show a large Virgin Mary with a volume and heft that can be compared to our sculpture. In both examples, as well as in our piece, the volume is defined by the clothing, especially in the folds of the fabric. The Virgin is dressed in a complex dress, in a tunic with a fan-pleated neckline and an ample mantle. The head can be compared in all three examples with that of a Roman matron, which is covered by a veil folded in the manner of Michelangelo and that suggests wavy hair parted in the middle underneath. The faces are clearly inspired by the Italian master: strong and broad features, straight nose, tight mouth, and rounded chin. In the examples from Agoitz and Obanos, as well as in ours, the well-defined hands of the Virgin hold the Christ Child in her lap, partially covered with her veil. The terrestrial sphere also appears in these three examples.


García Gainza, Mª Concepción: Juan de Anchieta, escultor del Renacimiento, 2008.

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Pictures: Miguel Atienza Photography