After extensive conservation and restoration work (from 2012 to 2022), the Enthroned Virgin and Child is returning to the Bode-Museum’s permanent exhibition. The 92-cm-tall sculpture in walnut is particularly striking due to its graceful posture and ornate carving, as well as the fact that its original coloured finish has been largely preserved.
Little is known about the sculpture’s origin: it was probably produced after 1310 and likely came from the Cologne Cathedral. What is certain, however, is that it was donated to the Kaiser-Friedrich-Museum in Berlin in December 1918 by James Simon. The figure was stored for many years in the museum’s storage facilities, and it was only in 2014 that it was examined in more detail for the Skulpturensammlung’s collection catalogue. The subsequent restoration work brought further insights into the techniques used to create the sculpture, the technological make-up of its various layers of paint and the changes made to it over the course of 700 years.
As an altar figure and reliquary, the Madonna is rendered with particular intricacy. There is still a relic inside the figure’s head, but another compartment for relics in the base of the throne, visible through small, carved window grilles, is today empty.
The extraordinarily rich details and colouring of the original medieval finish lay hidden under several layers of overpainting from later centuries. In an extremely elaborate and meticulous process of stripping back the layers of paint, conservators were able to largely reveal the original condition of the work. They carried out this work manually over a long period of time using a scalpel, solvents and solvent gels and with the aid of a stereo microscope. In addition, some areas that had been severely damaged by insects were stabilised, filled in and smoothed out. The final retouching was done with watercolour.
The uncovered patterns on the dress reveal textile patterns inspired by Persian silk from the 10th century, and the painted imitation fur on the coat points to earlier fine royal robes. The hems are decorated with imitation gems, and the figure exhibits extensive silver and gold detailing. On the back of the base of the throne, delightfully coloured arcade windows lay hidden under the grey layers of overpainting.
The many years of restoration and conservation work (2012 to 2022) have certainly paid dividends, as visitors to the Bode-Museum can now once again admire the Enthroned Virgin and Child in all its unique beauty. The figure is on display in room 111 of the museum.
Project management: Marion Böhl
Technological examination and execution of the conservation and restoration work: Marion Böhl