This sculpture belongs to a group of early representations of the Virgin and Child known as the Sedes Sapientiae (the Throne of Wisdom). The subject embodies a complex and core Christian doctrine of the Virginâ€™s role in the Incarnation (the moment in which Christ became flesh) and ultimately in the redemption of humankind. Mary faces forward, her gaze toward the beholder. As she is seated on a throne, she in turn becomes the throne to the Christ child, thus symbolizing her role in giving birth not only to the human Jesus, but also to the divine Christ. The Incarnation gave Mary a unique role as principal mediator between heaven and earth, and between God and humankind. As a result, her image proliferated in art, especially after the 12th century, a period in which there was surging interest in Maryâ€™s life and increasing devotion to her person and images.
The sculpture belongs to a rare group of surviving figures produced in the Auvergne region of central France during the second half of the 12th century. These "Auvergne" Virgins are estimated to number only about 25 or 30 and are characterized by their linear, calligraphic draperies, which form beautiful swirls and contours. All such sculptures are smaller than life-size and made of wood in order to make them mobile. Evidence suggests that they were moved from altar to altar or church to church, and were frequently carried in procession within churches and town streets on Marian feast days. The heads were intentionally removable in order to "dress" them in costumes for such processions.