Polychrome Walnut Virgin with Serpent – 18th Century – Midi-Pyrénées – [ME116]
The Virgin crushing the serpent is a grand classic in the Catholic iconography of the Immaculate Conception. This Virgin stands upright, arms wide open, positioned on a half-globe around which a serpent is coiled. She firmly crushes it under her bare foot. Nevertheless, the face of the Virgin Mary, slightly inclined, is peaceful, as if reassured. She is adorned in a long robe and a toga, with a hood covering her opulent hair with distinct waves. The facial expression is delicately portrayed, the drapery beautifully rendered, and the polychromatic hues ranging from red ochre to gold emphasize the finesse of this mystical work, carved from a beautiful piece of walnut. Let’s now try to understand the hidden meaning behind it.
It is clear that the serpent holds an apple in its mouth. What does this signify?
In the 17th century, the Virgin emerges as the new Eve, the one who succeeded in erasing the fault of the first woman on Earth. Saint Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153) dedicated many of his sermons to the Blessed Virgin Mary, stating that God “drew a new one from the old Adam, and he transfigured Eve to form Mary.” While Eve was the mediator of misfortune, as it was through her that the ancient serpent managed to inject his pestilential venom into humanity, Virgin Mary is a faithful mediator. She opens the doors of Salvation for both men and women. One was the instrument of seduction; the other is the champion of appeasement. The first was the instigator of transgression; the second inaugurates redemption. She is the woman who came to crush the head of the ancient serpent, which, for Jews and Christians, represents Satan and the forces of evil. In vain did the cunning monster attempt to bite her heel. In the 17th century, as a new interpretation to combat Protestant doctrine, the Church introduced in the Rosary a verse from a medieval antiphon: “Rejoice, Mary, it is you alone who has destroyed all heresies.”
Height: 56 cm, Width: 32 cm, Diameter: 21 cm.