Music in the Museum: The Cult of the Virgin Mary

As I wrote about here, I recently had the pleasure of visiting the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts with its musical audioguide. The first stop on the audio tour was a French statue of the Virgin and Child from the 14th century. The cult of the Virgin Mary was very common in both the visual and musical cultures of that time.

Virgin and Child, Montreal Museum of Fine Arts

The Virgin, on the seat of wisdom, holds a standing Christ on her right knee. Her face is serene and tender. This statue would have originally been placed in a chapel or on an altar; in other words, it was crafted to be a tool in devotion, not a museum object. 

The statue is paired with a French motet from about 1350: À vous Vierge / Ad te Virgo / Regnum mundi. The music is conserved in the Ivrea Codex, a manuscript from the late 14th century. The song is in three parts. The highest part is sung in French, and speaks of the trust believers can have in Mary, Mother of God. The middle part is in Latin, and asks the Virgin for intercession with her son. The lowest part, also in Latin, is a chant about the kingdom of the world.

The song and the statue are both understated and serene. What struck me, standing in front of this statue, was that I was witnessing artists using different mediums to cry out to the Divine for help: words and tones for the composer, a tender visual for the sculptor. The statue and the song are different paths to interpreting the same concept.

Virgin and Child, Montreal Museum of Fine Arts

This is an installment of this month's creativity theme of CALM. If you missed it, check out a description of the project here

Montreal Museum of Fine Arts

Address: 1380 rue Sherbrooke Ouest, Montréal ∣ MétroStation Peel or Station Guy-Concordia (Green Line) ∣ Opening hoursTuesday to Sunday from 10am to 5pm, major exhibition open until 9pm on Wednesday