Virgin and Child

This rare statuette of exceptional quality is signed by the hand of the Mechelen sculptress Maria Faydherbe. It is the only dated work by the artist. Maria Faydherbe left an internationally recognized body of work and is one of the oldest named sculptresses in European history of art whose work has survived. Thanks to the Léon Courtin - Marcelle Bouché Fund, this masterpiece of small religious sculpture is now part of our public collections and has joined the Hof Van Busleyden Museum collection in Mechelen.

A signed and dated masterpiece

Dated 1633, the statuette, which is 17.1 cm high, was sculpted with great virtuosity in precious boxwood. The Virgin and Child stands majestically, with the Virgin draped in a mantle of flowing folds, wearing a large silver crown and maternally holding the infant Jesus in her left arm. The superb quality of the boxwood carving, the beautifully calm and expressive faces and the harmony of composition make this statuette a small masterpiece of 17th century Belgian religious sculpture. Marie Faydherbe’s signature confers even greater rarity on the work.

A female artist of her time

The sculpture is incised with the signature of Maria Faydherbe as well as its date of execution, 1633. The artist, who was born in Mechelen in 1587 and died in 1643, is one of the oldest sculptresses to be identified in European art history. Coming from a family of several illustrious artists, including her nephew Lucas Faydherbe, who was a student of Rubens, Maria Faydherbe produced an internationally-recognised body of work. Her creations, which are midway between the Renaissance and Baroque styles, have been studied in depth and are eagerly sought after by collectors and museums. Moreover, the archives in Mechelen recount the activism of a committed female artist who did not hesitate to assert her rights publicly in what, at the time, was a largely masculine environment.

Typical and exceptional

We can find this work of devotion mentioned in several scientific publications, including in a 2014 issue of the Burlington Magazine, following the purchase of a similar work by the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. The small format, the iconography of Mary and the Child Jesus, the use of precious boxwood, the heavy but fluid movement of the fabrics, and the facial expressions that are both majestic and gentle, are typical of Maria Faydherbe. This Virgin and Child has been handed down over the centuries, from generation to generation, within the same Belgian family. Exceptionally, this sculpture is the only dated piece by the artist, for whom very few works have been identified to date.

A work of local and national importance

In the 17th century, Mechelen was the capital of the Roman Catholic Church in this region and it played a key role in the reconstruction of the Southern Netherlands after the period of iconoclasm and during the Counter Reformation. Artists played an important role at this time and one such artist for the city of Mechelen was Maria Faydherbe. The acquisition of a work by this famous local artist raises awareness of this role among the general public. Indeed, the city has recently renamed the former Faid’Herbestraat as Lucas-en-Maria Faydherbestraat! The purchase of this unique statuette presented an unexpected opportunity to acquire a rare work by a Mechelen artist and prevent it from probably being taken abroad.

Caring for our heritage

Managed by the King Baudouin Foundation, the Léon Courtin - Marcelle Bouché Fund has as its mission to safeguard the moveable cultural heritage of Belgian artists. The Fund supports the acquisition, conservation, restoration and promotion of works by Belgian artists from all periods except contemporary artists. For its part, the King Baudouin Foundation aims to conserve our heritage by entrusting works to museums and public institutions such as, in this case, the Hof Van Busleyden Museum in Mechelen.

Material / technique: 
Boxwood and silver
17,1 cm
Type of acquisition: 
Acquired by the Léon Courtin - Marcelle Bouché Fund
Year of acquisition: 
Depository institution: 
Museum Hof Van Busleyden – Mechelen