Sculptors have been working with marble for centuries. Most favored for it’s softness, leaving a translucent effect – these characteristics are particularly desirable when a piece requires intricate detailing, like anatomical subtleties, flowing drapery and beautifully crafted facial expression.
This sculpture in particular captures this all.
The Veiled Virgin, a 19th Century piece by Italian sculptor Giovanni Strazza.
Not much is known about the sculpture, believed to have originated from Milan while Strazza was working in Rome in the 1850’s.
Depicted as the Virgin Mary, one would almost think of the veil to take on a life of its own. Eyes closed, head tilted downwards, she appears to be praying peacefully or possibly expressing grief. Both historically portrayed characteristics of the Virgin Mary.
Made from Carrara marble, a Tuscan material historically used by ancient Roman builders and Italian Renaissance artists, this high-quality marble is revered for its workability, offering the perfect canvas for Strazza and his peers. In particular, women were the preferred medium and sculptures of busts and women with shrouded faces were rather popular. Veiled Lady sculptures by Pietro Rossi and Raffaelo Monti further illustrated this trend.
One wonders why veiled women would be so popular? Simply, because it was a challenging piece to put together, really showcasing the artist’s talents.
To achieve the illusion that something solid and cold could flow so softly like a piece of lace or silk required a great level of skill. Sculptures from Greece’s Hellenistic period along with the Italian Renaissance clearly showcase some of the most phenomenal examples, undoubtedly an inspiration for Strazza and others alike.
“From an archaeological point of view, [the Veiled Virgin‘s veil] stems from the tradition of ‘wet drapery’ that already existed in Greco-Hellenistic sculpture,” Claire Barbillon, the director of the École du Louvre, explains. “Sculptors have always taken on this challenge.”
Finding its home in Canada, for the last 150 years the Veiled Virgin has seen her home in the Episcopal Palace next to St. John’s Basilica. Received by Bishop John Thomas Mullock.
In his diary, Mullock praised his new acquisition: “Received safely from Rome, a beautiful statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary in marble, by Strazza,” he wrote. “The face is veiled, and the figure and features are all seen. It is a perfect gem of art.”
Its relocation was also enthusiastically documented by a local newspaper, The Newfoundlander. “To say that this representation surpasses in perfection of art, any piece of sculpture we have ever seen, conveys but weakly our impression of its exquisite beauty,” the article reads. “The possibility of such a triumph of the chisel had not before entered into our conception. Ordinary language must ever fail to do justice to a subject like this – to the rare artistic skill, and to the emotions it produces in the beholder.”
Moved in 1862 to the nearby Presentation Convent, she has remained, captivation those who seek her ever since.