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The things that bother me about the Met’s Bohemian Virgin are:

* The damage and fraying shows up everywhere but on the astonishingly pretty face -- the "money part" of the work.

* Every authentic Bohemian Virgin or female saint around 1400 is beautiful, but not, as here, sticky-sweetly-saccharine cute.

* The crown on every other Virgin in undoubted Bohemian works of the time is planted way, way back on the head so as not to fall off as the Virgin gazes down.

* But is this Virgin really gazing down? To be genuine she has to be. A bust of the Virgin mooning into space would be highly unlikely, if not impossible, in the late Middle Ages.

* The Met claims the sculpture was full-size before it was broken and originally showed the Virgin and Christ child either standing or enthroned. If so, how did she hold the baby? Try to follow this Virgin’s stunted little arms to a missing baby. I don’t think you can. In other words: Is this overly gorgeous piece a "made-fragment?"

* One of the marks of the Bohemian "Beautiful Style" is a lavish series of trumpet folds. Here the Virgin’s scarf has them aplenty, but this is the only sculpture of the period that has such a curious scarf unattached to the garb. It seems like "folds up front" to make a stylistic point.

I am sure that scientific analysis shows the terracotta and the dribs and drabs of paint to be old. But fakers can be devilish. I once encountered a 1400 Bohemian Virgin and Child in marble that had been cleverly recut from a clunky late 15th-century French piece and the surface manipulated so that the re-cutting did not show up in ultra-violet light. Impossible to do, but it had been done.

Who knows but, in time, the label on this odd-looking super-cute young woman will read, "Either 15th- or 20th-century." I sincerely hope not.


THOMAS HOVING is author of Master Pieces: The Curator’s Game (2005). He is former director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.



 



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