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Old Paint, Old Wood, New Hope: A Day of Giving Success Story

By Sarah Cahalan

Thanks to the generosity of donors during the 2020 One Day, One Dayton campaign, the University Libraries had funding for professional conservation work on an important statue in the Marian Library's art collection.

That work is currently underway on the 39.5-inch-tall statue, which is wood with metal underpinnings and multiple layers of gilded paint.

Conservation provides clues to statue’s past

Why work so hard to save this particular sculpture? The truth is we still do not know much about its origins. The Blessed Virgin stands on a pedestal — so was she made for a church? She can also be viewed in the round — so was she used in processions? The process of conservation should provide evidence of how it was constructed and with what materials — information that can help determine its history and inform best practice for how we can keep it in good condition for the future.

Symbolism hints at history — or inspiration

The statue’s iconography, with Mary depicted on a crescent moon, carried by small angels, references depictions of the Immaculate Conception, the Catholic dogma that Mary was free of original sin since she was conceived in her mother's womb. It also alludes to imagery of the Assumption of Mary into heaven. The moon refers to Mary’s association with the apocalyptic woman in Revelation 12:1, and in European art going back to the Middle Ages, the depiction of the Madonna and Child atop a crescent moon has precedent, notably in the work of the German sculptor Tilman Riemenschneider. Mary with the crescent moon also echoes the image on the tilma of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

Future use: Display and instruction

The conservation will make it possible for Marian Library personnel to display this statue and use it in instruction sessions. It will be one of the larger artworks we have available for such purposes.

— Sarah Cahalan is an associate professor and the director of the Marian Library.


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