School of Lake Constance »The Virgin as the Throne of Solomon«

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School of Lake Constance
»The Virgin as the Throne of Solomon«

c. 1335, Tempera on canvas over wood, cropped near the upper arch

This painting from the former Cistercian monastery of Bebenhausen near Tübingen is the oldest surviving painting to have originated in the German region of Swabia. It originally adorned the pointed-arched tympanum in the cloister portal of the abbey’s summer refectory.

The manner of representation is in keeping with medieval principles of form and iconography. Depicted here on a throne in an arched niche is the Old Testament King Solomon, regarded as a precursor of Christ, whose throne, seen as the seat of wisdom, was equated with the Church as the house of wisdom. Solomon’s throne is given a new owner in the figure of the Virgin, whose lap, in turn, serves as a throne for Christ, ruler over the New Kingdom of God. The twelve lions seen to one side of the steps refer to both the twelve nations of Israel (forefathers of the Virgin) and the twelve Apostles. The two lions flanking the throne of Saint Mary symbolise strength and power and represent the Archangel Gabriel and John the Evangelist. Eight virgins in tabernacle niches are identified by the respective inscriptions as personifications of divine virtues and those of Mary. The fragmentary busts of prophets and Apostles are assigned banners with texts referring to the Incarnation and the Second Coming of Christ. [ EW ]

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