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Virgin Mary Holy Water Font

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Artifact Description

The religious artifacts recovered from the wreck site of the SS Republic include three examples of a porcelain holy water font featuring the figure of the Virgin Mary adorned in a head scarf and with open arms standing in a flower-framed alcove surmounted by a cross. The flowers are suggestive of roses. The base of the font is hollow and there are no apparent mold join lines. The clay may have been pressed into an open mold and the base, figure and flowers attached separately. The Virgin Mary's head is covered by a scarf or hood and she wears a flowing garment belted at the waist and a cloak fastened at a single point on the central upper chest. The foot of the sculpture appears to be a reservoir for holy water.

From the end of the medieval period and into the early Renaissance, the Mother and Child were sometimes represented in art in a rose arbor or in front of a trellis-fence of roses forming an enclosed area. Since the earliest years of Christianity, the rose has been steeped in symbolic meaning. The red blossom represents the blood of the martyr, while the white blossom symbolizes purity, particularly that of the Virgin Mary, who is sometimes referred to as the "rose without thorns", a result of the tradition that she was untouched by the effects of original sin.

Of greater symbolic importance, however, for the interpretation of the Republic’s Virgin Mary holy water fonts and her form on the candlesticks and figurines also recovered from the site, is the iconographic association of the Blessed Virgin as Our Lady of Grace and Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal. This image derived from the Marian apparitions, which took place in Paris between July and December 1830, when 24 year-old Sister Catherine Labouré, a young novice of the Daughters of Charity, perceived visions of the Blessed Mary.  

The shrine or grotto in which the figure of the Virgin Mary stands, and its association with holy water, however, is also indicative of a symbolic connection with the Shrine of our Lady of Lourdes, which developed around the visions of the Virgin Mary that occurred in 1858 in the grotto of Massabielle near Lourdes in southern France.

Like the other porcelains religious artifacts recovered from the wreck site, the Virgin Mary fonts also are most closely comparable to products manufactured in provincial porcelain centers in France, such as Limoges and Vierzon, whose porcelain factories produced relatively inexpensive goods for the American market.

Other Details

H: 14.4cm

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