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Virgin Mary with Child Candlestick Holders

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Artifact Description

Thirteen examples of the Virgin Mary with Child Candlestick Holders were recovered from the wreck site in three different sizes, including 6 large-sized figures (20 cm), 4 medium (17.5 cm) and 3 small (15.5 cm). These objects are made of hard paste porcelain, often referred to in contemporary mid-19th century literature as "bisque" or "biscuit ware". They are hollow with a glaze and white in color, and bear no traces of gilt or paint. Similar candlestick holders representing the figure of St. Joseph were also found in the same context on the site, the set together representing the Holy Family. The two combined were likely intended as a pair.

The main body of the candlestick consists of the figure of a standing Virgin Mary holding the infant Christ in the crook of her left arm, the right hand apparently supporting one of the baby’s feet. She is dressed in a long flowing robe that covers her head over a second garment belted at the waist. The figure stands on what may be a half-sphere. Possible join lines from a two-piece mold are present on the main section, and the candle socket appears to have been attached separately.

The subject matter of the Virgin Mary amongst the Republic’s porcelain figurines and candlesticks is very probably associated with apparitions of the Virgin Mary in Paris between July and December 1830 and at Lourdes in 1858. On the back of these revelations, a vibrant trade in religious goods, known as "L’Art Saint-Sulpice," sprung up in France, where a small neighborhood in Paris had become famous for producing and marketing some of the material culture of mid-19th century Catholicism: holy water fonts, medals, statues, crucifixes and other objects essential to the many Catholic devotees across Europe and the United States.

Lacking maker’s marks and factory records, the origins of these porcelain objects remain uncertain. Some appear to be similar to those bought and sold wholesale by the Swiss Benziger Brothers, whose New York City branch founded in 1853, was in operation when the Republic sank. However, they most closely resemble hard paste porcelain wares produced in France, very probably Limoges, where dozens of 19th-century factories supplied New York City’s import trade. Having launched the French porcelain import trade in the 1840s, the Haviland family, in particular, not only imported French wares to New York on a grand scale but also sold their imports wholesale to other American porcelain traders.

Other Details

H: 21 cm

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