Experts use CT scan to examine rare medieval Madonna
The Madonna from Havraň is a precious medieval wooden statue of Mary sitting on a heavenly throne with baby Jesus resting on her lap, surrounded by three angels, which was recently acquired by the National Gallery in Prague. Experts from the Czech University of Agriculture in Prague are now using a CT scan to find out more about its origin.
Using computer tomography, Jiří Turek, technical radiologist from the Czech Agricultural University, together with restorer Markéta Pavlíková are examining the precious wooden statue, known as the Madonna from Havraň, in the High-tech Pavilion of the Faculty of Forestry and Wood Technology.
For safety reasons, the sculpture is examined from an adjacent room where images of the sculpture are projected on a computer screen. Mrs Pavlíková points out details revealed by the CT scan:
“You can see on the Madonna’s hand here an added part made of some material that is not wood. It is a mix of sawdust and glue. What is interesting for me is the way it is attached to the original statue.”
According to Mr. Turek, the CT scan being used to examine the statue is exactly the same as those used in hospitals on patients. The advantage is that with an inanimate object such as a wooden sculpture, much higher doses of radiation can be used.
This can show for instance internal damage to the wood as well as the individual layers of paint and reveal whether the statue has been repaired in the past, says Olga Kotková, who is in charge of the National Gallery’s Collection of Old Masters:
“Our colleague, a chemist, discovered enamel in one of the layers, which is a pigment that has been regularly used since the 1540s. I was a little concerned, but then I looked at the photos and saw that the enamel was only in the third layer, which means it wasn’t originally there.”
The statue is believed to have been carved during the 1360s or 1370s by the same master who created the Bečov Madonna, another acclaimed piece of late Medieval Art.
The author most likely worked in Prague, which was then the residence of Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV, boasting a sophisticated art scene.
During the 19th century, the Madonna was located in the Church of Saint Lawrence in Havraň near the city of Most, which explains her current name.
The statue was found in a cottage in the Ústí nad Labem region by its present owner, who wished to remain anonymous. Before that, it most likely belonged to a Sudeten German family.
The National Gallery in Prague purchased the Madonna last November for CZK 4.5 million, and according to Mrs. Kotková, it is a really unique piece of art:
“The significance is huge. On a scale of one to ten, I would say it’s a ten. Why? Because it dates back to the reign of Charles IV, to the 1360s, when Bohemia was at the very centre of the whole of Europe, you could even say the whole world.”