Our Lady of the Chair

Q: What is the meaning of Our Lady of the Chair?

A: Our Lady sitting, Our Lady of the Chair, is a well known and very ancient representation (5th century). It belongs to the category of Marian representations called Theotokos or Enthroned Madonnas, also called Basilissa and Maestà. Related to this iconographical type, we find Our Lady, seat of wisdom (sedes sapientiae), according to the description made in Sir. 47: 12-25 (attributed there to Solomon). Whether enthroned Madonna or Seat of Wisdom the decisive feature of this representation is not Mary but Jesus Christ whom she holds on her knees or lap, mostly in a frontal position. In fact, she is the throne upon which Christ is seated; not she is wisdom incarnate but the throne on which wisdom (Christ) takes place. Theotokos means Mother of God: like a mother she holds the baby on her lap; however, the whole posture indicates reverence and respect due to the Son of God, and, at the same time, Mary's gesture is one of demonstration. She holds the child so that it can be seen by the onlooker.

She presents the child to the world symbolizing thus the destination of God's coming into this world: us and our salvation. All of these meanings can be present. Spanish Romanesque and Gothic statues often hold this posture.

Our Lady of the Chair
Raffael O Santí
Urbino 1483 - Rome 1520
Calleria Pitti, Florence

The Adoration of the Three Kings
4th c. mosaic
St. Mary Major, Rome

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