Virgin of Essen

Virgin of Essen

Date ca. 980

Movement Early Medieval | Ottonian

Medium Gold over wood, enamel, filigree, and gems

Height 29.5″

Housed at Cathedral Treasury, Essen, Germany


This work was a gift from Abbess Matilda (granddaughter of Otto I) to the Essen Cathedral. It would have been placed toward the front of the church, so the cathedral could show off its imperial connection to its congregation and visitors. The Virgin holds an apple, indicating her as the “new Eve,” and providing continuity from the Old Testament. The figures appear abstract and even alien-like; however, their shimmering gold makeup, beaming eyes and jewel adornment allow them to command a striking presence.