13th century Virgin statuette tops auction with 108% increase

A mysterious 13th century Virgin and Child statuette, protected by a community of nuns for centuries, has sold at Sotheby's European Sculpture & Works of Art auction, held on December 4 in London.

Virgin and Child statuette 13th century Nuns
The statuette appeared on the doorstep of a nunnery, with a message reading, 'AVE MARIS STELLA' concealed in the hollow body

The statuette, which is carved from ivory and retains traces of gilding and polychrome decoration, was valued at £800,000-1.2m ($1.3m-1.9m), but sold for £2.5m ($4.1m) to make a 108% increase on estimate.

The piece dates to 1250-1260 and was likely made in northern France. It is said to have mysteriously appeared on the doorstep of a group of Bridgettine nuns in the early 15th century, and was in their possession for many years, remaining with them as they fled persecution throughout Europe.

The nuns traded the statuette for sanctuary in the early 19th century, and it has remained in the family of the 16th Earl of Shrewsbury, John Talbot, ever since.

Prior to the sale, Sotheby's Erik Bijzet commented: "When I first laid my eyes on it and held it, I knew it was the start of what was to become one of the most rewarding challenges in my career.

"Uncovering documents, many of them centuries old, revealed tantalising new discoveries until the full story finally emerged. The statuette is wondrously detailed, as is its history."

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