Cheerful Madonna with a lot of bling

A Madonna figure from Grong municipality is one of the best preserved and special church sculptures in Norway from the Middle Ages. She looks like a sweet, friendly girl who’s been asked to model for the sculpture.

The Grong Madonna is very well preserved given that she is about 700 years old. Photo: Per Fredriksen, NTNU University Museum

This beautiful sculpture has lived in Grong church since the Middle Ages and into the 1800s, when historically interested collectors saw to it that she would be taken care of by the NTNU University Museum. Here she shines as one of the jewels of the church art collection.

Her hair is covered with real gold leaf so it radiates like a halo. The dress has been adorned with a blend of glazed gold over silver foil. The cloak has a blue and white lining to suggest the warmth of a squirrel’s winter coat.

“She really is a heavenly queen. The gold symbolizes eternity, and gold is a material that doesn’t fade or tarnish,” says Margrethe C. Stang.

Stang is an associate professor at NTNU’s Department of Art and Media Studies and specializes in Norwegian church ornamentation from the Middle Ages.

Popular torso

Originally, Grong’s Madonna also had a shiny brooch on her neck, made of either quartz or polished glass.

“This lady had the full bling effect! The brooch created the illusion of a shiny diamond. What we can see is that where the jewel was and on her breasts are very worn places, so it’s likely that people touched this area through the centuries,” Stang notes.

Madonnas seldom smile

Art historian Margrethe Stang teaches medieval art. Photo: Julie Gloppe Solem / NTNU

The Grong Madonna is very well preserved given that she is about 700 years old. The colours are largely intact, and it is precisely their colourfulness that has characterized Norwegian medieval sculpture.

The features are still very distinct. As a smiling Madonna she’s already a rarity, because the smile was unusual in medieval sculptures. And it’s not a lofty saintly smile, it’s more like a smile you’d see on a happy farm girl.