WHY THIS 300-YEAR-OLD VIRGIN AND CHILD UNDERWENT A CT SCAN AT SICK KIDS

The experts gathered at Sick Kids hospital hoped the CT scan would solve questions including whether or not the sculpture had undergone a breast reduction.

Lisa Ellis (left, AGO conservator) and Nancy Padfield (Lead Technologist in CT scans at Sick Kids) line up the statue in the CT machine. - Richard Lautens,Toronto Star

Like all interesting characters, the 300-year old virgin being prepped for a CT scan at Sick Kids harbours secrets.

Who carved this statue, believed to be a treasure of early Canadian art? What precisely is she made of? Was she given breast reduction surgery?

Those are the questions the Art Gallery of Ontario had hoped would be answered by submitting the statue to high-tech examinations that her likely creator, steeped in religion and working in an atelier in New France in the early 1700s, might have described as miraculous.

And so on a dingy day in late November, the Virgin and Child statue was swathed in Tyvek, a smooth synthetic fibre used to wrap houses to protect them from moisture, and nestled in foam inside a Clydesdale case — the same brand used to ship the Stanley Cup — and then walked 650 metres from the AGO to the Hospital for Sick Children by museum conservator Lisa Ellis.

“It’s very rare for us to hand-carry objects in cases outside of the building, so we do that only in really special cases like this,” said Ellis.

The figure of the Virgin Mary and baby Jesus is arguably the finest early-18th-century Canadian sculpture in the AGO’s collection, according to Ellis. It is believed to have come from a school of arts and crafts in what is now the Quebec City area, founded by an artist from Bordeaux who emigrated to New France in 1690 at the age of 19.

The detail of the carving — the flow of the virgin’s robes, the articulation of the hands and her feet atop a serpent representing the evil in the world — speaks to the talent of the artist.

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