Sedes Sapientiae

Seat of Wisdom (14th century)
Cobbenhagen Building

Sedes Sapientiae – Zetel der Wijsheid (14e eeuw)

Madonna is an Italian term, a contraction of mia and donna—my wife. The term is used in the visual arts for an image of Mary, often with the child on her lap. Madonnas were a popular theme in visual art for centuries. Also in the Middle Ages, the period when universities were created, the first in Bologna, Italy, in 1088.

Tilburg University has no less than four Madonna statues, one of which is characteristic of a university: Mary as the Seat of Wisdom. This type of statue, called Sedes sapientiae in Latin, shows Mary with the Christ child on her knee. In this case, Mary holds a globe in her hand (symbolizing God's dominion over creation). Christ, in his left hand, carries a book as a sign of his teaching. The right hand, missing from the image, made—we know from similar images—a blessing gesture. We find a similar image in the logo of the Catholic University of Leuven. The statue is probably from southern France or northern Spain and dates from the 14th century. It was purchased in the 1960s and has been in Cobbenhagen Building ever since, usually in a boardroom.

The three other Tilburg statues of Mary make it clear how much the view of her has changed. For example, a black Madonna hangs in the hall of the University College, as a sign that Mary plays a role—and has taken on a very different manifestation—in several cultures. The photograph dates from 2004 and was taken by Inez van Lamsweerde.

In Zwijsen building, there is a so-called Madonna in hiding by Marc Mulders. Because of the criticism that Mulders received on his religiously inspired work, he chose not to place the mother and child in the foreground, but to adopt a concealed position surrounded by flower petals. The fourth Madonna is located in the hall of Cobbenhagen Building. It is a bronze statue of Mary with the dead Christ on her lap, a so-called Pieta. The statue dates from 1969 and was made in an expressionist style by the German sculptor Boniface Stirnberg.

More about history and academic heritage

The Tilburg University academic heritage is a very diverse set of archives, visual materials, collections, devices, recorded stories, et cetera that relate to the history of the university.