The New York Times reported that a sculptured madonna and child, one of the works presented to Vassar in 1942 in his memory by the family of financier and collector Felix Warburg and thought by experts to be a fine plaster cast of an early 15th century statue, was a very valuable original.  The authentication came through the collaboration of Professor Richard Krautheimer of the art department and Professor of Geology A. Scott Warthin, Jr.

Professor Krautheimer explained that the enigmatic work, about 30 inches tall, had stylistic elements dating it to France around 1400, but that no original for it had ever been identified.  And its features “linked it to a group of Rhenish, south German, Silesian and Austrian madonnas, the ‘beautiful madonnas,’ for which a French model had always been suspected but never found…. Furthermore, the workmanship [of the Vassar madonna] seemed too neat and clean for a plaster cast.”

Using a small chip of material taken from the bottom of the statue, Professor Warthin was able to first determine that it was unquestionably not plaster but a soft chalk in its natural state.  Fossil remains in the chip then allowed him to speculate fairly accurately where the material may have come from, and comparisons with 25 chalk samples indicated that it probably came from around Rouen, France.

“The conclusions reached by the geologist seemed, therefore, to support those reached by the art historian on the basis of historical and scientific evidence: that the statue is an original, created in northern France about 1400.”     The New York Times