Seat of wisdom

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In a disciplinary context, the term seat of wisdom is used ironically to denote the painful 'seat' (a euphemism for the buttocks) after a spanking, as the sore posterior is supposed to 'teach a lesson' of the most tangible kind guaranteed to be remembered at least at every attempt to sit until the bruises fully heal.

In the disciplinary logic (the word discipline means both to teach and to punish), it is also a synonym for a similar expression (equally used for a spanked stern), Seat of learning, as a (serious) description for a school (indeed a place to receive lessons, and often the site of many spankings unless legislation or school rules ban corporal punishment)

Similar expressions of the notion that the human bottom is ideally suited for the administration of painful lessons include the African saying that "a black man's ears are in his buttocks" and the use of such names as "board of education" for a spanking paddle.


Original sense

In the Roman Catholic tradition, the epithet "the seat of wisdom" (a translation of the still-used Latin sedes sapientiae) is identified with one of many devotional titles for the Mother of God. The phrase, which was characterized in the 11th and 12th centuries, by Saint Peter Damiani and Guibert de Nogent as likening Mary to the Throne of Solomon, refers to her status as a vessel of the incarnation, carrying the Holy Child. As the phrase associates the Blessed Virgin with glory and with teaching, Madonna-images in this tradition are especially popular in Catholic imagery, while Protestant churches generally speaking downplay veneration for Mary (and other saints), and the veneration of images.

Cultural history

In Christian iconography, Sedes sapientiae (Latin for "The throne of Wisdom") is an icon of the Mother of God (Mary) in majesty. When the Virgin is depicted in sedes sapientiae icons and sculptural representations, she is seated on a throne, with the Infant Jesus (Christ as a child) on her lap. The more domestic and intimate iconic representations of Mary with the infant Jesus on her lap are known as Madonna and Child.

This type of madonna-image, of Byzantine Hodegetria origin appeared in a wide range of sculptural images dating about 1200, executed in France, Italy and Germany. In these representations, some structural elements of the throne invariably appear, even if only handholds and front legs. For hieratic purposes, the Virgin's feet often rest on a low stool. Later, Gothic sculptures of the type are more explicitly identifiable with the Throne of Solomon, where "two lions stood, one at each hand. And twelve little lions stood upon the six steps on the one side and on the other".

The Sedes sapientiae icon also appeared in illuminated manuscripts, and Romanesque frescoes and mosaics, and was represented on seals. The icon possesses in addition emblematic verbal components: the Virgin as the Throne of Wisdom is a trope of Damiani or Guibert de Nogent, based on their typological interpretation of the passage in the Books of Kings, that describes the throne of Solomon (I Kings 10: 18–20, repeated at II Chronicles 9: 17–19).

More recently, sedes sapientiae is for example the motto of the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven in Dutch-speaking Flanders, founded when Latin still was the academic lingua franca. Here the phrase is also a play on words, since the University itself is a major seat of learning, i.e. school, in the Low Countries). In September 2000, at the close of the millennium Jubilee Year, Pope John Paul II commissioned the Slovenian Jesuit artist Marko Ivan Rupnik to create in mosaic an icon of the Virgin sedes sapientiae for the world's Catholic universities; it has since been passed revently among Catholic institutions in a number of nations.

Sources and External links

Further reading

  • Hans Belting, 1994. Likeness and Presence: A History of the Image before the Era of Art, translator E. Jephcott (Chicago: University of Chicago Press)
  • Ilene Forsyth, 1972. The throne of Wisdom: Wood Sculptures of the Madonna in Romanesque France. (Princeton: Princeton University Press)
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