10th Tiberius Auction
Carved limewood with remnants of polychromy
Height 76 cm, width 36 cm, depth 20 cm
The Pietà or vesper image shows Mary as a mourning mother, called Mater Dolorosa (Mother of Sorrows), with the body of Jesus Christ, taken down from the cross, on her lap. It became popular as a devotional image from the 14th century onwards and illustrates the aspect of suffering on the part of the Mother Mary. Therefore, in this depiction, Christ’s body is hierarchically somewhat smaller than that of the weeping mother. Interestingly, this pictorial convention is not based on scriptural sources, such as the Bible, but purely on mystical ideas. It is in direct contrast to the manifold depictions of the Madonna, consisting of Mary with the infant Jesus, although the mother-child type is retained. This could also be an indication of why Jesus is sometimes shown childlike-small in Pietà depictions. Likewise, the mother could be highlighted in her grief as a result. In fact, Mary’s slightly bowed head is shown larger in perspective because of the voluminous veil. Painfully contracted brows and accentuated nasolabial folds express Mary’s grief in an expressive manner. Her large hands clasp her son’s shoulders and hips, almost as if she were cradling her infant in her lap. She looks down into his deathly stiff face, which is turned towards the sky. Here the eyebrow area and the full beard are highlighted and, together with the crown of thorns, make Jesus instantly recognisable. His emaciated body hangs limply in his mother’s arms, his legs dangling bent to the ground. His left arm is bent forward in a surrendered posture, palm up. The stylised arches of the ribs, which are visible under the skin, are separated from the perizonium by the V-shaped notched abdomen, which takes up the technical elaboration of the folds of skin in a similar manner. This dramatically emphasises the terrible ordeals of the Messiah.
The depiction is comparable to the Rhineland Pietà from around 1380/90 in the Schnütgen Museum (A 1052), although the latter is more dramatic than the quiet mourning of this depiction. A very related example is the 14th-century vesper painting from the church of St. Johannes am Domberg in Freising (Bavaria) because of the posture of the deceased Jesus. The group of figures can thus be dated stylistically to the last quarter of the 14th century and was probably created in the Rhineland. The doughy-soft folds of the robe on Mary’s lower body are expressed in centrally placed bowl folds that taper to a point and do not yet reflect the International Style around 1400.
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