13.13 x 11.63 x 2.19 in. (33.34 x 29.53 x 5.56 cm)
Europe, Netherlands (Flemish)
Medium and Support:
Lent by the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Gift of J. Pierpont Morgan, 1916 (16.32.264)
Bellarmine Hall Galleries
Devotional sculptures of this type were common on altars in churches and private homes, where they would have been placed with other scenes (as seen here) to collectively create a story for the viewer and foster contemplation. The principal theme of this type of sculpture was the suffering and sacrifice of Christ for human redemption. The subjects in this case belong to a category known as the Seven Sorrows of the Virgin. In these sculptures, the emotions of the Virgin Mary demonstrate the type of empathetic response that was encouraged for the faithful. By reflecting upon the grief of Christ’s mother, the faithful would contemplate the means of Christian redemption. Although these three sculptures from the School of Antwerp are all made of oak and carved in the expressive style known as mannerism, they were likely not made by the same artist or originally displayed together.
In the Pietà, note how the deep creases and folds in Mary’s robe cast her face in shadow and emphasize the weight of the moment, and how her hands are clasped together as she kneels in prayer while taking in the reality of Christ’s sacrifice. Of additional interest is the other female figure in this piece, who holds a pharmacy jar much like the one on display across the gallery. The jar most likely contains fragrant unguent; this identifies her as the woman who washed Christ’s feet and anointed him with perfume.