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The Pietà
Circa 1550
egg tempera on parchment
162 x 192 mm
Collection of the Dunedin Public Art Gallery. Given 1951 by Archdeacon F H D Smythe.
The Pietà became a popular theme in 15th-century monumental art from central and southern France, and this miniature certainly has a sculptural quality. St John the Evangelist, on whose lap the Body of Christ gently reclines, and St Mary Magdalene flank the grieving Virgin. Her placement between the cross and Christ’s body stresses her function as exemplum and intercessor. St Jerome, whose presence highlights the themes of penitence and lamentation, kneels at the head of Christ. His figure is balanced by a remorseful cleric clasping his hands in prayer at Christ’s feet. Along with the cross, a number of symbols of the Passion are represented such as the ladder used for the Deposition, the Titulus Crucis attached to the cross and, strewn about Christ’s body, the hammer and nails that inflicted the four wounds.
Although the Pietà as a subject had its inception in 13th-century Germany, this French rendition exhibits signs of an Italian influence. The extension of Christ’s legs and upper body beyond the Virgin’s lap, his horizontal positioning and the flanking of the Virgin by other saints evokes Christ’s customary pose in scenes of the Entombment much used by late 15th-century Italian painters.

not on view

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