Lamentation

Flanders (Antwerp or Brussels), circa 1490
Wooden relief with original gilding and polychromy
Height: 36 cm, width: 47 cm, depth: 7 cm

Provenance
European private collection

An unknown artist carved this exceptional pietà from a block of oak wood. On the underside a non-attributable mark is shown four times. The work depicts one of the most dramatic moments in the Passion and death of Christ.

The figures are arranged on a steep meadow painted a brownish-green, the surface area of which has been structured with punching and stamping tools. The Virgin Mary sits at the centre of the group in a flowing, golden dress with a wealth of folds. A similarly golden cloak with a blue lining is pulled over her head and shades her beautiful but sad face that exudes pain and sensitivity. The emotions expressed capture her role as a mother immediately after the death of her beloved child, the Son of God. Mary bends over Christ who has been placed across on her knees and embraces him lovingly with both arms. Christ is depicted as a handscome, slim man; his naked, immaculate body is marked by the bleeding wound in his side and the stigmata visible on the right foot. Blood pours out of the wounds torn by the thorny twines of the crown mockingly placed on his head. A golden loincloth (perizoma) preserves his modesty.

The Lamentation

The Passion according to St. Luke

The Passion according to St. Luke
The Lamentation after the Descent from the Cross and before the Entombment is a subject in its own right in art history. This scene was depicted many times in painting and sculpture from the late Middle Ages to the Baroque.

The biblical story of the Passion does not mention the Lamentation of Christ. The Entombment immediately follows the Descent from the Cross. However, Luke the Evangelist writes: “And all his acquaintance, and the women that followed him from Galilee, stood afar off, beholding these things” (Luke 23:49).

In addition, references to this episode can be found in several apocryphal writings and it was made popular in the Middle Ages by mystics like Pseudo-Bonaventura. According to these, the Lamentation must have taken place either on Golgotha, i.e. at the foot of the cross, or a little later at Christ’s tomb. Unlike a pietà in which the single figure of the Virgin Mary is depicted mourning Christ lying on her lap, in the Lamentation the body is surrounded by a number of people, as in our case, including not only the Virgin Mary but also John, Christ’s favourite disciple, and Mary Magdalene (fig.: Giotto di Bondone, Lamentation, c. 1305).

Flandern

Habsburgs and Bourbons

1477, shortly before our pietà was created, was a fateful year for Flanders. At that time, after the death of the last Burgundian ruler Charles the Bold in the Battle of Nancy, his possessions were divided between the Habsburg Archduke Maximilian of Austria, later Emperor Maximilian I, and King Louis XI of France. As a result Flanders fell under Habsburg rule and became part of the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation. From then on, Flanders was a political pawn between the Habsburgs and the Bourbons. The situation only calmed down when the Kingdom of Belgium was founded after the Belgian Revolution of 1830. Since then, Flanders has shared its history with Belgium.

fig.: Map of the County of Flanders, 1609

Rogier van der Weyden

A great artist

Born around 1400 in Tournai/Flanders, Rogier van der Weyden is considered one of the greatest Early Netherlandish painters. From 1435 onwards Rogier lived with his family in Brussels. He was not bound exclusively to working for the city as a client and was able to carry out commissions from the wealthy bourgeoisie and the Burgundian court, for example. In 1444 Rogier was so wealthy that he was able to buy a house in an exclusive location in Brussels. His high social standing is reflected in his membership of the Brotherhood of the Holy Cross that came under the Church of Saint-Jaques-sur-Coudenberg, to which the Duke of Burgundy and many members of the court also belonged. His reputation as a painter is also shown by the numerous commissions he received from foreign courts. In 1449, Leonello d’Este, the Duke of Ferrara, acquired several paintings by Rogier, such as a triptych depicting the Descent from the Cross. In a collection of biographies edited in 1459, Bartolomeo Facio reported that Rogier (Rogerius Gallicus) had undertaken a pilgrimage to Rome in the Jubilee year 1450 (fig.: Jan Wierix, copperplate engraving, 1572, detail).

Enquiry