Jesus and the Pious Women of Jerusalem
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This painted terracotta sculpture is in one of the chapels of the Sacro Monte at San Vivaldo. The Sacro Monte (literally sacred mountain) is a pilgrimage site built by the Franciscans. Small chapels each contain painted terracotta sculptures with events from the Passion of Christ. These chapels are arranged on the hilly terrain so that they evoke the actual geography in the Holy Land of the places in which the events occurred. In a time in which pilgrimage to the Holy Land was for the most part impossible (because the territory was under Muslim control), the Sacro Monte offered a substitute or a simulacrum that was thought to be efficacious. In 1516, at the request of the Franciscans of San Vivaldo, Pope Leo X promulgated a brief granting indulgences (time off purgatory) to all who visited the site, which made it a major pilgrimage destination. At this and other Sacri Monti (of which there are several in Lombardy and Piedmont), devotees were to come in penitence, perhaps at night with a lantern, and move from chapel to chapel saying prayers. In this rarely depicted moment (Luke 23:27-31), on his way to Calvary, tunrs to offer solace to the pious women of Jerusalem, shown here as only four sculpted women, in contrast with the packed scenes of angry crowds condemning Christ in other parts of the Sacro Monte. This suggests that the pious are few, the evil many. The figure of Christ has lost its left arm, which presumably originally reached out towards the women. The partially surviving fresco behind shows onlookers peeking from openings in a building above, as well as man with a monkey. Scholars have suggested that Giovanni della Robbia oversaw the sculptures at the Sacro Monte, and that many of the works there are by Agnolo di Polo or Benedetto Buglioni, but this work does not fit neatly into the oeuvres of any of those artists and so remains anonymous. Photograph(s) licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.