Pietà

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Date
Authors
Giovan Pietro De Donati and Giovanni Ambrogio De Donati
Keyword
Pietà , Christ , Mary , Angels , St. John the Evangelist , Lamentation
Abstract
This altarpiece in the Madonna del Sasso in Orselina (Locarno) was made from painted wood by the De Donati brothers in 1487. It is a rather unusual combination of subjects, as the image of the dead Christ sitting up on his tomb and mourned by angels has precedents in the region, as do images of Mary, St. John the Evangelist, and others lamenting over Christ's body, but including Mary and John along with the angels, all on top of Christ's tomb, is unusual. The other mourners are painted on the flat wood behind the central almost fully in the round figures. May is almost fainting in her compassion for her son, her open mouth, tilted head, and pallor mimicking that of her dead son. John, unusually, has his mouth open in noisy anguished grief, as do many of the angels. The figures of Mary, John, and the saints painted behind are all based on an engraving of the Entombment by Mantegna, the Paduan artist's complex and subtle but also histrionic classicism here simplified into geometric folds, stylized patterned hair and mask-like faces. This is not so much an image of a historical moment as a devotional image, calling upon the viewer to weep along with the carved figures, perhaps counting the drops of Christ's blood or Mary's tears, both popular devotions at the time. The mourners are a tangle of limbs, but the one figure who is clearly displayed in his entirety and overlaps in front of the tomb, his feet even projecting in front of the frame, is the dead Christ, making him seem physically present in the space of the church, just as for believers Christ's body is physically present in the Eucharist on the altar. The original chapel of the Pietà was destroyed in 1890, at which time the altarpiece was moved to the new chapel in the same church, with the same dedication. It was also restored by Annoni at this point, including some reworking and somewhat heavy repainting. Photograph(s) licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
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