In this life-sized group of painted wood sculptures, Mary's head lolls back in almost a faint as she holds Christ's lifeless body on her lap (just as she had held him as a baby), while the other mourners show various forms of grief, mouths open in lament (something generally seen as indecorous and therefore here a sign of extreme suffering. St. Mary Magdalene, who was thought to have annointed Christ's feet and dried them with her hair when he was alive, here holds his pierced feet, her hair streaming over her shoulders, its curls almost an abstract representation of a long, wavering cry. The men are less emotional, more composed in their reactions, standing and gesturing up to heaven and to each other, to reflect on the event, rather than kneeling and sitting to grasp the body, as the women do. The group is still in its original church, Santa Marta in Bellano (on lake Como), but has lost the rustic cave that was its original backdrop. The figures have also been re-arranged over the centuries, but restorers are confident that the current arrangement is the original one. (The Magdalene, however, was presumably slightly higher, perhaps raised on a small rocky outcrop in the cave setting, so that the feet of Christ would rest in her hands, rather than floating above them as they do now.) The painted and gilded surface on the statues has been badly abraded, revealing the gesso in many places, perhaps from the repeated touch of devotees over the centuries, and/or misguided attempts at restoration. (When Federico Borromeo visited the church in 1611, for example, he talks of being able to examine the sculptures closely, and so they seem to have been accessible to worshippers.) This work has been attributed to Giovan Angelo del Maino on the basis of style and dated to the sculptor's early period. Despite del Maino and his family's specialization in wood sculpture, the artist here draws upon an earlier Lamentation group made of painted terracotta by Agostino de Fondulis (San Satiro, Milan) -- the figures of John the Evangelist and St. Mary Magdalene are particularly closely imitated from the earlier model. The group was probably commissioned by a lay devotional organization, the confraternity of St. Martha. Photograph(s) licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
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