Friday, April 6, 2012

Meditation on the Passion – The Man of Sorrows

Michele Giambono, Man of Sorrows Adored By St. Francis of Assissi
(Italian, ca. 1430
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art)
“See, my servant shall prosper,
he shall be raised high and greatly exalted.
Even as many were amazed at him—
so marred were his features,
beyond that of mortals
his appearance, beyond that of human beings—
So shall he startle many nations,
kings shall stand speechless;
For those who have not been told shall see,
those who have not heard shall ponder it.”
(Isaiah 52:13-15)
Excerpt from the First Reading for Good Friday Liturgy of the Passion of the Lord 

Among the many images that evoke the Passion the one that is probably the most shocking to our modern eyes is that of the Man of Sorrows. In fact, even among Catholics it is now little known, having been supplanted long ago by other images, such as the Sacred Heart, or more recently, by the Divine Mercy. I confess that I, myself, had never seen it prior to my second year in graduate school and, at first sight, I found it extremely shocking. Yet, it was once one of the best known and most wide spread of all visual meditations on the Passion.

The Man of Sorrows image has many variations and relationships to other images. Interpretation of these relationships is extraordinarily complex, far too complex to deal with in one article. Consequently, I will limit myself to merely describing the most common and simplest variation.
Imago pietatis Icon (similar to those which entered Italy in the 13th Century)
Byzantine (Mount Sinai, St. Catherine's Monastery), c. 1300 (Casing Italian, c. 1380)
Rome, Basilica of Santa Croce in Gerusalemme
The image of the Man of Sorrows appears to have developed first in Byzantine art, entering Western art by about 1300, probably via Rome and Venice. 1 From that point it spread throughout the West, so that there are examples readily available from nearly every country in Europe by 1500. And it is in the West that the tremendous development in the theme took place.

Man of Sorrows
Italian, 14th Century
Cologne, Wallraf-Richartz-Museum
and Fondation Corboud
Master of the Borgo Crucifix
Italian, c. 1255-1260
London, National Gallery




























Pietro da Rimini, Man of Sorrows
Italian, c. 1320-1325
Boston, Museum of Fine Arts
Pietro Lorenzetti, Man of Sorrows
Italian, c. 1340-1345
Altenburg, Lindenau-Museum Gemaeldesammlung


























Naddo Ceccarelli, Man of Sorrows
Italian, ca. 1347
Vienna, Liechtenstein Museum


Sano di Pietro, Man of Sorrows
Italian, c. 1440
Dresden, Gemaeldegalerie Alte Meister




















At its most basic the image of the Man of Sorrows is: a half-length image of the crucified Jesus, showing His wounds. He may be shown as crowned with thorns or with the crown removed. His arms may be folded over His torso or they may be extended at His sides. Sometimes He seems to be sitting upright on his own power, sometimes His body is supported by others. In any case His wounds are visible. His head is inclined to His right.  And, most importantly, in the original image He is shown as dead, with closed eyes.

Among the earliest variations on the image are those works that include the Cross or sometimes just a crossbeam behind the image of the Crucified.

Niccolo di Tommasso, Man of Sorrows with the Cross
Italian, c. 1370
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Cloisters Collection

Jacobello del Bonomo, Man of Sorrows with the Cross
Italian, c. 1385-1400
London, National Gallery
Lorenzo Monaco, Man of Sorrows
Italian, 1415-17
Private Collection


























Bartolomeo Caporali, Man of Sorrows with the Cross and Whips
Italian, c. 1475-1500
Oxford, Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology

Man of Sorrows with the Cross
From an Illustrated Vita Christi
English (Norfolk), c. 1480-1490
Los Angeles, J. Paul Getty Museum
MS 101, fol. 95v
Cristoforo Mayorana, Man of Sorrows with the Cross
From a Book of Hours
Italian (Naples), 1483
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M 1052, fol. 102r




























Follower of Perugino, Man of Sorrows with the Cross
Italian, c. 1500
Berlin, Gemaeldegalerie der Staatliche Museum zu Berlin
But the most frequent image during the 14th and 15th centuries was that of the half-length figure or a bust, sometimes seen as dead, with closed eyes, but sometimes rather disturbingly awake and making eye contact with the viewer.  These were, above all, devotional images and they appeared in every kind of medium imaginable, including illumination, wall and panel painting, sculpture, goldsmith’s work, lapidary.  In addition, the image can now be demonstrated to have spread throughout Europe.

Initially, the image of Jesus naked above the waist, as time went on draperies were added, evoking the mocking by the Roman soldiers at the time the Crown of Thorns was pressed on His head.
Master of the Bible of Jean de Sy, Life Size Wound and Man of Sorrows
From a Book of Hours
French (Paris), c. 1370-1380
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M 90, fol. 130r
This rather startling image combines what was believed to be a life size representation of the spear wound in Christ's side with the image of the Man of Sorrows.
Giovanni Bellini, Man of Sorrows
Italian, c. 1460-1469
Milan, Museo Poldi Pezzoli
Antonello da Messina, Man of Sorrows
Italian, c. 1470
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art





Attributed to the Workshop of Dirk Bouts, Man of Sorrows
Dutch, c. 1475-1500
Paris, Musee du Louvre
Hans Memling, Man of Sorrows
Flemish, c. 1480-1490
Genoa, Palazzo Bianco








Master of Mary of Burgundy, Man of Sorrows
Flemish, c. 1480
Berlin, Staatliche Museen, Kupferstichkabinett
Simon Marmion, Man of Sorrows
French, 1480
Strasbourg, Musee des Beaux-Arts


























Anonymous Lombard Artist, Man of Sorrows
Italian, c. 1490-1500
Milan, Museo Nazionale della Scienza e Tochnologia Leonardo da Vinci
Giovanni Santi, Man of Sorrows
Italian, c. 1490
Private Collection
Israhel van Meckenem the Younger, Man of Sorrows
German, c. 1490
Berlin, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin



























Hans Memling, Man of Sorrows
Flemish, After 1490
Esztergom, Christian Museum
Albrecht Bouts, Man of Sorrows
Dutch, c. 1500
Lyon, Musee des Beaux-Arts



























Colijn de Coter, Man of Sorrows
Flemish, c. 1500
Private Collection
Jan Mostaert, Man of Sorrows
Dutch, c. 1500
Moscow, Pushkin Museum, Private Collection
Dmitry Ivanovich Shchukin



























Cristoforo Solari, Man of Sorrows
Italian, ca. 1500
Dayton (OH), Art Institute

Man of Sorrows
German, c. 1500
Paris, Musee du Louvre

























Workshop of Giovanni Bellini, Man of Sorrows
Italian, c. 1510-1515
Besancon, Musee des Beaux-Arts

Simon Bening, Man of Sorrows
From the Da Costa Hours
Flemish (Bruges), c. 1510-1520
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M 399, fol. 42r
Workshop of Aelbert Bouts, Man of Sorrows
Dutch, c. 1525
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art




























Lucas Cranach the Younger, Man of Sorrows
German, c. 1540
Bremen, Museum im Roselius-Haus
Bernardo de Mora, Man of Sorrows
Spanish, 1659
Granada, Capilla Real






















However presented, The Man of Sorrows image causes us to ponder the sufferings of Jesus and evokes in us a sense of pity. Indeed, in Latin it is known as the “Imago Pietatis”, in French, it is the “Christ du pitié”, in German the “Schmerzensmann”. This fits into what we know of some emotional forms of medieval piety and it enjoyed a long life from its introduction till around 1600, when its basic form faded. However, it had a strong influence on other images, which have continued, even into the modern world. It affected, among others: the Ecce Homo, Deposition, Lamentation and Burial images, and other images that are no longer so much with us, such as the Dead Christ supported by saints and angels and images of the Holy Face. 

In a more subtle way, the identification of the Dead Jesus with Isaiah’s Suffering Servant through the image of the Man of Sorrows has influenced the wider culture, beyond Catholicism. One example is found in the music of Georg Friedrich Handel’s “Messiah”.  Below is a recording by the great English mezzo-soprano, Sarah Connolly.



© M. Duffy, 2012 and 2018


Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible, revised edition © 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C. and are used by permission of the copyright owner. All Rights Reserved. No part of the New American Bible may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the copyright owner.
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1. Passion in Venice: Crivelli to Tintoretto and Veronese, The Man of Sorrows in Venetian Art, edited by Catherine Puglisi and William Barcham, New York and London, Museum of Biblical Art in association with D. Giles Limited, p. 10. This book is the exhibition catalog for the exhibition “Passion in Venice: Crivelli to Tintoretto and Veronese” at the Museum of Biblical Art, New York from February 11 to June 12, 2011. In addition to the catalog entries for the works in the exhibition, the book includes informative essays on the Man of Sorrows image, primarily in Venice and the Veneto (the area of mainland Italy traditionally controlled by Venice). This is, however, merely a minute slice of the enormous diversity and geographic spread of the image.

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