Wednesday, September 14, 2022

Our Lady of Sorrows, The Seven Sorrows of the Virgin Mary

Simon Bening, The Seven Sorrows of Mary
from the Prayer Book of Cardinal Albrecht of Brandenburg
Flemish (Bruges), c.1525-1530
Los Angeles, J. Paul Getty Museum
MS Ludwig IX 19, fol. 251v

Note:  This essay was first published in 2017.  I have uncovered so much new material and so many improved images that I am reissuing it as a new piece for 2022.



September 15 is the feast of Our Lady of Sorrows.  To non-Catholics it may look like yet another in a series of Marian feast days that honor Mary under various titles that begin with "Our Lady of........", usually followed by a place name (Fatima, Lourdes, Walsingham, etc.)  This one is a little different.  So, where does this title for the Virgin Mary come from?  Well, some people may be astonished for find that it comes from the Bible, from the Gospel of Luke, in fact.

When Jesus was presented in the Temple, Simeon, the old man who had been awaiting the arrival of the Messiah, recognized the Baby as the One and greeted Him appropriately with the beautiful song of praise which is known as the Nunc Dimittis.*   Then Saint Luke tells us that
“The child’s father and mother were amazed at what was said about him; and Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted (and you yourself a sword will pierce) so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.” 
 (Luke 2:32-35, one of two Gospel readings which may be used for the Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows, italics are mine,)
This piercing of the heart of Mary in connection with the life of her Son came true as Simeon stated (or rather as the retrospection of the Gospel writer intended) and was magnified in pious tradition to become the Seven Sorrows of Mary, each Sorrow an episode in her life and that of Jesus.  

The Seven Sorrows are: 
  1. The prophecy of Simeon (Luke 2:25-35)
  2. The flight into Egypt (Matthew 2:13-15)
  3. Loss of the Child Jesus for three days (Luke 2:41-50) 
  4. Mary meets Jesus on his way to Calvary (Luke 23:27-31; John 19:17)
  5. Crucifixion and Death of Jesus (John 19:25-30)
  6. The body of Jesus being taken from the Cross (Psalm 130; Luke 23:50-54; John 19:31-37)
  7. The burial of Jesus (Isaiah 53:8; Luke 23:50-56; John 19:38-42; Mark 15:40-47)1
Artists have shown different ways of depicting Mary’s sorrows and her response to them.

Because the greatest number of Sorrows are related to the Passion of Christ, the predominant manner in which Mary’s sorrows has been depicted is as part of the Passion narrative.  Following the hints found in the Gospels Mary has appeared in the crowd following Jesus as He carries the cross, she has been depicted in an agony of grief as she stands at the foot of the cross, supported by St. John the Evangelist and her female companions.  

Following Jesus on His Journey to Golgotha

Simone Martini, Jesus Carrying the Cross
Italian, 1333
Paris, Musée du Louvre


Jean le Noir, Jesus Carrying the Cross
From Petites Heures de Jean de Berry
French (Paris), c. 1375
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
Latin 18014, fol. 86v


Master of Hoogstraeten, Road to Calvary and Flight into Egypt
Third panel from the left of the Seven Sorrows Altarpiece
Flemish, c. 1510-1520
Antwerp, Royal Museum of Fine Arts of Belgium


Standing at the Cross

he Crucifixion
From the Rabbula Gospels
Syrian (Beth Zagba), c. 586
Florence, Bibliotheca Medicea-Laurenziana
MS. Plut. I.  56, fol. 12v-13r


The Crucifixion
From a Gospel Book
English (Canterbury), c. 1060-1070
New  York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M 709, fol. 1v


The Crucifixion
From a Lectionary
German (Saxony), c. 1215-1235
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M 299, fol. 6r


Duccio, The Crucifixion
Italian, 1308-1311
Siena, Museo dell'Opera del Duomo


Rogier van der Weyden, The Crucifixion
Flemish, c.1445
Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum


Francesco Granacci. The Crucifixion
Italian, c.1510
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art



Master of Hoogstraeten, Crucifixion
Fourth panel from the left of the Seven Sorrows Altarpiece
Flemish, c. 1510-1520
Antwerp, Royal Museum of Fine Arts of Belgium



Beyond the Gospels narratives, logical conclusion has meant that she also appears, similarly afflicted, in the great Pietà mages, and as the chief mourner at scenes of the entombment.  

The Pietà (Mary Mourning Her Son after His Removal from the Cross

Anonymous, Röttgen Pietà
German, c. 1300
Bonn, Rheinisches Landesmuseum



Pietà
From Speculum humanae salvationis
French (Alsace), c. 1370-1380
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Latin 511, fol. 48r



Roberto d'Oderisi, Pietà
Italian, c. 1370
Private Collection


Master of Albocassar, The Virgin in Grief
Spanish, c. 1400-1420
Paris, Musée du Louvre




Pieta of Tarascon
French (Provencal), c. 1450-1475
Paris, Musée de Cluny, Musée nationale du Moyen Age


Enguerrand Quarton, Pietà of Villeneuve-les-Avignon
French, c. 1460
Paris, Musée du Louvre



Master of Edward IV, Pietà
From Speculum humanae salvationis
Flemish (Bruges), c. 1485
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Francais 6275, fol. 48r 


Michelangelo Buonarroti, Pietà
Italian, 1499
Vatican, St. Peter's Basilica



The Entombment of Jesus


Taddeo Gaddi, The Entombment of Jesus
Italian, c.1335-1340
Florence, Church of Santa Croce, Cappella di Bardi di Vernio


Fra Angelico, The Entombment of Christ
Italian, c. 1438-1440
Munich, Bayerische Stratagemädesammlungen, Alte Pinakothek


The Entombment of Jesus
From Speculum humanae salvationis
French, c. 1450
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Francais 188, fol. 51r 


Master of Hoogstraeten, Burial and Lamentation of Christ
Fifth Panel from the Left of the Seven Sorrows Altarpiece
Flemish, c. 1510-1520
Antwerp, Royal Museum of Fine Arts



Master of the Autun Triptych, The Entombment of Christ
French, c. 1512-1530
Dolem, Musée des Beaux-Arts


Guercino, Entombment of Christ
Italian, 1656
Chicago, Arts Institute



These are, however, entirely narrative images, and narrative images account for only a small percentage of the images of the Virgin Mary as the woman of sorrow, the Mater Dolorosa.  2


Art can be used to tell a story, as with narrative images. But, it can also transmit ideas and can do it, frequently, in a more direct and easily grasped form than can be done in words. As the old adage states, “One picture is worth a thousand words”. Consequently, several other modes of depicting the Sorrows of Mary have been used over time.



A Series of Pictures

One of the earliest modes was as a series of pictures, usually in manuscripts of the popular lay text the Speculum humanae salvationis, which was one of the “best-sellers” of the late medieval world.  Through a combination of pictures and texts, lay people were offered a way to understand the Gospels and to meditate on aspects of the faith.  These were not the carefully planned and painstakingly executed works that were intended for the clergy or the nobility, such as are found in service books, Gospel books or the numerous Books of Hours.  These were quickly, even crudely executed works, that still have a certain ability to tell a story quickly through what amount to sketches.  For the illustrations below I have chosen a few samples from different books of the first three of the Sorrows:  the prophecy of Simeon, the Flight into Egypt and the Finding of Jesus in the Temple.


The Prophecy of Simeon, Joseph Warned to Flee to Egypt and Jesus Found in the Temple
From Speculum humanae salvationis
Italian (Bologna), c. 1350-1400
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Arsenal 593, fol. 39v


The Flight into Egypt and Jesus Found in the Temple
From Speculum humanae salvationis
French (Alsace), c. 1370-1380
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Latin 511, fol. 46 


The Flight into Egypt and Jesus Found in the Temple
From Speculum humanae salvationis
French, c. 1450
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Francais 188, fol. 50


Master of Edward IV, Flight into Egypt and Mary and Joseph Searching for Jesus
From Speculum humanae salvationis
Flemish (Bruges), c. 1485
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Francais 6275, fol.47r
This copy of the Speculum was obviously executed for a more upscale client than the other works in this section.

Later, as printing replaced illumination painters produced cycles of paintings of the individual sorrows, as well as paintings that contain references to the seven, as I will discuss later.


The Mater Dolorosa

Another early development was to, in effect, extract the image of the sorrowing Virgin Mary from images of the Crucifixion and place her upper body in the center of the picture frame.  This gives us the image known as the Mater Dolorosa, the Sorrowing Mother.  This image became most popular first in the Low Countries in the fifteenth century and eventually spread throughout Europe with repercussions all the way into the twentieth century. 


Mater Dolorosa
Spanish (Valencia), c. 1450s
London, National Gallery


Jean Colombe, Mater Dolorosa opposite text for the Stabat Mater
From Hours of Anne of France
French (Bourges), 1473
New York, Pierpoont Morgan Library
MS M 677, fol. 38r


Hans Memling, Mater Dolorosa
German, c. 1480-1490
Florence, Gallerie degli Uffizi



Simon Marmion, Mater Dolorosa
French, 1480
Strasbourg, Musée des Beaux-Arts


Workshop of Dirk Bouts, Mater Dolorosa
Dutch, c. 1410-1475
Chicago, Art Institute


Paolo de San Leocadio, Mater Dolorosa
Italian, c. 1482-1484
Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado


Titian, Mater Dolorosa with Closed Hands
Italian, 1554
Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado


Titian, Mater Dolorosa with Open Hands
Italian, 1555
Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado


El Greco, Mater Dolorosa
Greco-Spanish, c. 1590s
Strasbourg, Musée des Beaux-Arts



Jusepe de Ribera, Mater Dolorosa
Spanish, 1638
Kassel, Staatliche Museen

Studio of Sassoferrato, Mater Dolorosa
Italian, c. 1650
Oxford (UK), Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archeology


Over time the focus moved from the face and hands to the entire body of the Virgin Mary and references to the Passion were added but, for the most part, artists still concentrated on a close up view of Mary's mourning.


Philippe de Champaigne, Virgin of Sorrows at the Foot of the Cross
Flemish, c. 1650
Paris, Musée du Louvre





Elisabetta Sirani, Mater Dolorosa
Italian, 1657
Braunschweig, Herzog Anton Ulrich Museum


Bartolome Esteban Murillo, La Dolorosa
Spanish, c. 1660-1670
Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado


Francesco Solimena, Mater Dolorosa
Italian, c. 1723
Dresden, Staatliche Kunstsammlungen, Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister


Rosalba Carriera, Mater Dolorosa
Italian, c. 1720-1750
Dresden, Staatliche Kunstsammlungen, Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister


Christoforo Unterperger, Virgin of Sorrows Surrounded by Angels
Italian, c. 1780
Paris, Musée du Louvre



Johann Peter Krafft, Mater Dolorosa
Austrian, c. 1840-1850
Vienna, Belvedere Museum


Jose Peyret Alcanyiz, La Dolorosa
Spanish. c. 1840
Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado


In the aftermath of the First World War artists expressed the grief of millions of mothers by referring back to the image of the Mater Dolorosa.

Jakob Smits, Mater Dolorosa
Dutch, c. 1920s
Brussels, Musées royaux des Beaux-Arts de Belgique


Harry Clarke, The Mother of Sorrows Window
Irish, 1926
Dublin, National Gallery of Ireland



Although the subject of the Mater Dolorosa is primarily expressed through painting, sculptors also contributed to this iconography, usually with full length statues, but sometimes with bust or half-length images.  Like the painted images, this sculptural tradition developed from representations of the Virgin Mary at the Crucifixion.

Virgin from a Deposition Scene
Italian, c. 1225-1250
Paris, Musée du Cluny, Musée nationale du Moyen Age


Mater Dolorosa
Flemish, c. 1500-1520
Paris, Musée du Louvre, Departement des Sculptures du Moyen Age, de la Renaissance et des temps modernes



Mater Dolorosa
Fragment of an Altarpiece
French, c. 1520
Paris, Musée de Cluny, Musée nationale du Moyen Age


Germain Pilon, Mater Dolorosa
French, c. 1586
Paris, Musée du Louvre, Departement des Sculptures du Moyen Age, de la Renaissance et des temps modernes


Francois Girardon, Mater Dolorosa
French, 1657
Paris, Musée du Louvre


Our Lady of Sorrows
Spanish Colonial (New Mexico), 17th-18th Century
Cleveland, Museum of Art



The Man of Sorrows and the Mater Dolorosa

A similar image of Mary as the Mater Dolorosa was occasionally paired with the image of Jesus as the Man of Sorrows.  This was sometimes done within a single picture (a painting or a print) or it may be accomplished by a diptych, a two-panel hinged format.  In seventeenth-century Spain, it frequently took the form of highly realistic, bust or three-quarter figural sculptures.


Master of the Stories of Mary in Aachen, The Man of Sorrows and the Mater Dolorosa
German, c. 1485
Aachen, Domschatzkammer



After Lucas van Leyden, The Man of Sorrows and the Mater Dolorosa
Dutch, 16th Century
Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum





Wolf Traut, The Man of Sorrows and the Mater Dolorosa
German, 1512
Washington, National Gallery of Art
The inscription at the bottom of the image reads "Aspice qui transis quia tu mihi causa doloris", which translates to an admonition to the viewer "Behold, you are the cause of my pain", thus reminding the viewer that Christ suffered for our sins.



Hans Holbein the Younger, Diptych with Christ as the Man of Sorrows and the Mater Dolorosa
German, c. 1520
Basel, Kunstmuseum


Adriaen Isenbrant, Ecce Homo with the Mourning Virgin
Flemish, c. 1530-1540
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art



Bartolome Esteban Murillo, The Man of Sorrows and the Mater Dolorosa
Spanish, c. 1670-1675
Private Collection



Pedro de Mena, Ecce Homo and the Mater Dolorosa
Spanish, c. 1674-1685
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art


The Mater Dolorosa Pierced by a Sword

Another group of images takes the subject of Our Lady of Sorrows in a different, more symbolic direction. This is the group that I call The Sword-Pierced Mater Dolorosa. In these images the Virgin Mary is pierced, or about to be pierced, with swords, numbering anywhere from one to seven. They offer a literal interpretation of the words of Simeon from Saint Luke's Gospel, including images in which the sword approaches her directly from the body of Christ on the Cross. For these, she can be either sitting or standing. 

Ivory Pax with the Crucifixion, Mary Pierced by a Sword
South German, c. 1360-1370
New York, Metropolitan Museum, The Cloisters
A pax is an object long out of use in the Catholic liturgy.  Paxes were small plaques with scenes from the Passion or scenes with Eucharistic references that were passed among the congregation at Mass following the consecration, where today we give the sign of peace.  However, it also sometimes served as a substitute for the Eucharist itself.  In the middle ages the laity did not usually receive Holy Communion except at Easter.  The pax was a very inadequate substitute for the actual Eucharist, but it did give people a small sense of participation in this part of the liturgy, while allowing some to skip the very strict Eucharistic fast.  With the encouragement of frequent Communion for the laity that was ushered in following the reforms of the Council of Trent the pax was mostly abandoned. 4



Our Lady of Sorrows Pierced by Swords
German, 15th Century
Sendenhorst (Kreis Warendorf), Catholic Parish Church of Saint Ludgarus


Crucifixion, Mary Pierced by a Sword
From Speculum humanae salvationis
French, c. 1450
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Francais 188, fol. 50v


Our Lady of Sorrows Venerated by Vladislav II of Bohemia and Hungary
From Prayer Book Probably Made for Vladislav II, king of Bohemia and Hungary
Polish (Cracow), c. 1470-1480
Oxford, University of Oxford, Bodleian Libraries
MS Rawl. liturg. d. 6, fol. 42v


Anonymous, Mary Pierced by Seven Swords
Netherlandish, c. 1500-1525
London, Trustees of the British Museum

Mater Dolorosa
Flemish, First Half of the 16th Century
Antwerp, Royal Museum of Fine Arts



Our Lady of Sorrows with Donors
French, c. 1500-1525
Champlitte, Parish Church of Saint Christopher


Master of the Goslar Sibyls, The Man of Sorrows and the Mater Dolorosa Pierced by Swords
Chapel of the Trinity
German, c. 1501-1515
Goslar, Rathaus, Reception Hall
This rather unusual use of the images of the Man of Sorrows and the Mater Dolorosa places the images on the doors of a chapel.

Master of the Goslar Sibyls, The Man of Sorrows and the Mater Dolorosa (close up view)
Chapel of the Trinity
German, c. 1501-1515
Goslar, Rathaus, Reception Hall


Mary Pierced by Seven Swords
German, c. 1510-1520
Euskirchen, Elsig, Catholic Parish Church of the Holy Cross 


Master of Hoogstraeten, Mary Pierced by a Sword
Sixth Panel from the Left of the Seven Sorrows Altarpiece
Flemish, c. 1510-1520
Antwerp, Royal Museum of Fine Arts


Hans Springinklee, Our Lady of Sorrows as the Garden of the Soul
German, 1518
Dresden, Staatliche Kunstsammlungen, Kupferstich-Kabinett


Jacob Conneliszoon, Our Lady of Sorrows
From Die Kleine Passion
Dutch, c. 1520-1521
Dresden, Kupferstich-Kabinett


Mary Pierced by the Sword at the Foot of the Cross
From a Prayer Book
Flemish (Antwerp), c. 1525
The Hague, Museum Meermano
MS MMW 10 E 4-078r



Workshop of the Master of the David Scenes in the Grimani Breviary, Stabat Mater Illustration
From a Book of Hours
Flemish (Bruges), c. 1525-1530
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M 1175, fol. 215r


Johann Sadeler after Christoph Schwarz, Mary Pierced by the Sword
German, c. 1588 -1595
Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum


Bronze Morse (clasp for a cope), Mary Pierced by Seven Swords with Two Saints
Spanish, 17th Century
Ecouen, Musée national de la Renaissance


Our Lady of Sorrows (Notre Dame du Pitie)
Detail of an Altarpiece
French, 17th Century
Figeac, Chapelle Notre-Dame-du-Pitie


Our Lady of Sorrows
French, 17th Century
Laon, Church of Notre-Dame


Our Lady of Sorrows as the Pietà
German, 17th Century
London, Victoria and Albert Museum


Pierre Firens, The Seven Sorrows of Mary
Franco-Flemish, c. 1600-1639
Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum


Possibly Peeter van Baelen, Virgin of the Seven Sorrows
Flemish, c. 1600-1635
Paris, Musée du Louvre, Departement des Objets d'art du Moyen Age, de la Renaissance et des temps modernes


Peter Overadt, Mater Dolorosa
German, c. 1601
Wolfenbüttel, Herzog August Bibliothek


Schelte Adamszoon Bolswert, After Abraham Bloemaert, Mary Pierced by Seven Swords
Dutch, c. 1612-1615
Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum


Cornelis de Vos, Mater Dolorosa
Flemish, 1620
Antwerp, Royal Museum of Fine Arts


Antoon Paydherbe, Our Lady of the Seven Sorrows
Flemish, 1626
Mechelen, Onze-Lieve-Vrouw-over-de-Dijlekerk


Cornelis Galle After Anthony van Dyck, Mater Dolorosa
Flemish, Before 1650
San Francisco, Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco


Cornelis Van Poelenburg, Mater Dolorosa
Dutch, c. 1630-1665
Munich, Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen, Alte Pinakothek


Paolo Naldini, Our Lady of Sorrows
Italian, c. 1639
Rome, Church of San Marcello al Corso, Capella della Madonna dei Sette Dolori



Attributed to Marc Antonio de Santis, Saints Augustine and Philip Binizzi (member of the Order of Servites) Interceding before Our Lady of Sorrows for the Souls in Purgatory
Italian, c. 1650-1681
Ortiporio (Corsica), Parish Church 


Giovanni Battista Gaulli Called Baciccio, Our Lady of Sorrows with Saints Augustine and Nicholas of Tolentine
Italian, c. 1650-1709
Paris, Musée du Louvre, Département des Arts graphique



Willem van der Leeuw After Peter Paul Rubens, Mater Dolorosa
Flemish, Before 1665
Antwerp, Royal Museum of Fine Arts


Follower of Frencesco Trevisani, Mary Pierced by the Sword
Italian, c. 1700
Private Collection


Holy Water Font with Our Lady of Sorrows
Italian, 18th Century
Saint-Omer, Musée de l'hôtel Sandelin


Virgin of Sorrows
Spanish Colonial (Possibly Mexican), 18th Century
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art


Nicolas Enriquez de Vargas, Mary Pierced by the Sword
Mexican, c. 1750
Philadelphia, Museum of Art


Domenico Noferi, Madonna dell'Adolorata
Italian, 1754
Florence, Church of Santissima Annunziata



Miguel Cabrera, Our Lady of Sorrows Surrounded by the Trinity, Various Saints and the Souls in Purgatory
Mexican, c. 1760
Location Unknown


Jose Camaron Bonanat, La Dolorosa
Spanish, c. 1785-1790
Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado


Our Lady of Sorrows
French, c. 1800-1850
Brehan, Church of Notre-Dame



Our Lady of Sorrows Ring
Italian, c. 1800-1850
London, Victoria and Albert Museum


Louis Stanislas Marin-Lavigne After Murillo, Mater Dolorosa
French, c. 1830-1860
Edinburgh, National Galleries of Scotland, Scottish National 


Notre-Dame des Sept Douleurs lithograph
French, c. 1875-1900
Epinal, Musée de l'image


D. Darquet, Stained Glass
French, 1879
Villers-Bocage, Parish Church of Saint Georges


Vicente Aznar, Our Lady of Sorrows
Spanish, 19th Century
Madrid, Biblioteca Nacional de Espaňa



John Singer Sargent, The Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary
American, c. 1890-1916
Boston, Boston Public Library


Statue of Our Lady of Sorrows
French, c. 1895
Thorame-Bass, Parish Church


Processional Figure of Our Lady of Sorrows
Spanish, Contemporary



The Seven Sorrows

The final category consists of paintings that attempt to show the image of Mary, either the Sorrowing Mother or the Sword-Pierced Woman, surrounded by depictions of the Seven Sorrows themselves. This image seems to have been popular from about the beginning of the fifteenth century to about the middle of the sixteenth century, with some late appearing outriders.  It exists in all media, miniature painting, panel painting, enamels, drawings and prints, nearly all of them hailing from northern Europe.  No doubt there are (or were) images in the medium of sculpture as well.  We must bear in mind that there was a great deal of destruction wrought on images in northern Europe during the Reformation and its aftermath.  The media mentioned above are easier to transport and to hide than all but the smallest items of sculpture.  So, there has likely been disproportionate damage to sculpture in those countries where this particular image has been most prevalent.



Jean le Tavernier, The Seven Sorrows of Mary
From a Book of Hours
Flemish (Ghent), c. 1425-1450
London, British Library
MS Additional 19416, fol. 8v


Master of Isabella di Chiaromonte, The Seven Sorrows of Mary
from a Book of Hours
Dutch (Delft), 1460-1520
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M 71, fol.12v



Master of Cornelis Croesinck, The Seven Sorrows of Mary
from the Croesinck Hours
Dutch, 1489-1499
New York, Pierpont Morgan Museum
MS M 1078, fol.104v


Albrecht Durer, The Seven Sorrows of Mary
German, c.1496
Munich, Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen, Alte Pinakothek



Master S, The Seven Sorrows of Mary
Flemish, c. 1600
Dresden, Sächsische Landesbibliothek



Master S, The Seven Sorrows of Mary
Flemish, c. 1500-1525
London, Trustees of the British Museum


Simon Bening, The Seven Sorrows of Mary
from the Da Costa Hours
Belgian (Bruges), 1510-1520
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M 399, fol. 92v


Adriaen Isenbrandt, The Seven Sorrows of Mary
Flemish, 1518-1535
Bruges, Church of Our Lady



Monogrammist S, The Seven Sorrows of Mary
Dutch, c. 1516-1545
Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum



Herik Douverman, Altar of the Seven Joys and the Seven Sorrows
Dutch, c. 1518-1522
Kalkar Kreis Kleve, Catholic Parish Church of Saint Nicholas




Master of the Magdalen Legend, The Seven Sorrows of Mary with Donors and Their Patrons, Saints Christopher and Catherine of Alexandria
The Ashwellthorpe Triptych
Flemish, c. 1515-1525
Norfolk (UK), Norfolk Castle Museum and Art Gallery




Bernard van Orley, Center Panel of the Triptych of Our Lady of Seven Sorrows
Flemish, c. 1520-1535
Besancon, Musée des Beaux-Arts et d'Archeologie


Adriaen Ysenbrandt, Virgin of the Seven Sorrows
Flemish, 1521
Brussels, Royal Museum of Fine Arts of Belgium




Bernard van Orley, The Seven Sorrows of Mary
Flemish, 1526
Antwerp, Royal Museum of Fine Arts



Jan Baegert, The Seven Sorrows of Mary
German, c. 1528-1530
Cologne, Kunstmuseum des Erzbistums Köln


Workshop of Pierre Reymond, Enamel Plaque with the Seven Sorrows of Mary and Two Donors
France, 1533
New York, The Frick Collection


Giorgio Ghisi, Mater Dolorosa Surrounded by the Seven Sorrows
Italian, c. 1575
Philadelphia, Museum of Art


Master of the Half-Lengths, Virgin of the Seven Sorrows
Flemish, Late 16th Century
Barcelona, Museu Nacional d'Art de Cataluňa



Hieronymous Wierix after Jan Luyken, Our Lady of Sorrows
Flemish, 1581
Philadelphia, Museum of Art
The inscription reads "Behold, he is set here for the fall and for the resurrection of many in Israel, and as a sign to whom he will be contradicted: and a sword will pierce your soul above, so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed."  These are the words of the prophet Simeon, related in the Gospel account of Saint Luke (Luke 2:32-35).



Our Lady of the Seven Sorrows
French, 17th Century
Bourg-en-Bresse, Church of Saint-Nicolas-de-Tolentin



Workshop of Penicaud, Enamel Plaque of Our Lady of the Seven Sorrows
French, c. 1615
London, Trustees of the British Museum



Paul Fürst, The Seven Sorows of Mary
German, 1626
Wolfenbüttel, Herzog August Bibliothek




Devotion to Our Lady of Sorrows

Devotion to Mary under the title of Our Lady of Sorrows was initially associated with the religious Order of the Servants of Mary, called the Servites.  They were founded in 1233 by a group of seven pious laymen who were Florentine wool merchants.  They had belonged to a lay confraternity with a devotion to Mary.  However, like their contemporary Saint Francis, they gave up their prosperous careers and retreated to a village outside Florence where they established a religious community.  Eventually they made their way to a nearby mountain and laid the foundations for a religious order of men.  It was given approval by the bishop of Florence at some point in the mid-1240s as the Order of Friars Servants of Mary. 


Our Lady of Sorrows
German, c. 1750-1800
Motten. Parish Church of St. Matthew


One of their primary factors in the spirituality of the Servites over the centuries has been devotion to Mary as Our Lady of Sorrows, as the Mater Dolorosa.  Their black habit was established as a reminder or Mary’s dress as a widow.  In 1692 Our Lady of Sorrows was officially declared to be the patroness of the order.3  

© M. Duffy, 2017, Revised with addition of material and new images, 2022.

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“Now, Master, you may let your servant go in peace, according to your word,
for my eyes have seen your salvation,
which you prepared in sight of all the peoples,
a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and glory for your people Israel.”  (Luke 2:29-32)
  1.  This neat listing of the sorrows with their accompanying text references come from https://www.catholicculture.org/culture/liturgicalyear/calendar/day.cfm?date=2017-09-15 
  2. Mary, as the Mater Dolorosa, has also been described in poetry, specifically the poem called the Stabat Mater, usually attributed to the Franciscan Jacopone da Todi toward the end of the thirteenth century, which imagines the scene at the foot of the Cross, imagines Mary’s reaction to what is happening and prays to be united with her in her sufferings.  It has been set to music by many composers, including Palestrina, Vivaldi, Pergolesi, Haydn, Rossini, Poulenc and Arvo Part, to name just the ones I’m personally familiar with.  A chant version (with an English translation) is probably familiar to many since it is often used during communal celebration of the Stations of the Cross.  It is also one of the few surviving sequences (hymns that precede the reading of the Gospel on feast days), being an optional sequence for the feast of Our Lady of Sorrows.  See https://www.stabatmater.info/   A sampling of various settings of the words can be found at https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=stabat+mater
  3. For information about the Order of Servites see http://www.servite.org/ 
  4. Meehan, Andrew. "Pax." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 11. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1911.  http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/11594b.htm


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.




1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I'd build, Madonna, love, for my belief,
An altar in the dim crypt of my grief,
And in the darkest comer of my heart,
From mortal lust and mockery far apart,
Scoop you a niche, with gold and azure glaze,
Where you would stand in wonderment and gaze,
With my pure verses trellised, and all round
In constellated rhymes of crystal bound:
And with a huge tiara richly crowned.
Out of the Jealousy which rules my passion,
Mortal Madonna, I a cloak would fashion,
Barbarous, stiff, and heavy with my doubt,
Whereon as in a fourm you would fill out
And mould your lair. Of tears, not pearls, would be
The sparkle of its rich embroidery:
Your robe would be my lust, with waving flow,
Poising on tips, in valleys lying low,
And clothing, in one kiss, coral and snow.
In my Respect (for satin) you'll be shod
Which your white feet would humble to the clod,
While prisoning their flesh with tender hold
It kept their shape imprinted like a mould.
If for a footstool to support your shoon,
For all my art, I could not get the moon,
I'd throw the serpent, that devours my vitals
Under your trampling heels for his requitals,
Victorious queen, to spurn, bruise, and belittle
That monstrous worm blown-up with hate and spittle.
Round you my thoughts like candles should be seen
Around the flowered shrine of the virgins' Queen,
Reflected on a roof that's painted blue,
And aiming all their golden eyes at you.
Since nought is in me that you do not stir,
All will be incense, benjamin, and myrrh,
And up to you, white peak, in clouds will soar
My stormy soul, in rapture, to adore.

In fine, your role of Mary to perfect
And mingle barbarism with respect —
Of seven deadly sins, O black delight!
Remorseful torturer, to show my sleight,
I'll forge and sharpen seven deadly swords
And like a callous juggler on the boards,
Taking it for my target, I would dart
Them deep into your streaming, sobbing heart.