The Mourning Virgin; The Man of Sorrows

Copy after Dieric Bouts (Netherlandish, ca. 1525)

Oil on wood
Each 16 x 12 1/2 in. (40.6 x 31.8 cm)
Credit Line:
Purchase, 1871
Accession Number:
  • Gallery Label

    One of numerous copies of a lost original by Bouts, this diptych was produced perhaps fifty years after the master's death. The best version of the composition, now in the Art Institute, Chicago, can be dated on the basis of scientific evidence between 1480 and 1495, or shortly after Bouts's death. Well into the sixteenth century the workshop was active under the direction of Dieric's sons, and our panels may well have been painted by an assistant there.

  • Catalogue Entry

    On the right panel of this diptych, Christ wears a scarlet mantle and a crown of thorns, which, according to the biblical account of the Passion (Matthew 27: 27—31), was his appearance as he was brought before Pilate. At the left, the Virgin Mary, witness to Christ’s torment, prays to her son. The cult of Mary grew in popularity during the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries, resulting in many images which focused devotion on contemplating her grief. Depictions of the Mourning Virgin merge Mary’s roles as an example of compassion for Christ’s suffering and an intercessor for humankind (Schuler 1992). The devotee is intended to empathize with the suffering of both holy figures.

    The presentation of these devotional figures before a gold background suggests that the composition may have derived ultimately from an Italo-Byzantine iconic type. The earliest Netherlandish example of this type is Robert Campin’s Praying Virgin and Blessing Christ (John G. Johnson Collection, Philadelphia Museum of Art), which shows the two figures in a continuous space on one panel. The figures in the MMA diptych are meant to appear as if they are in an uninterrupted space that shares a light source and a painted internal frame (Sprinson de Jesús 1998).

    This diptych is one of many surviving copies of a lost prototype by Dieric Bouts. Infrared reflectography reveals that the design was transferred from a workshop drawing via pouncing, which was a common means used to efficiently reproduce designs to be painted by workshop assistants (Ainsworth 1989). Dendrochronological data confirms that this was done some fifty years after Bouts’s death in 1475, indicating the lasting popularity of the composition for devotional purposes.


  • Provenance

    ?sale, Hôtel Drouot, Paris, February 28–March 1, 1870, nos. 113 and 114, as school of Rogier van der Weyden, "Jésus représenté en buste" and "La Vierge, en buste"; [Léon Gauchez and Alexis Febvre, Paris, 1870; sold to Blodgett]; William T. Blodgett, Paris and New York (1870–71; sold half share to Johnston); William T. Blodgett and John Taylor Johnston, New York (1871; sold to MMA)

  • Exhibition History

    New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Taste of the Seventies," April 2–September 10, 1946, no. 2.

    New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "From Van Eyck to Bruegel: Early Netherlandish Painting in The Metropolitan Museum of Art," September 22, 1998–February 21, 1999, no. 58.

    Stratford, Ontario. The Gallery. "Sorrowful Images: Early Netherlandish Devotional Diptychs," March 19–May 16, 1999, unnumbered cat.

    Ottawa. National Gallery of Canada. "Sorrowful Images: Early Netherlandish Devotional Diptychs," June 11–September 6, 1999, unnumbered cat.

    Hamilton, Ontario. McMaster Museum of Art. "Sorrowful Images: Early Netherlandish Devotional Diptychs," September 12–November 7, 1999, unnumbered cat.

    Halifax, Nova Scotia. Saint Mary's University Art Gallery. "Sorrowful Images: Early Netherlandish Devotional Diptychs," January 14–February 20, 2000, unnumbered cat.

  • References

    F[ritz von]. Harck. "Berichte und Mittheilungen aus Sammlungen und Museen, über staatliche Kunstpflege und Restaurationen, neue Funde: Aus amerikanischen Galerien." Repertorium für Kunstwissenschaft 11 (1888), p. 74.

    Wolfgang Schöne. Dieric Bouts und seine Schule. Berlin, 1938, pp. 129–30.

    Harry B. Wehle and Margaretta Salinger. The Metropolitan Museum of Art: A Catalogue of Early Flemish, Dutch and German Paintings. New York, 1947, pp. 49–50, ill., catalogue it as "Workshop of Joos van Cleve".

    Martin Davies. The National Gallery, London [Les primitifs flamands, I: Corpus de la peinture des anciens pays-bas méridionaux au quinzième siècle, 3]. 1, Antwerp, 1953, p. 35.

    Erik Larsen. Les primitifs flamands au Musée Metropolitain de New York. Utrecht, 1960, p. 64.

    Colin Tobias Eisler. "New England Museums." New England Museums [Les primitifs flamands, I: Corpus de la peinture des anciens pays-bas méridionaux au quinzième siècle, vol. 4]. Brussels, 1961, pp. 59–60.

    Sixten Ringbom. Icon to Narrative: The Rise of the Dramatic Close-up in Fifteenth-century Devotional Painting. rev. ed. Doornspijk, The Netherlands, 1984, pp. 36, 37, 142–43 [first published in Acta Academiae Aboensis, ser. A, Humaniora, 1965, vol. 31, no. 2, same page nos.].

    Maryan W. Ainsworth. "Northern Renaissance Drawings and Underdrawings: A Proposed Method of Study." Master Drawings 27 (Spring 1989), pp. 11, 36 n. 22, observes that it is not surprising that the Mourning Virgin has a pounced underdrawing, since many copies of this popular image were produced.

    Peter Klein. Letter. March 20, 1989, reports on the results of his dendrochronological studies of these two paintings, and suggests a probable date of creation of "from 1525 upwards" for the Mourning Virgin and "from 1516 upwards" for the Man of Sorrows.

    Martha Wolff. "An Image of Compassion: Dieric Bouts's Sorrowing Madonna." Museum Studies 15, no. 2 (1989), pp. 122, 124, fig. 14, compares it with the Chicago version, ascribed to Bouts.

    Peter Klein. "The Differentiation of Originals and Copies of Netherlandish Panel Paintings by Dendrochronology." Le dessin sous-jacent dans la peinture. Colloque 8, Louvain-la-Neuve, 1991, p. 38, using dendrochronological analysis gives a presumed date [of execution] of 1516 for the "Man of Sorrows" and 1515 for the "Mourning Virgin".

    Introduction by Walter A. Liedtke in Flemish Paintings in America: A Survey of Early Netherlandish and Flemish Paintings in the Public Collections of North America. Antwerp, 1992, p. 20.

    Carol M. Schuler. "The Seven Sorrows of the Virgin: Popular Culture and Cultic Imagery in Pre-Reformation Europe." Simiolus 21 (1992), pp. 14–15.

    Peter Klein. "Dendrochronological Findings of the Van Eyck–Christus–Bouts Group." Petrus Christus in Renaissance Bruges: An Interdisciplinary Approach. New York, 1995, pp. 157, 164–65, gives estimated felling date of 1506 for the panel with the Man of Sorrows and 1515 for the Mourning Virgin.

    Mary Sprinson de Jesús in From Van Eyck to Bruegel: Early Netherlandish Painting in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1998, pp. 37, 63, 65, 84–85, 240, 242–43, 374, no. 58, ill. (color), dates the panels about 1525

    Catherine Johnston in Sorrowful Images: Early Netherlandish Devotional Diptychs. Exh. cat., National Gallery of Canada. Ottawa, 1999, unpaginated, fig. 4 (color), notes that in both the Chicago and Ottawa diptychs the fingers of the Virgin's hands have been lengthened, and that all subsequent workshop replicas "have been painted with long fingers in imitation of these two"; notes that in our panels, however, the fingers of the Virgin are shorter, "in the manner often encountered with Dieric the Elder"; ascribes both the London and Ottawa diptychs to the Workshop of Dieric Bouts, dating the latter 1485–95, and calls our diptych a Copy after Dieric Bouts, c. 1525.

    Katharine Baetjer. "Buying Pictures for New York: The Founding Purchase of 1871." Metropolitan Museum Journal 39 (2004), pp. 180–81, 221, 245, appendix 1A nos. 157–58, ill. p. 221 and fig. 37, remarks that these panels were exhibited in 1872 as from the school of Rogier van der Weyden, and, along with an Adoration of the Magi (71.100), were the only early pictures in the 1871 purchase; notes that in the 1872 catalogue Gauchez attributed them to two different painters of the school of Rogier van der Weyden, and based on this "rather perverse cataloguing," tentatively identifies them with two pictures sold at Hôtel Drouot, February 28–March 1, 1870, as lots 113 and 114.

  • See also