Limestone; 15 x 15 3/8 x 5 1/2 in. (38.1 x 39.1 x 14 cm)
The Cloisters Collection, 2001 (2001.78)
Images of the Virgin with the dead Christ reflect late medieval developments in mysticism that encouraged a direct, emotional involvement in the biblical stories. Created as an object of private devotion, this group is a strikingly pure expression of the Schöne Stil, or Beautiful Style, an idiom that emerged at the imperial court in Prague at the end of the fourteenth century and subsequently resonated in artistic centers throughout Europe. The sculptor exploits the formal and psychological tensions inherent in the composition, combining an almost mimetic rendering of detail and a selectively abstract treatment of surface. Christ's broken, emaciated body, naked except for the loincloth, offers a stark contrast to the Virgin's youthful figure, clad in abundant folds. The quality of the execution is evident in such details as the minutely striated loincloth and head veil, the vital delineation of Christ's arms, in which sinews and veins are visible, and the interwoven three hands, entirely undercut, on the Virgin's lap. The blending of sensuality and restraint gives this sculpture immediate emotional appeal.