This image depicts Christ as the Man of Sorrows, wearing the crown of thorns and revealing the nail wounds on his hands from the Crucifixion. The composition is based on a presumed lost prototype, probably developed in the workshop of Dieric Bouts (active by 1457–died 1475). The Met's painting may have been an individual work, or perhaps was once joined with a Mourning Virgin to form a diptych (Sprinson de Jesús 1998). Many diptych copies that follow the same prototype, with variations, are extant, and the versions represent a range in artistic quality (see also The Met 71.156–57
). During the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, such images served as objects of devotion that invited the viewer to empathize with Christ’s suffering and contemplate his salvation of humankind.The Attribution:
Particular attention is given to the gruesomeness of Christ’s torture. His wounds are prominent and blood and tears drip down his face and neck (see Technical Notes). The emotionally charged pathos of this figure is more characteristic of paintings by Aelbert Bouts than those by his father Dieric (for the artists’ biographies see The Met 30.95.280
). Aelbert and his assistants produced copies of his father’s most successful compositions long after Dieric’s death in 1475, thereby contributing to their popularity in the Netherlands well into the sixteenth century (see also The Met 60.55.2
). The distinct and systematic painting technique (see Technical Notes), the hard appearance of Christ’s skin, and a certain awkwardness within the composition—all as compared to works by Aelbert Bouts such as The Met's Head of Saint John the Baptist on a Charger
) and a recently discovered autograph Man of Sorrows
(Adam Williams, New York)—designate this painting as a work by a skilled assistant but not executed by the master himself.
Infrared reflectography has revealed a free-hand contour line underdrawing in The Met's painting as well as faint underdrawn hatching to indicate shading (see Technical Notes and fig. 1 above). While the underdrawing does not show any evidence of the fixed, rigid lines of a pattern transfer (in contrast to The Met 71.156–57
), the artist who created this painting clearly utilized an established workshop design, whether he referred to a drawn model or to another painting, or simply recreated the familiar composition from routine practice. A Mourning Virgin panel that The Met's painting was possibly joined with to form a diptych was not necessarily made by the same painter or at the same time, as the Aelbert Bouts workshop produced many versions of both subjects for the open market. Potential buyers could make selections based on personal preferences, either choosing to purchase a Man of Sorrows as an independent devotional image or to pair it with a Mourning Virgin (see John Oliver Hand, Catherine A. Metzger, and Ron Spronk, eds., Prayers and Portraits: Unfolding the Netherlandish Diptych
, New Haven, 2006, pp. 50–51).
Valentine Henderiks (2011) has related the painting to the central panel of a triptych of a Sorrowing Christ, flanked by side panels of angels holding instruments of the Passion, attributed to Aelbert and sold at Sotheby’s, New York, in 1995. There are slight differences in the position of the head and hands between the two figures, but the most striking change is that Christ in The Met's panel has a more tortured expression. Henderiks speculates that this difference may indicate that the panel was intended for export to southern Europe, to a region which preferred greater pathos of expression.
Maryan W. Ainsworth 2012; updated Anna-Claire Stinebring 2015