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Pietà with Donors

Pieta with Donors | 1515 | 16.31.1

Pietà with Donors, ca. 1515. French. Limestone, traces of polychromy. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Gift of J. Pierpont Morgan, 1916 (16.31.1).

Here, Mary's grief over Christ's sacrifice is communicated through simple gestures. At the center, the Virgin Mary crosses her arms upon her chest and bows her head over her son's dead body. Her downward gaze throws her face into shadow, accentuating her sorrow (pietà in Italian). Surprisingly, the scene is witnessed by two individualized figures, whose clothing identifies them as a knight and a bishop. These are the donors, Pons de Gontaut and his brother Armand, Bishop of Sarlat, who commissioned this sculpture for their family funerary chapel. On the left, Armand cradles Christ's head in his outstretched hands, making him into a direct participant in the sacred past. On the right, his brother clasps his hands and gazes somberly on the scene. Through the sculpture, the brothers assert a privileged place in this private moment, crossing time to witness Mary's grief.

"You really tap into the emotion of what these people are going through by taking on their poses."

—Jennifer Morris, actor

"Mary's hands crossed over her heart—this same gesture is found in American Sign Language."

—Emmanuel von Schack, educator and ASL user

"I absolutely read the bishop as a figure of false piety."

—Sam Pinkleton, theater director

All voices: Will Crow, educator; Quincy Tyler Bernstine, actor; Jennifer Morris, actor; Emmanuael von Schack, educator and ASL user; Peter Barnet, curator; Griffith Mann, curator

Transcripts: Empathy through Mimicry (Video), Sorrow's Universal Language (Video), Gestures Speak Louder Than Words (Video)