Gestures Speak Louder Than Words

"I absolutely read the bishop as a figure of false piety."—Sam Pinkleton, theater director

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). Learn more about this object.

How does the sculpted body communicate? Hear from Met experts, leading authorities, and rising stars, each with a unique viewpoint on the language of gesture, facial expression, and pose.

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Peter Barnet: "Pietà" comes from the Italian word for pity, and the idea is any pious believer when reading the Bible or accounts of Biblical events should imagine themselves as present at those events. And that's taken very literally here. We know that this Pietà comes from a church in a private château. The patrons of the chapel and the sculpture are the two brothers who are shown here. On the right is Pons de Gontaut, who was the lord of Biron and the founder of the chapel, and on the left is his brother Armand, the bishop of Sarlat.

And here the bishop has actually gone so far as to show himself being represented as present at this intense moment in Biblical history. Quite extraordinarily, the bishop is seen actually holding the head of Christ, cradling Christ's head in his hands.

Narrator: Theater director Sam Pinkleton is skeptical of the bishop's gesture.

Sam Pinkleton: I absolutely read the bishop as a figure of false piety. When you look at his hands and when you look at the head of Christ, it seems like he's not actually supporting his head. I read his body in a sort of uncommitted way, and I think, if we saw a real push, a real muscular move towards what's happening in the center of the composition, I would feel a lot more sympathy for the bishop.

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