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Virgin from a Pietà

French, Late Gothic
last quarter of the 15th century
50.8 cm x 22.86 cm x 27.94 cm (20 in. x 9 in. x 11 in.)
limestone with polychromy

On view


The Pietà, a representation of the dead Christ on the lap of the mourning Virgin, was a familiar sculptural image in Late Gothic France. Although the figure of Christ and the arms of the Virgin are no longer intact on the Dumbarton Oaks sculpture, the facial expression and pose of the Virgin convey the sorrow over her sacrificed son. Although no specific scriptural source can be attributed to the imagery of the Pietà, it may have evolved from visual representations of the Lamentation over Christ. The earliest sculptural Pietàs were devotional in nature and were associated with the canonical hour of vespers, when the Descent from the Cross is remembered in meditation and prayer.

The Virgin is clothed in a manner contemporary to the portraiture of fifteenthcentury noblewomen, with a simple gown tightly fitted above the waist. A mantle is drawn up over her head, underneath which a veil and barbeile partially obscure her head and lower neck. Originally, the veil also would have somewhat shadowed her forehead and concealed her eyes, which would have enhanced the feeling of overwhelming sorrow that characterizes Pietà groups.

Executed in limestone, the sculpture may have been repainted several times. The Virgin’s gown and mantle appear to have been painted blue and edged with gilding. This, and the white “linen” covering her neck and head, is the traditional attire worn by the Virgin Mary during events of Christ’s Passion. Scholars generally favor localization of this sculpture in southwestern France. Unlike the more intensely grief-stricken features of the Virgin in Pietà imagery from northern and eastern France, the mood of the Dumbarton Oaks Virgin from a Pietà is elegiac and melancholy.

J. Carder

Saunier. Les arts 14, no. 164 (1918), 8, ill.

Flameng Sale Catalogue. Paris, May 1919, 198, no. 102.

Gillerman, Dorothy. In Vikan, Gary. Catalogue of the Sculpture in the Dumbarton Oaks Collection, from the Ptolemaic Period to the Renaissance. Washington, DC: 1995, 129-132, no. 47, pls. 47A-D.

Bühl, Gudrun, editor. Dumbarton Oaks, The Collections. Washington, DC: Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection (distributed by Harvard University Press), 2008, 312f, ill.

Exhibition History
"The Collector's Microbe: Mildred and Robert Woods Bliss and the Dumbarton Oaks Collections," Dumbarton Oaks, Washington, DC, Apr. 9 - Nov. 9, 2008.

Acquisition History
François Flameng Collection, Paris.

Purchased from François Flameng Sale, Paris, by Mildred and Robert Woods Bliss, 5/1919.

Collection of Mildred and Robert Woods Bliss, Washington, DC, 5/1919-11/29/1940.

Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, House Collection, Washington, DC.

Barbeile | Christ|Jesus Christ | Mantles | Rectangular | Veils | Virgin Mary