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Pieta

image christ head germany

Italian for “pity,” the Pietà is an image of the sorrowing Virgin *Mary holding the dead body of *Christ across her lap. The scene is not described in the Gospels and is distinct from *Deposition, *Lamentation, and *Entombment scenes, where more figures are normally present. The type is first seen c.1300 in Germany and developed from the mystical writings of authors such as Saint Mechthild of Helfta (c.1241–1289) and later, Saint Bridget of Sweden (c.1303–1373). As a nonnarrative, devotional image the figural group was designed to inspire pious contemplation on the sacrificial *death of Christ for the redemption of humankind. Also known as Vesperbild , the image was inspired by monastic services and prayers for the late afternoon-sunset hour (office) of Vespers for Good Friday. The Pietà is often a sculptural image; Mary is shown with a pensive expression or more violently grieving, inclining her head toward Christ or looking outward toward the viewer. Christ often wears the crown of thorns; his head, if not supported by Mary’s hand, may fall backward; the wounds on his body may be grimly exaggerated: enlarged or emphasized with painted indications of dripping blood. The image was especially popular in Germany, later adopted in France, Italy, and elsewhere.

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