Sunday, July 19, 2009

The Avignon Pietà

Title: The Avignon Pietà

Artist: Enguerrand Charonton

Medium: Tempera on wood

Size: 162 x 218 cm

Date: c. 1460

Location: Musée du Louvre, Paris

The Pietà (Italian for pity), where the dead Christ is supported by his grieving mother, is one of the most common themes of late-medieval religious art. This example is one of the most striking depictions, and has been acclaimed as perhaps the greatest masterpiece produced in France in the 15th century.

The curved back form of Christ's body is highly original, and the stark, motionless dignity of the other figures might have been taken from Gothic sculpture. The suffering figure of the Virgin dominates the painting while Christ, a white cloth wrapped across his loins, appears to be floating on her lap. A young St John bends in loving tenderness above him while the clerical donor, portrayed with Netherlandish realism, kneels to the left. On the right the mourning, pitiful figure of St Mary Magdalene completes the diagonal line arching over the Virgin and St John to the donor. The bare background landscape falls away to a horizon broken by the buildings of Jerusalem, with a sky of gold leaf with stamped and incised haloes, borders and inscriptions.

Its concentrated emotion, dramatic force and religious content make this the supreme manifestation in mediaeval painting of the tragedy of Christ. The Virgin's sorrow is profound and austere, almost unbending; Magdalene's is softer, more womanly. With this work the master enriched French and European painting with one of the finest representations of the Pietà in existence.

Enguerrand Charonton or Quarton (c. 1410, Laon – c. 1466, Avignon) was a French painter and manuscript illuminator whose few surviving works are among the first masterpieces of a distinctively French style, very different from either Italian or Early Netherlandish painting.

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