Image of the Week: Man of Sorrows

April 14, 2014 Comments Off on Image of the Week: Man of Sorrows

The Man of Sorrows, ca. 1420–30 Michele Giambono (Michele Giovanni Bono) (Italian, Venetian, active 1420–62)

The Man of Sorrows, ca. 1420–30
Michele Giambono (Michele Giovanni Bono) (Italian, Venetian, active 1420–62)

From the Metropolitan Museum of Art:

Themes derived from Byzantium continued to inspire Venetian painters of the fifteenth century. Giambono’s Man of Sorrows stands in an open tomb. His half-length body seems frail yet muscular, its tightly controlled curves silhouetted on the painted and tooled gold ground. Although Christ is unquestionably dead, there is still energy in his partly lowered head and extended arms. Streams of blood, sculpted in thick gesso, gush from wounds carved into the panel. The leaning of Christ’s head, the almost imperceptible turn of his body, and his slightly opened mouth and eyes suggest an awareness of the small figure of Saint Francis, who stands behind the tomb. Francis’ hands are clasped in a gesture expressive of both prayer and grief, a gesture not uncommon for Mary or John in North Italian scenes of the Crucifixion.

The panel appropriates the paradoxical iconography of its Byzantine prototype, the icon of the humiliated yet glorified Savior, and to this Giambono added more concrete narrative and symbolic allusions. The blood still dripping upward on Christ’s arms implies the immediacy of the Crucifixion, as if he had just been taken down from the Cross. Simultaneously, Christ is resurrected. In his marble and porphyry tomb, the embroidered shroud draped symmetrically over the front of the open tomb suggests the corporal of the Mass. Christ’s body therefore is visibly the liturgical sacrifice on the altar-tomb. His outstretched arms and palms display wounds that in contemporary devotional practice offered mystical union with Christ.

The presence of Francis is remarkable. It was believed that Francis, marked by the stigmata, attained perfect similitude to Christ crucified. In paintings, the stigmatization was often associated with the Crucifixion, but Giambono’s panel particularly emphasizes the devotional foundation of Francis’ conformity to Christ, for red lines link Christ’s wounds to those of Francis, devotee and alter Christus. In prayer and compassion, Francis provided an exemplary model for whoever prayed before this panel, possibly a Franciscan friar or tertiary.

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