(b. ca. 1410, Laon, d. ca. 1466, Avignon)
Pietà de Villeneuve-lès-Avignonc. 1460
Tempera on wood, 162 x 218 cm
Musée du Louvre, Paris
The figures, which might have been taken from Gothic sculpture, are placed before a chased golden background. To the left of the middle distance is the view of a small town with spires, to the right austere mountains. The suffering figure of the Virgin dominates the painting. No longer young, her pallid face is immobile in its grief. Her blue mantle covers her head, revealing a white veil, and spreads out in huge folds to her feet. In a strange pose, the back arched, the body rigid, 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, with the kneeling donor beside St John. On the right the mourning, pitiful figure of St Mary Magdalen completes the diagonal line arching over the Virgin and St John to the donor. The yellow-lined red cloak of the Magdalen extends around her in a great curve. Her left hand holds the vase of ointment, with the right she presses the edge of her cloak to her eye.
Its concentrated emotion, dramatic force and religious content make this painting the supreme manifestation in mediaeval art of the tragedy of Christ, only softened by the tender expression on St John's face. The Virgin's sorrow is profound and austere, almost unbending; the Magdalen's is softer, more womanly. This masterpiece has been claimed for many schools, including the Catalan and Portuguese, but it seems almost certain that the painter was the French Charonton. With this work the master enriched French and European painting with one of the finest representations of the Pietà in existence.