UNKNOWN MASTER, French
Vir Dolorum (Man of Sorrows)1400-20
Lead and tempera on wood, 8,7 x 12,6 cm
Deutsche Staatsbibliothek, Berlin
On grounds of the inscription on the cover of the twelve panels that had originally been fastened together to form a book, the picture is considered to be the work of a painter called "Jaques Daliwe", who probably had immigrated to France from the Low Countries and then worked beside the Limbourg brothers in the court of the Duc de Berry. (Though the name "Daliwe" could be also a reference to the proprietor.) The artist may have used the booklet as a note-book for about twenty years. In it he put down his memories, ideas and everything he saw and considered interesting while moving from one place to another. Often, as was the case with the drawing reproduced here, he composed homogeneous scenes from the different motifs in his individual manner.
As a rule the seated lamenting figures of the Virgin and St John are represented below the crucified Christ. But here both Christ and the cross have been removed and only the two of them remain in the place of the Crucifixion. In front of them there are scattered the instruments of torture, whereas behind them - as though it were their common thought - the figure of the suffering Christ is to be seen surrounded by a cloud of angels. His face is distorted by pain, His head is bowed forwards and His crossed arms have slipped slightly sideways in the sarcophagus. The imagination of His mother and His favourite disciple have enlarged His figure into monumental dimensions, but the two react to the scene in different ways: the Virgin is leaning her face onto her hand and is engrossed in her thoughts; wrapped in her cloak, she stares into space. St John is more agitated and active, and raises his head passionately.
The difference between the vision and the real scene is shown not only in the scale of the figures but also in the technique of drawing. The Virgin, St John and the ground are modelled with the most delicate tints of grey, while the paler figure of Christ is interpreted by more linear means, first of all with contours, whereas the host of angels is conveyed only by gossamer fine outlines. The drawing may have been a preparatory sketch to a painting, its composition being based on a strictly geometrical framework. The central axis of the picture is indicated by two nails lying in the foreground and meeting at their tips. If we, in our imagination, lengthen their lines up to the top corners we get two smaller triangles on the two sides and a larger one in the middle of the top. The former include the figures of the Virgin and of St John respectively, whereas the latter frames Christ's figure with the angels, whose whirling movements fill up the triangle standing on its point.