PILON, Germain
(b. 1525/30, Paris, d. 1590, Paris)

Virgin of Sorrows

Saint-Paul-et-Saint-Louis, Paris

This statue has been intended for the new Valois Chapel (destroyed) at Saint-Denis. As was usual with Pilon, before working the marble of the Virgin he produced a terracotta maquette (Musée du Louvre, Paris), which still retains traces of polychromy. With its swirling cascades of drapery, it is a profound expression of Pilon's devout Catholicism at a time of religious disturbance in France. The statue has sometimes been seen as deriving its formal qualities from Burgundian sculpture of the 15th century, but in fact its agitated draperies call to mind Italian sculpture in the generation after Michelangelo. The slender, nervous hands recall the style of Primaticcio, and the pyramidal silhouette evokes Michelangelo's Pietà, a cast of which was brought from Italy by Primaticcio and placed in the chapel of the château of Fontainebleau.

The Virgin of Sorrows, along with Pilon's deeply moving marble statue of St Francis in Ecstasy (1580; Paris, St Jean-St Francois), was a key work in the art of the Counter-Reformation in France, and both anticipate the emotion and studied affectation of Baroque art.