(early 15th century, active in Hamburg)

Vir Dolorum (Man of Sorrows)

c. 1420
Tempera on oak, 42,5 x 31,5 cm (with the original frame)
Museum der Bildenden Künste, Leipzig

Within a frame decorated with metal rosettes a tall angel stands behind the half length figure of the suffering Christ and supports Him, in front of a golden background. The figure of Christ is the more moving because, apparently, He is still alive. He looks at us with a tormented glance, but His right hand, cramped by excruciating pain, is too weak to grasp the scourge. Two angels kneeling behind the frame support His hands from beneath, at the same time holding the instruments with which He has been tortured. As these angels are smaller than the other two figures, symbolism and realism are strangely mixed in the representation of the instruments of torture: although they only indicate, on a miniature scale, the dramatic episodes of the Passion, the little angels appear to sink under their burden.

The six black wings of the three angels surround the figure of Christ like signs of mourning. The many contrasts in the representation of Christ and the angels lend a singular fascination to the picture. The smaller angels, depicted in multicolour, animated curves, are trying to hold up the ashen, collapsing body which is rigidly angular. The contrast between the faces of Christ and the angel looking out from behind Him is enchantingly lovely. Because of the fact that Christ's body covers the angel's the two heads appear as if they belonged to the same body but had moved slightly. The angel's glance is animated, that of Christ tired; the complexion of the former is rosy, his blond hair curled in rich locks, the latter is pale and His straight brown hair is matted. The contrast between the two heads is continued along the two sides of the composition. On the right-hand side we can see enclosed parallel outlines merging into each other, whereas the left side is characterized by more open and restless intersecting forms. There is a contrast even between the ways the hair of Christ is represented on either side.

The fascination of the picture is further intensified by the fact that the figures and objects represented with a host of details in an almost tangible manner appear in completely abstract space. Though farthest from the spectator, the cross seems to be near, because even the veins of the wood can be seen; nails are jutting forward from the two ends of its cross-beam. It is due to this illusion that the figures look as if they were pressed into a very narrow space, close to the viewer.

© Web Gallery of Art, created by Emil Krén and Daniel Marx.