According to the Meditations on the Life of Christ and other texts, the weeping Virgin Mary embraced Christ’s body when he was taken down from the Cross. This subject is usually referred to as the pietà.
On the left is Saint Jerome with the lion that was his companion. On the right, a saint wearing the black and white robes of the Dominican Order could be Dominic, but he has no identifying emblem. The donor wears a black garment trimmed with brown fur. The object behind his head is a purple hat, and he wear pattens (wooden overshoes). He is possibly Girolamo Vento, a Genoese merchant living in Bruges in 1469–70.
The figures of the Virgin and Christ are simplified adaptations from the centre panel of the Miraflores Triptych (Gemäldegalerie, Berlin) with other figures added around them. Similar groups occur in other paintings connected with Rogier: it seems that he made a simplified version of the Miraflores Pietà which could be repeated and varied by his assistants for different clients.
According to the Meditations on the Life of Christ and other texts, the weeping Virgin Mary embraced the body of the dead Christ when he was taken down from the Cross. This subject is usually referred to as the pietà. Here, Mary presses her lips to her dead son’s greying face, translucent tears running down her cheeks. She wears a red dress and mantle. The skull at the front of the painting is Adam’s: he was thought to have been buried at Golgotha, where the Crucifixion took place.
On the left is Saint Jerome, his cardinal’s hat hanging down his back and a lion visible walking down a path to the left. According to his legend, the saint pulled a thorn out of a lion’s paw and it became his lifelong companion. The saint on the right wears the black and white robes of the Dominican Order. He could be Saint Dominic but has no identifying emblem. He holds a magnificently bound manuscript, one finger inserted between its parchment leaves and a small case – actually a notebook containing wax tablets – hangs from his belt. The Dominicans were especially known for their learning.
The donor wears a black garment trimmed with brown fur. The object behind his head is a purple hat, and he has a dagger with a fleur-de-lis in his belt. On his feet are pattens, wooden overshoes with platform heels to keep fine leather boots out of the mud. He may well have been Italian; a copy of this painting was later in a Sicilian collection (Nicola Leotta Collection, Palermo). Since he is presented by Saint Jerome, his name is probably Girolamo. He is possibly Girolamo Vento, a Geonese merchant living in Bruges in 1469–70. The Vento family had come to Genoa from Benevento, east of Naples. In 1492–3, a Girolamo Vento acted as agent for the King of Naples in Flanders. He was also connected with two Italian patrons who owned paintings by Rogier van der Weyden. He may well have wanted to emulate them by commissioning a painting from one of the artist’s imitators: the quality of this work suggests it was not done by van der Weyden himself but by a follower.
The painting is closely related to several Pietàs connected with van der Weyden, including one in Brussels (Musée Royaux des Beaux-Arts) and one in Madrid (Prado). In all three the figures of the Virgin and Christ are simplified adaptations from the centre panel of the Miraflores Triptych (Gemäldegalerie, Berlin) with other figures added around them. It seems that van der Weyden made a simplified version of the Miraflores Pietà to be kept in his workshop and which could be repeated and varied by assistants for different clients.
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