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Carved statue of a woman holding a reclining man across her lap

A light-skinned woman sits holding a very thin, reclining light-skinned man in her lap. She wears a veil that drapes around her downcast face. Her expression is sorrowful, and her eyes focus on the man. His feet rest on the ground, and his back is against the woman’s knees. His head leans back from his neck. Red pigment indicating blood is on the right side of his face and on his chest. His hands are folded in his lap. The top hand has a bleeding hole in it. The man’s expression is pained, and his eyes are closed.

Gallery Text

This work invites the viewer to participate in the grief of the tragic event of Christ’s crucifixion by giving it an immediacy that makes it seem as if it happening before the beholder’s eyes. The gruesome details of Christ’s wounds highlight his suffering. His body is stiff with death and yet still bleeds: blood is visible around his crown, and drips from the wound in his side and from the nail holes in his hand. Although the sculpted Pietà was made famous by Michelangelo, it was a Northern type, and this one represents the intense emotional and physical expressionism typical of these kinds of German and Austrian sculptures. This work is hollowed out in the back, and was probably placed in a chapel, where only the front was visible.

Identification and Creation

Object Number
Unidentified Artist
Work Type
c. 1420
Persistent Link


Level 2, Room 2500, European Art, 13th–16th century, Art and Image in Europe
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Physical Descriptions

Polychromed poplar wood
92 x 72 x 29.2 cm (36 1/4 x 28 3/8 x 11 1/2 in.)


Recorded Ownership History
[Julius Böhler, Munich, Germany (by 1959), sold]; to Busch-Reisinger Museum, 1959.

Acquisition and Rights

Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Busch-Reisinger Museum, Purchase in memory of Eda K. Loeb
Accession Year
Object Number
European and American Art

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Publication History

  • "Accessions of American and Canadian Museums, Januay - March, 1960", Art Quarterly (1960), vol. 23, p. 182, repr. p. 184
  • "Recent Museum Exhibitions and Acquisitions", Art International (Lugano, Switzerland, September 25, 1960), vol. IV, no. 7, ill. p. 48
  • La Chronique des Arts, Supplément à la Gazette des Beaux-Arts, No. 1105, February 1961, repr. p. 22 as fig. 78
  • Charles L. Kuhn, German and Netherlandish Sculpture, 1280-1800, the Harvard Collections, Harvard University Press (Cambridge, MA, 1965), pp. 7, 12, cat. no. 8 pp. 51-52, repr. as pls. VI, VII
  • Anneliese Harding, German Sculpture in New England Museums, Goethe Institute (Boston, MA, 1972), p. 12, repr. p. 30 as fig. 27
  • Charles Werner Haxthausen, The Busch-Reisinger Museum, Harvard University, Abbeville Press (New York, NY, 1980), p. 106, repr. pp. 106-107
  • Anita F. Moskowitz, Gothic Sculpture in America, I: The New England Museums, ed. Dorothy W. Gillerman, Garland Publishing, Inc. (New York, 1989), no. 151 pp. 189-190, repr.
  • Melissa Katz and Robert A. Orsi, Divine mirrors : the Virgin Mary in the visual arts, ed. Melissa Katz, Oxford University Press (UK) (Oxford, England and New York, NY, 2001), p. 80, repr. p. 82 as fig. 79
  • Peter Nisbet and Joseph Koerner, The Busch-Reisinger Museum, Harvard University Art Museums, ed. Peter Nisbet, Harvard University Art Museums and Scala Publishers Ltd. (Cambridge, MA and London, England, 2007), p. 232

Exhibition History

  • 32Q: 2500 Renaissance, Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 11/16/2014 - 01/01/2050

Subjects and Contexts

  • Google Art Project

Verification Level

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