It was not stone anymore, but wood that Gothic style favoured – influenced by the idea of monastic poverty and for purely aesthetic reasons. Relatively inexpensive, portable objects were used for a wide promotion of both new stylistic currents and tendencies in spiritual life expressed therein.
Around the year 1300, wood sculptures emerged, originating from the spirit of monastic mysticism and aiming at fostering piety and encouraging prayer. The most typical works of this kind, known as devotional depictions, include Pietà (from the Latin pietas – devout love) – the image of Mary, the Mother of God, holding the dead body of her Son on her lap.
These sculptures are liberated from the typically Romanesque close connections with portals, window alcoves or vaulting systems. We know about their location under baldachins or on pedestals and near columns. And this is how we should imagine the spatial context of the oldest wooden sculpture in the collections of the National Museum – a rounded Pietà from the hospital for the poor in Biecz (c. 1340).
Pietà represents the type of work depicting a child-like small figure of Christ. It was thought that in such depictions we look at Christ as if through the eyes of Mary, who in the body of her dead Son still sees the body of her baby Child, once nestled to her chest. It is as if we were witnessing the synthesis of the history of salvation – from Bethlehem to Golgotha.
Dr Wojciech Marcinkowski – senior curator in the Department of Polish Painting and Sculpture till 1764, Gothic Art researcher.
Pietà on display in the Gallery ‘Art of Old Poland. 12th – 18th Centuries’ in the Bishop Erazm Ciołek Palace.