Our Lady of Sorrows is the name by which the Virgin Mary is referred to in relation to sorrows in her life. As Mater Dolorosa, it is also a key subject for Marian art in the Catholic Church.
The feast of Our Lady of Sorrows is liturgically celebrated every September 15th: the Seven Sorrows of Mary are a popular Roman Catholic devotion. In common religious Catholic imagery, the Virgin Mary is portrayed in a sorrowful and lacrimating affect, with seven long knives or daggers piercing her heart, often bleeding.
The Seven Sorrows are events in the life of the Blessed Virgin Mary that are a popular devotion and are frequently depicted in art:
- the prophecy of Simeon;
- the flight into Egypt;
- the loss of the Child Jesus in the Temple of Jerusalem;
- Mary’s meeting Jesus on the Via Dolorosa;
- the crucifixion of Jesus on Mount Calvary;
- the piercing of the Side of Jesus with a spear, and his descent from the Cross;
- the burial of Jesus by Joseph of Arimathea.
Virgin Mary in Catholic Art
The Blessed Virgin Mary has been one of the major subjects of Italian Catholic Art for centuries. Numerous pieces of Marian art in the Catholic Church covering a range of topics have been produced, from masters such as Michelangelo and Botticelli to works made by unknown peasant artisans.
The body of teachings that constitute Roman Catholic Mariology consist of four basic Marian dogmas: Perpetual virginity, Mother of God, Immaculate conception and Assumption into Heaven, derived from Biblical scripture, the writings of the Church Fathers, and the traditions of the Church. Other influences on Marian art have been the Feast days of the Church, Marian apparitions, writings of the saints and popular devotions such as the rosary, the Stations of the Cross, or total consecration, and also papal initiatives, and Marian papal encyclicals and Apostolic Letters.
Each of these fundamental Mariological beliefs has given rise to Roman Catholic Marian art that has become part of Mariology, by emphasizing Marian veneration, being celebrated in specific Marian feasts, or becoming part of key Roman Catholic Marian churches.
The Pietà: one of Virgin Mary’s sorrows made by Michelangelo.
A “pietà” is a subject in Christian art depicting the Virgin Mary cradling the dead body of Jesus, most often found in sculpture.
A famous example by Michelangelo was carved from a block of marble and is located in St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican City. The Pietà with the Virgin Mary is also unique among Michelangelo’s sculptures, because it was the only one he ever signed.
The structure is pyramidal, and the vertex coincides with Mary’s head. The statue widens progressively down the drapery of Mary’s dress, to the base, the rock of Golgotha. The figures are quite out of proportion, owing to the difficulty of depicting a fully-grown man cradled full-length in a woman’s lap. Much of Mary’s body is concealed by her monumental drapery, and the relationship of the figures appears quite natural. Michelangelo’s interpretation of the Pietà was far different from those previously created by other artists, as he sculpted a young and beautiful Mary rather than an older woman around 50 years of age.
The marks of the Crucifixion are limited to very small nail marks and an indication of the wound in Jesus’ side.
Christ’s face does not reveal signs of the Passion. Michelangelo did not want his version of the Pietà to represent death, but rather to show the “religious vision of abandonment and a serene face of the Son.