William-Adolphe Bouguereau: Pietà (1876)

(Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas, Texas, USA)

The subject of this painting is called a Pietà, which is a depiction of the virgin Mary with the dead body of Jesus. Usually Mary is shown holding the body of Jesus like the famous Pietà of Michelangelo in Saint Peter's church in Rome. The French painter William-Adolphe Bouguereau shows a somewhat different version of a pietá. Mary has a black robe (sign of mourning) and holds the body of Jesus close to her. In the foreground you can see the crown of thorns used to mock him during the Crucifixion, together with a white cloth and pitcher of water. The cloth and pitcher represent the purity of the soul of Jesus. Surrounding Mary and Jesus are eight angels. The angels are clad in the colors of a rainbow. This is reference to the rainbow which Noah and his family saw after the great flood. The rainbow which Noah saw was a sign from God that the flood was over and the world could be born anew. In this painting the rainbow of angels represent the end of suffering and the beginning of renewal: with the sacrifice of Jesus complete the human soul can be born anew and ascend to God after death. Notice also the swollen red eyes of Mary. Mary is looking out and up as if she accuses both the heavens and the earth for the pain both she and her son have suffered. Bouguereau made this painting after the death of eldest son, George. Painting from 1876.

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