The Art of Empathy

The Mother of Sorrows in Northern Renaissance Art and Devotion

art-of-empathy

The Art of Empathy: The Mother of Sorrows in Northern Renaissance Art and Devotion

By David S. Areford
(London: D Giles Ltd, in association with the Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens, 2013), 64 pp., 50 color illustrations, $17.95 (paperback), copies may be ordered through www.gilesltd.com.

Reviewed by Megan Sauter


The grief on her face is evident: red, swollen eyes, tear-stained cheeks and an intense, unwavering gaze. At first glance, the viewer would know that this woman is in distress. The reason behind her grief becomes immediately clear to anyone familiar with Renaissance art. The subject of Mother of Sorrows, by the 15th-century painter known as the Master of the Stötteritz Altarpiece, is Mary the mother of Jesus. This image is meant to capture and convey her intense grief upon seeing Jesus crucified.

The Art of Empathy: The Mother of Sorrows in Northern Renaissance Art and Devotion by David S. Areford examines this painting in detail. Dated to 1470, the oil painting with gilding on a wood panel measures just 8.75 by 6.5 inches. It currently resides in the Cummer Museum in Jacksonville, Florida and, as one of the few surviving works by the Master of the Stötteritz Altarpiece, was declared the “most important discovery in early German painting [in decades]” by art historian Colin Eisler of New York University.

Not only does the catalog explore the technique used to create and conserve this extraordinary painting, but it also delves into its historical context, comparing it to other pieces of art and exploring how the original viewers would have responded. Areford argues that the painter aimed to evoke one main emotion: empathy. Thus, the catalog also includes an examination of why we empathize and the importance of empathy for a medieval audience.

Posted in Reviews.

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