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Enguerrand Quarton(?), Pietà of Villeneuve-lès-Avignon

Video transcript

we're in the Louvre in Paris looking at a large pietà that we think is by Edgar own Court all right this is attributed to that artist and that's because it resembles in style a handful of paintings that survived by him use an artist who worked in Provence in the South of France and what art historians have tried to do in this case is try to build an identity for an artist based on any records that exist and in this artists case we do have some contracts that exist although not for this painting and then we try to look at a painting stylistically and Link it to others once you have a couple of paintings that are firmly established that makes it easier stylistically to link them this is a pietà subject that is very popular especially in German Renaissance art stylistically it's linked to the artists of the Northern Renaissance we might think about Van Eyck or camp an the clarity is precision and the attention to the anatomy of the body it is attenuated it still has one foot in the medieval tradition but the way in which the bottom of Christ's ribcage protrudes the way in which the knees are so carefully rendered the feet are so carefully rendered this is an artist that is studying the body and it reminds me of Roger Van Dryden the artists of the Northern Renaissance and the way the figures are very close to us some art historians have described this as restrained emotionally there is emotional depth that Mary Magdalene she's crying we see her holding a jar that she anointed Christ's feet with us her attribute her head is bent over this is very reminiscent to me of the interest and emotion that we see in the works of Roger Vanderheiden the Virgin Mary who is in the center in a blue mantle is also beautifully depicted there's a kind of solemnity a kind of quiet sorrow I think that part of the restraint comes from the separation of the figures they are available to us but there is so much space between them that they are in some ways alone in their sorrow absolutely none of the figures reach out to want to another like we see in Northern Renaissance painting and so some art historians have described this work as having a kind of primitive quality in the way that it's rigid in its composition look at John over by Christ's head and the way that he's so gently lifting the crown of thorns and supporting Christ's head with his other hand but because the fingers are so delicately articulated it almost seems as if he's strumming the striations that come from Christ's halo as if it was a kind of celestial harp and then on the Left we see the donor in a position that's very typical kneeling in prayer but with an attention to the realism of his face that's a portrait of someone very specific but who's unidentified obviously a cleric and it's probably worth pointing out that the painting has layers of grime on it it was in a church and it's important to remember the churches before the 20th century were illuminated with candles and with oil lanterns and all of that produces soot which gets all over the surface of the painting and I imagine the blues and the greens and the Reds are really quite stunning underneath so we do have a sense of a city back in that left corner but there's that gold background that simultaneously denies a sense of space now you could interpret that city as the heavenly Jerusalem which would be a common subject to find in paintings like this in the background but there's noticeably a dome there and smaller domes which reminds me of Istanbul those are minarets and those minarets actually have crescent moons on the top of them this is clearly in Islamic context I use the modern word for the city Istanbul but that could be in the 15th century what was Constantinople which just a year or two before this paintings date was taken by the Ottomans and so this might be in some ways of contemporaneous account and at least one art historian has suggested that the theme of the pietá would be appropriate to the loss of that important Christian city pietà simply means the Virgin Mary holding the dead body of her son usually surrounded by the figures that we see here but it can be a really awkward composition we're a smaller woman holds the large body of a man it's a little strange in that way but the artist is dealt with that in a really lovely way by creating this arc of Christ's body that goes from the lower right to the lower left or vice versa and so there's a kind of nice sweeping curve so you don't notice that disjunction as much there is tremendous attention also to the folds of drapery that fall from the knee of the Virgin Mary that creates the inverted V under Christ's back look at the brilliance of those white folds that are revealed on the underside of the Virgin Mary's cloak and that attention to detail can be seen throughout the painting look for instance at the terrible scouring across Christ's body from the whips that he endured that torture is present even in this quiet moment of mourning it almost looks as though Mary's tears have dropped down onto the wound in Christ's side and mixed with his blood it's deeply moving we see tooling in the gold that identifies the figures in their halos which are decorative and stamped into that thin leaf gold background and we also see in the description around the top of the image on three sides that creates a kind of frame and in thinking about how this painting was made with that goldleaf background we see the red underneath that's red clay that's called bole and created a kind of soft spongy surface that the gold could be laid onto and helped the gold adhere to the surface it keeps the gold from having a kind of cold quality and it gives it a kind of a warm luster