Pedro de Mena’s Polychrome Sculptures of Jesus and Mary | Met Collects

– In mid-17th century Spain,
Pedro de Mena created a whole series of
these extraordinary half-length figures
of the grieving virgin, the Mater Dolorosa,
and Christ as Man of Sorrows. Really spirit made flesh. They’re unbelievably realistic. Painters in Spain in the first
half of the 17th century were often employed to
polychrome, to paint sculpture. Only in the second half
of the century did a figure like Pedro de Mena take control
of the work from beginning to end,
sculpting it in all its parts, and then painting it himself. He’s doing things that painters
couldn’t do and wouldn’t do. And part of that is the way
it was made. These are figures that were
almost literally dressed, where the draperies were carved
separately, and added on, which is the way in which
we can have these deep, shadowy spaces within
the sculpture. They feel dressed. They feel, as a result,
more real. So that’s where the problem
comes– how the sculptor deals with that balancing act between something
that is profoundly real and something
that is spiritually charged. He introduces incredibly
realistic elements like the glass eyes,
real hair for the eyelashes, with resin tears pouring down
the Virgin’s cheeks. The blood of Christ across his
body is truly painful to see. Making realistic Christian art
has its perils, because it was important
that people understood that they were looking
at images, not at idols. So what Pedro de Mena has done
is, for example, bulk up the draperies to energize them, to give them a sense that
they’re really sculpted out of wood. And the gestures that these
figures make are grand, are rhetorical, are more
theatrical than anything that we would encounter
in real life. So this is not just real,
but it’s more than real. It’s hyper-real. He’s made these works
as works of art. At the same time it’s allowing
is into the presence of Christ– battered, bruised, tortured,
suffering, and the virgin who is expressing
her extraordinary grief with this great gesture
of compassion as she looks back towards her suffering son. These works have an immediacy
which is absolutely inescapable. The blood that trickles down
Christ’s forehead, his rope, the tears on the virgin’s cheek. It’s as if they were made
yesterday. It’s as if somehow
Christ and his mother have been parachuted
into our own day, and that we’re there with them,
understanding their grief, understanding their suffering. We have this extraordinary
opportunity now here at the Met
to encounter them almost as they were encountered
300 years ago, in 17th century Spain. (piano playing)


  • JEHluv84

    Wow, incredibly beautiful and moving. Fascinating lecture about the pieces. Glad I saw. The Met is easily one of thee highlights of NYC.

  • W Von Saijin

    Magnificent pieces and a great commentary but come on Met, if you are going to make a video let it reflect the professionalism of your establishment. Rule number one is get the sound right, it is off putting and difficult to understand, it sounded as if he was talking into a barrel. Difficult I know in a gallery setting but an over dub would have worked so much better with the excellent vision editing.

  • Margarita Mendez Marimon

    if you kew spanish people, you would find those grand gestures not theatrical, but the norm. Specially many years ago.
    Go and see festivities in Andalucia and you'll understand that spanish catholic churh has never had any problems with idolatry, as long is catholic.


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