Geertgen tot Sint Jans ca. 1460/65 – ca. 1488/93

Man of sorrows

oil on panel (25 × 24 cm) — after 1486 Museum Museum Catharijneconvent, Utrecht

Geertgen tot Sint Jans biography

This work is linked to Isaiah 53:3

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This panel was probably once the left wing of a diptych. The other panel is no longer known.

The painting shows several subjects from the Passion. Christ with the crown of thorns, standing in the grave, with the wound in his chest. The spear and the stick with the spunge are held by an angel, in the background. In the top right are the instruments that were used to torture Jesus, including the pillar. The angel on the left is holding the nails that were used for the crucifixion.

The persons in the foreground are Mary Magdalene (praying), and the mourning Mary and John the Evangelist.

By placing the figures close to each other and not showing them in full, Geertgen made an intimate composition out of the multitude of subjects. Tomb and cross give structure to the image. The golden background creates a warm glow.

Geertgen may have had the intention to depict the suffering of Christ as a dramatic event. If so, he certainly achieved his goal. Art historians consider the panel to be one of Geertgen's five main works, among highlights such as John the Baptist in the wilderness.

The title Man of Sorrows is derived from Isaiah 53:3-4, a passage that is often seen as predicting the coming of the Messiah. It was a very popular subject in the 15th century.

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