Empathy through Mimicry

"You really tap into the emotion of what these people are going through by taking on their poses."—Jennifer Morris, actor

Pietà with Donors, ca. 1515. French. Limestone, traces of polychromy. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Gift of J. Pierpont Morgan, 1916 (16.31.1). Learn more about this object.

How does the sculpted body communicate? Hear from Met experts, leading authorities, and rising stars, each with a unique viewpoint on the language of gesture, facial expression, and pose.

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Peter Barnet: It's a moment that is not described in the Bible, where the dead body of Christ has been taken down from the cross and laid across his mother's lap. She has a kind of sorrowful expression on her face, and she's crossed her arms in a gesture that might suggest that she's trying to contain herself or stifle her grief.

Griffith Mann: One of the things that's really important about gesture throughout the Middle Ages is that works of art often are the primary vehicles for storytelling. So gesture is often laden with all kinds of communicative and emotional significance.

Narrator: Two actors experimented with mimicking the poses.

Jennifer Morris: You really tap into the emotion of what these people are going through by taking on their pose because you're really studying it and thinking about it in a greater context. I mean, obviously there's a real maternal feeling that happened. I think just having someone in your lap and their head on your lap and their eyes closed—it did feel sort of maternal.

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