Sorrow's Universal Language

"Mary's hands crossed over her heart . . . this same gesture is found in American Sign Language."—Emmanuel von Schack, educator and ASL user

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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Emmanuel von Schack: I am standing in front of the Pietà with Donors, sculpted during the Medieval period. The first gesture that catches my eye is Mary's hands crossed over her heart, clearly representing her suffering. This same gesture is found in American Sign Language, or ASL. When a sad experience is shared, it is an appropriate response, as you see here. That is the kind of emotional response I see in Mary.

Eyes are an important guide to visual communication. ASL users rely on eye gaze for visual cues. Thanks to the eyes of both kneeling figures gazing directly toward the center, immediately, my eye is drawn to the body of Jesus, and then up to Mary.

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