The Man of Sorrows

Date: last quarter 14th century

Culture: Italian

Medium: Champlevé enamel, gilded copper

Dimensions: Overall: 4 1/8 x 3 1/8 x 1/16 in. (10.4 x 8 x 0.2 cm)

Classification: Enamels-Champlevé

Credit Line: Gift of Georges Seligmann, in memory of his wife, Edna, his father, Simon Seligmann, and his brother, René, 1982

Accession Number: 1982.480


The gilded image of Jesus appears, as in a vision, above his tomb. To either side are the sponge soaked with vinegar that was offered to him during his Crucifixion and the lance that caused the wound in his side. Both the function and the significance of this type of image, known as the Man of Sorrows and adapted from Byzantine examples from the thirteenth century and later, are clarified in this small enameled plaque. Here it is not a single image of Jesus, nor is it an image of Jesus accompanied by his mourning contemporaries, but rather, anachronistically, a Dominican friar and a hooded figure who contemplate Christ's suffering. The hooded figure, his face shrouded, is a flagellant. He would have used the scourge hanging from his arm to whip himself as part of his devotion. Baring his back to self-flagellation, he would both contemplate Jesus' image and personally experience a degree of his Savior's suffering. The inscription at the bottom of the plaque suggests that this is likely a member of a confraternity linked with Saint Dominic; a member of that saint's order appears opposite the flagellant lay brother in the manner of a confessor or spiritual adviser.

The small size of the plaque and the use of gold against a dark ground recall contemporary images of the Man of Sorrows in verre églomisé set into frames and intended for private contemplation. A similar use can be inferred for this piece.