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Mater Dolorosa

Mater Dolorosa

Dieric Bouts (1420-1474). The Art Institute of Chicago – Chicago. 1470-1475.

The ‘Mater Dolorosa’ were pictures of the Virgin Mary, which showed the deep pain and despair on the fate of the Virgin’s son. Dieric Bouts made a picture of the Sorrowing Madonna that is an example of devotional art. The Virgin Mary is painted as a graceful, devote lady who has taken the austere habits of a woman dedicated to prayers. She is a young woman. Her hair is entirely covered so that no detail might distract our view from the intense face. She wears the blue cloak, the maphorion, over the very white headdress. Mary is idealised to an inner-turned woman who has no interest but for her own private reflections on the passion of Jesus and on her own feelings. She remains isolated in her pain and joins her hands in a prayer to God so that he indeed might save Jesus. A single teardrop shows the internal pain. Yet, the face expresses pride and determination. The picture is a portrait of a strong woman, who in a very dignified way accepts the fate that was ordained. This little panel is an exquisite icon that was much admired and copied.

Dieric Bouts was a painter of Brabant. He was born around 1410 to 1420 in Haarlem of Holland, but he worked in the town of Leuven near Brussels. Leuven was the town in which was founded the first university of the Southern Netherlands. Bouts died there in 1475. He was very much a Flemish Primitive painter. He worked in the International Gothic style. His figures are almost always depicted as remaining impassible, cool and detached of the scene. Yet his compositions prove a forceful character and are always profoundly felt, so that they never let the viewer impassible. The ‘Sorrowing Madonna’ was the left panel of a diptych, of which the right panel probably contained a representation of the suffering of Jesus. This right panel is lost S2 .

Bouts’ ‘Mater Dolorosa’ is an example of the sincerely devotional art of Flanders and Brabant in the fifteenth century. Admire the profound inner spirituality expressed by Bouts in this portrait. Have we not lost in our modern art such expression of man’s highest aspirations and most respectful emotions? Our modern contemporary paintings seem exhausted after endless abstract combinations and their ambitious use of technology. Dieric Bouts found a way to represent transcendence of human feelings that remain gripping and fascinating even after these many centuries.

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