Annibale Carracci - Pietà

by Karima Knickmeyer


A woman and a man lying almost naked on her lap. Both resemble each other because of their younger age and fine facial features. Flowing fabrics surround the picture and two angels that seem quite amused. What will probably have happened in this, surrounded by deepest darkness, scene?

The blond curly angel at the right edge of the picture gives us a first clue. He carefully touches with his left index finger something that is pointed upwards. Smiling playfully, he looks directly at us and points to the crown of thorns in front of him, which is directly related to the martyrdom of Christ. And in front of it, another demonstration of his suffering, the nail wound in his foot, which seems to look at us almost in the same way. Moreover, the superimposed stone slabs in the background, the upper one of which is pushed back, remind us of Jesus' tomb. So we can conclude - it is a scene in which Jesus is mourned. But by whom? Should the female figure in this painting, looking so young, actually be his mother?


A clue to this is given by the title of the painting: Pietà. Whereby Pietà is not just any title, but also describes a type of image that was in the history of Christian art as high as few others. It is a devotional picture that shows the intimate mourning of Mary for her son Jesus. Thus, the situation seems to be clarified and yet - the picture seems very mannerly, measured against the enormous injuries of which the Bible story tells. Jesus' body, the aesthetic center and most important carrier of meaning of the picture, seems to be largely intact - almost healthy, of athletic build, with even skin and elegant facial features. If it were not for the lifeless gray hands and feet - one could almost think he is asleep. Maria's gestures are supposed to convey to us the emotions of a grieving mother, but they are not depicted in realistic drama either, they remain only hinted at. Mary appears calm, supporting her lifeless son with quiet elegance. Her youthful appearance conveys - she is sublime over time and the aging that comes with it.


The Italian Baroque painter Annibale Carracci did not intend to show us the scene in realistic, physical brutality, but wanted to ascertain grief as a spiritual experience. Christ's injuries and the physical pain associated with them are minimized. The suffering itself recedes into the background and the overcoming of it becomes the actual theme of the picture. Mary gives her Son into the hands of God and we are meant to recreate this, as aesthetically pleasing as possible.


Annibale Carracci - Pietà

Oil on canvas, 1598-1600, 158 x 151 cm , Museo e Gallerie Nazionali di Capodimonte in Naples