“Our Lady of Sorrows” from Biecz in a broader context
Our Lady of Sorrows presented in the collection of Małopolska’s Virtual Museums is an example of a 15th-century religious sculpture from the Małopolska region. The small size of this type of representations indicated that they were intended for viewing from close-up. The figure was not created for educational reasons, but strictly emotional ones. Sculpture was limited to the duplication of known and traditional images, not allowing for a more liberal interpretation of themes. The simplicity of the iconographic message, as well as the conventional and ritual nature of this depiction testified to the modest needs with regard to religion.
The sculpture of Our Lady of Sorrows from Biecz was created to meet the needs arising from the cult of Mary, which grew immensely in the 15th-century. It emphasized the role of the Mother of God as an intercessor, an intermediary between God and people. This theme began to appear extensively in painting and sculpture. On the wings of triptychs, entire series devoted to Mary were often placed. Marian poetry grew considerably in importance in medieval literature. Its role as the richest element of the poetic creation of the “dark ages” corresponded to the prevalence of this theme in contemporary sculpture. Both in literature, as well as in arts, Mary was represented lyrically, with a character full of naivety and spiritual devotion; she was also often accompanied by the sense of suffering and sadness.
A representation of Mary who, in a gesture of despair, folds her hands, raising her left elbow upwards and holding a vast coat with her right elbow, is depicted in the sculpture Our Lady of Sorrows from Biecz, presented on the website. Such a compositional arrangement was introduced by the practices of the Master of Triptychs devoted to the Holy Trinity from Krakow and was often copied by other, less talented artists, such as the creator of Our Lady from Biecz. Although the composition of Our Lady from Biecz repeats the arrangement used by the Master of Triptychs devoted to the Holy Trinity, as the art historian Dr Dobroslawa Horzela asserts, its style is distinguished by a more geometric and sharper modelling of the robes.
The Master of Triptychs devoted to the Holy Trinity, although bringing a significant influence to bear on the sculpture of the Małopolska region, still remains anonymous. He started working as early as around 1460. Although his studio was not the only woodcarving workshop at that time in Kraków, the works that were created in it are currently some of the most valued examples of sculpture from this period. His most famous work, which is also the source of the name of his studio, is the Triptych of the Holy Trinity from kaplica Świętokrzyska [the Świętokrzyski Chapel] on the Wawel Hill, a monument which is considerably valuable and important for the history of Polish art. All the works that were created in his studio were characterized by their high quality, attention to detail and variety in terms of the form. Their style and composition most likely have their origin in Austrian and Southern German art.
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