Master E. S., Man of Sorrows with Four Angels, single-sheet engraving, c. 1450-1467. Boston, MA, Museum of Fine Arts, 34.602.

by Taleah Collins

Figure 1. Anonymous Ferrarese Engravers, Man of Sorrows with the Virgin and St. John Surrounded by Instruments of the Passion, fifteenth century, engraving

Figure 1. Anonymous Ferrarese Engravers, Man of Sorrows with the Virgin and St. John Surrounded by Instruments of the Passion, fifteenth century, engraving

Figure 2. Anonymous, Christ as the Man of Sorrows with Angels, 15th century, woodcut

Figure 2. Anonymous, Christ as the Man of Sorrows with Angels, 15th century, woodcut

Figure 3. Master PM, The Man of Sorrows Between Two Angels, fifteenth century, engraving

Figure 3. Master PM,
The Man of Sorrows Between Two Angels, fifteenth century, engraving

Figure 4. Hans Burgkmair, Christ as the Man of Sorrows, 15th-16th century, woodcut

Figure 4. Hans Burgkmair, Christ as the Man of Sorrows, 15th-16th century, woodcut

 

In this engraving by Master E.S., one of many early printmakers known by his initials, which appear in the bottom right corner of the print, Christ as the Man of Sorrows is depicted surrounded by four angels bearing instruments of the Passion.[1] These objects symbolize the sufferings and tortures endured by Christ leading up to and during his death on the cross.[2] The angels, one in each corner of the engraving, form a frame that defines the space occupied by Christ in the center and focuses the viewer’s gaze on the frontal figure of Christ. He is the largest figure and is standing on rocky terrain with vegetation. His body turns slightly to the right while his head turns back to a frontal view. He places his right hand directly adjacent to the wound in his side under his right breast, and he raises his left hand to show where the nail pierced his palm. His upper body and his legs are exposed, and a simple loin cloth or sheet covers his loins and genitals. A large, oval, cruciform halo frames his head to further establish Christ as the most physically imposing and important figure in the composition.

The four angels, who direct our attention to the image of the Christ from the four corners of the print, bear the implements of the Passion that complement the body of the Crucified in the center.  The angel in the upper left carries the cross, in the upper right, the column to which Christ was bound and scourged.  The two angels on the bottom carry the whips with which he was scourged, the nails with which he was fastened to the cross, a sponge soaked with vinegar with which he was taunted on the cross, and the spear that pierced his side.  On his head, Christ wears the crown of thorns. The angels all wear downcast, tearful expressions of mourning and commiseration, while Christ gazes toward the viewer with a look of soulful but weary forbearance.

Master E.S.’s print is different from many other images of the same Man of Sorrows type, which perhaps most often portrays Christ as a half-length figure often rising from a sarcophagus, whose appearance betrays deep physical and emotional suffering.[3] Commonly in Man of Sorrows prints and paintings, Christ appears alone, and when he is accompanied, the composition ordinarily admits only a couple of angels, disciples, saints, or devotees, who generally are depicted supporting him, because he is weak from his ordeal. For example, an anonymous fifteenth century Italian engraving (Fig. 1) depicts the Man of Sorrows supported by two tiny angels in the company of the Virgin and St. John and instruments of the Passion. An anonymous fifteenth century woodcut (Fig. 2) depicts the half-length Christ supported by two large angels, who lift the crumpled body as though to display it to the viewer. A fifteenth century engraving by Master P.M. (Fig. 3) depicts two large angels who move to clothe or cover the body of a full-length Christ who rests on the edge of a tomb. Christ appears exhausted and his body posture suggests that it is taking all of strength to sit up. His left arm is being supported by one of the angels and appears limp. Some or all of the symbols of the passion are common iconographic additions to the Man of Sorrows subject, though many images include only the crown of thorns or, as in this last example, only the body of Christ itself. Hans Burgkmair’s Man of Sorrows woodcut (Fig. 4) depicts Christ standing without any support, however he is hunched over, barely able to stand and his face is filled with sadness and misery.

All of the previous pieces display Christ in a weakened state, and humanize so that the viewer can easily empathize with him.[4] He does not have the strength to stand on his own, and he has an exhausted facial expression. However, in the Maser E.S. print Christ is showing no signs of pain, standing proudly while displaying his wounds. If signs of his crucifixion were not present, it would not be obvious that this happened after the fact. It would not be clear that Christ had previously been murdered and then risen from the dead. He is depicted in a more traditional fashion, in which Christ is an all-powerful, omnipotent being who is unable to be harmed and is making an authoritative gesture. This depiction does not cause the same emotions as a traditional man of sorrows does. It’s difficult to feel pity for Christ because he does not appear to have been in a traumatic incident, that left him crippled and weak. The viewer wont empathize with Christ as it was intended.

By contrast to these preceding examples, in the Master E.S. piece, there are four angels, none of whom physically interacts with Christ, who appears as a solid and well-muscled if thin figure who is able to stand on his own does not vividly expressing any pain or weakness in his face or posture. Though he displays his wounds, his lack of emotion stands in stark distinction to usual pitiable and miserable appearance that gave rise to the name of the subject itself. The Man of Sorrows is supposed to cultivate the viewer’s empathy and emotional connection to Christ by showing his tears of pain, humanizing him and making him feel real and accessible.

In conclusion, Man of Sorrows Surrounded by Four Angels by Master E.S. is distinct from many other treatments of the same subject in its depiction of Christ as unusually vigorous, strong, and frankly, not sorrowful. This print does not feature the deeply humanized Christ, the Christ of suffering body and spirit who appeals to the emotions and sense of empathy of the viewer.  What this image lacks in emotion, it makes up for with symbolic meaning appealing not to the emotions but to the intellect.


[1] For more information on the Man of Sorrows and its characteristics, the following readings may be useful: Carl O. Schniewind, “The Man of Sorrows,” The Art Institute of Chicago Museum Studies (1948); Hanns Swarzenski, “A Painting of the Man of Sorrows,” Bulletin of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (1956).

[2] For more information on the representation of the Passion in art, see: Peter Parshall, “The Art of Memory and the Passion”, The Art Bulletin (1999).

[3] For more information on Master E.S, see: Keith P. F. Moxey, “Master E. S. and the Folly of Love,” Stichting voor Nederlandse Kunsthistorische Publicaties (1980).

[4] On the subject of empathy in late medieval religious art, see, Martha Wolfe, “Dieric Bouts, An Image of Compassion: Dieric Bouts’s ‘Sorrowing Madonna,’” The Art Institute of Chicago Museum Studies (1989).

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s