Stefania Mason on ‘Art and Faith in the Venetian World. Venerating Christ as Man of Sorrows’

A contribution by

Stefania Mason
A native Venetian, Stefania Mason formerly taught Art History at the University of Udine (Italy) where she was coordinator for two programs, the dottorato di ricerca and the specializzazione in storia dell’arte. Her own scholarly work focuses principally on Venetian painting and drawing, on the relationship between art, devotion, and patronage, and on collecting in Venice from the 1400s to the 1600s.

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Art and Faith in the Venetian World
Venerating Christ as the Man of Sorrows

By Catherine Puglisi and William Barcham


Book_Mockup_1white.pngArt and Faith in Venice is the first study of the Man of Sorrows to explore the image in one cultural world, the Venetian State and her dominions. Imbued with deep spiritual and metaphorical significance, the figure of the suffering Christ suspended between life and death pervaded late-Medieval and Renaissance Europe for more than three centuries, and assumed in Venice an especially rich and long life. Puglisi and Barcham’s impressive and solidly researched book offers a biography of the Venetian Man of Sorrows, tracing the possible modes of its transmission from the Byzantine East ca. 1275-1290, its beginnings in Venice, its unique Venetian nomenclature, and its transformations over the duration of the Venetian Republic. 

Opening a sweeping panorama encompassing Venice and its land and maritime empire, the authors assemble a wealth of diverse objects to examine the expressive power of the theme in manuscript illuminations, sculpted reliefs, painted panels and canvases, monumental altarpieces and tombs, and liturgical furnishings. Individual chapters in the book approach the subject chronologically, so as to anchor the iconographic study within both local and wider historical and cultural events. Innovative approaches to the image receive close analysis, as in the paintings of, for example, Paolo Veneziano, Giovanni Bellini, Titian, Tintoretto and Paolo Veronese, but lesser known painters and sculptors and many anonymous artisans are also given attention.  Barcham and Puglisi argue for the malleability of the figure, explaining how its meaning shifted subtly depending on context and function. When relevant, links are drawn between the image and mendicant spirituality, specific prayers and devotions, new entities like the Monte di Pietà and Holy Sacrament confraternities, and in relation to larger religious and political developments within Italy. This impressive and pioneering study demonstrates how the figure played a vital and prominent role in the Serenissima, from its offical display in San Marco and the Ducal Palace to its presence on the altars of parish churches in the capital and its territories where the faithful found solace and the promise of redemption in their sorrowful Savior.  The book makes a fundamental contribution to our understanding of the Man of Sorrows, an enduring image in one of the richest and most fertile of European artistic traditions.

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