2003 | 3 | 19-27
Article title

SANDSTONE PIETA FROM THE RIGA ST. JAMES' CHURCH. ORIGINS, ICONOGRAPHY AND STYLE (Smilsakmens Pieta no Rigas Sv. Jekaba baznicas. Izcelsme, ikonografija un stils)

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It is a surprising and unbelievable fact that the sandstone Pieta of so high artistic value that might feature in the permanent exposition of any museum of the world so far has gone unnoticed by both Latvian and foreign art historians. The sadly beautiful Virgin holding her son in her lap demonstrates God's final farewell to the earthly life. It is a common subject of medieval art that is distinguished by the unique quality of artistic execution. It stands out in comparison with the mean scope of medieval sculpture in the Eastern Baltic region and Latvia in particular; it is also the only stone example in the sculpture collection of the Latvian History Museum. Looking for origins of the figural group one has to stop at the Mater Dolorosa Church in Riga. A prospect drawn by Johann Christoph Brotze in 1791 depicts the choir apse of the church still oriented towards the Castle Square. There was a big open niche at the very centre of the apse where the brightly coloured Virgin, surrounded by a heavy falling cloth, was standing on a high pedestal with Christ in her lap. Outlines of the sculptural group clearly point to the Pieta from the Latvian History Museum. Following J. C. Brotze's suggestion one has to continue the search in the Riga St. James' Church. The heightened religious feelings favoured building of a chapel in this church in 1404. The sandstone Pieta is dated by the same period. The artwork itself is not mentioned in written sources, so to detect the place of its origin which is the aim of this paper, one has to take up stylistic analysis. A detailed analysis proves that the Riga St. James' Church was decorated with a very subtle and emotionally charged work of art. Some concluding remarks: the origins of the sandstone Pieta are to be found not in the Mater Dolorosa Church but in the medieval St. James' Church. This work is an imported one because there are no similar pieces in the Eastern Baltic region, the group is quite small and a cavity at its back side might ease transportation. The work belongs to the Schoner Stil horizontal versions of Pieta that flourished in Central Europe around 1400 when several centres of origin coexisted in different areas.
  • Elita Grosmane, Institute of Art History of the Latvian Academy of Art, Akademijas laukums 1-160, Riga LV-1050, Latvia
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