Collection: Pieta

ARTIST: Museum Religious Art Classics


Artist: William Adolphe Bouguereau– c. 1876

The Pieta, 1876 by William Adolphe Bouguereau (1825−1905) is, at first sight, set firmly within the traditions of Christian religious imagery. However, even the most cursory glance reveals that this is far from being a standard interpretation of Mary and Christ the Redeemer. The body cradled in Mary’s arms leads the eye to her face and there it stops, transfixed. This is no acquiescent servant humbly offering her son. The red-rimmed eyes stare at us from the canvas. Their expression is not one of acceptance, but one of rage, incomprehension, and disbelief.

This mother asks why her only son has been torn away from her. This canvas is not a depiction of an abstract religious event; it is a scream. It is a depiction of the most intensely personal, devastating and incomprehensible event: the loss of a child – Bouguereau’s eldest son Georges.

When Georges died at the age of sixteen, on July 19, 1875, Bouguereau sank into a deep depression for six months. In order to escape this state, he resolved to create a work that would mark his sorrow and be a memorial to his dead son. The Pieta, 1876 was the result.