Food For Your Soul
"Mater Dolorosa" (Sorrowful Mother)
This composition by Carlo Dolci (1616-1686) follows the traditional iconography of many paintings of the Virgin Mary lamenting the fate of her son, Jesus Christ. Dolci’s “Mater Dolorosa,” painted around 1655, is known throughout the civilized world because of its many reproductions. The artist worked exclusively on small canvases for the individual. The original of this painting, also known as “Madonna del Dito” (of the thumb), measures approximately 32 inches x 26 inches and is an example of an icon intended for private devotion. Such works constituted a significant aspect of painting in Catholic countries following the Protestant Reformation and the Council of Trent.
The reproduction in the Sisters of Charity collection is larger than the original and differs from the original in which the Virgin’s eyes are downcast rather than looking out at the viewer (see below). Carlo Dolci is celebrated for the soft, gentle and tender expressions on his faces, the transparency of his color, the excellent management of chiaroscuro (the treatment of light and shade), and the careful ivory-like finish of his paintings.
Born in Florence, Italy, Dolci was the grandson of a painter. He attracted attention for the excellence of his work from the time he was only 11 years old. He is considered the last of the Florentine School and the last real “master of the Renaissance.” Devoting his life to art, Dolci was kept busy filling commissions he received in Florence, a city he seldom left. He was one of the few masters whose pictures were eagerly sought by his countrymen during his lifetime. He was very pious and painted religious works exclusively. It is recorded that in every Passion Week he painted a picture of the Savior. He limited his brush to heads – usually of Christ and the Virgin. His masterpiece (1646), “St. Andrew praying before his Crucifixion” (Pitti Gallery, Florence), is one of his few paintings where his figures are life-size.