For many years, the beauty of the Pieta of Lubiaz remained a distant mystery to me until last week, when I saw it in person at the National Museum in Warsaw. The iconic imagery of the pieta has always fascinated me because it captures a universally recognizable moment of suffering and grief- a grief experienced out of love. It is a concept that surpasses the literal depiction of Mary and Jesus and encompasses the broader human experience. We all experience grief within our lifetimes. Within my own work, I often try to strip the recognizable features of specific individuals to leave behind depictions of an emotion they represent.
The pieta as an iconic expression of Christian religious art first appeared in the early 1300s in Germany and later spread to France and across Europe. Probably the most famous version is Michelangelo’s Pieta located in St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City. Michelangelo sculpted the figures in an awe-inspiring realistic, natural beauty emblematic of the Renaissance in stark contrast to the highly stylized perspective-bending figures of medieval art.
The exaggerated details of the Pietà of Lubiąż give the sculpture a grotesque beauty where stylized motifs reveal a certain symbolism of suffering. Raised sets of blood drops appear on the skin like ornaments of pain, and protruding emaciated ribs show the famished body wasted to exertion.
The pieta was created around 1370 and originated from a Cistercian church in a village in south-western Poland- Lubiaz/Leubus. Little is known of the artist who made it and it has been housed at the National Museum in Warsaw since 1945. The artist has left behind their masterful vision in anonymity.