Puzzle of

Two Pietàs



Two puzzles in one post: two works of art, same subject, same period, different effects.

This post arises from my recent trip to NYC. I walked from the French Consulate (74th & 5th) down Madison Ave to The Onassis Center Museum (52nd & 5th) in cold and biting wind. NYC residents/visitors take note: this museum is open on Monday and FREE. It’s a very nice though small exhibit, too, but NYers will not be surprised to learn that there was a fair crowd — seriously, FREE WARMTH on (practically) the Upper East Side.

In any event, the exhibition included this rather large icon (normally in the Hermitage) which was apparently based on a print of a Pietà by Bellini.

The first puzzle above is the Bellini Pietà; the second is the Tzafouris icon Pietà.

Fascinating differences, aren’t there? The icon is so much less emotional — Bellini’s Mary and Saint John are crushed with grief, while Nicholar Tzafouris (the icon painter) makes them more physically distant from the corpus, and in John’s case looking (apparently) at the viewer. The Bellini makes you feel like a voyeur, watching a mother’s last, devastated kiss to her child, John looking away red-eyed and slack-jawed. The Tzafouris, in contrast, is calm, Mary unbroken and upright, and John’s expression is almost … sarcastic, as if he knows you (the viewer) know this death isn’t for keeps.

The icon is also much less sensual than the painting — Saint John only holds Jesus’ body quite chastely, while in the Bellini his hand is snaking down Jesus’ six-pack with startling intimacy.

I really wonder what the print Tzafouris was working from looked like, and how much of his changes were due to his source, how much to a different sensibility on the part of himself and his patron.

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One Comment

  1. Suzycat
    Posted January 9, 2010 at 8:15 am | Permalink

    Alas, only the Bellini is showing!

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