This Man of Sorrows from 1532 is a major work in the oeuvre of Maarten van Heemskerck, who was 34 years old when he painted it. The theme of the resurrected Christ showing his fatal wounds, in this case in the presence of two angels, was a very common one in the late Middle Ages and the Renaissance. Over Jesus' head, a plaque bears an inscription which is a quote from the gospel of St John: "ECCE REX VESTER" ("Behold thy King"), with below that the painter's monogram (MH) and the year in which he painted this panel. This is a highly compact and yet monumental work.
The subject of the "man of sorrows" lends itself particularly well to an exercise in dramatic painterly expression. And this drama, in turn, is a means of appealing to the emotions of the spectators and of helping them to share in the suffering of Christ. In this panel, van Heemskerck has succeeded in this wonderfully well, thanks to the spectacular colours in the background, the complex torsions, the foreshortening used for Christ's powerful and extremely three-dimensionally rendered body, and the great contrasts between light and dark and between a full foreground and an empty background. These are all characteristics of Mannerism.
By setting this scene in heaven, Maarten van Heemskerck introduces a novel element in this old theme. Usually, Christ is depicted showing his wounds near his tomb. It would seem that the painter has relocated the scene to turn it into a prefiguration of Christ's triumphant Ascension. Nor are the angels mourning Jesus, as is customary. Instead, they are assisting him.A late medieval painting on the same theme, done a hundred years earlier, is the Man of Sorrows by a follower of the Master of Flémalle.
SizeH: 84,2 cm
MediumOil on panel