Images of the Mater dolorosa, the weeping Mother of God mourning over her dead son, are plentiful art of Northern Europe during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries and often foreground the shedding of effluvia—blood, sweat, and tears—in their depictions of the holy pair. This paper explores the visual themes of tears, blood, eyes, and wounds as vital actors in images that require close, meditative, and affective looking and engagement. Such image formats include small-scale pairings of the Man of Sorrows and Mater dolorosa as well as books of hours. In these contexts, the holy fluids and their bodily sources expand the images' narratives and allow for greater exegesis of their devotional prompts. This phenomenon of expansion via effluvia occurs throughout Flemish devotional culture of this period; this paper uses Albrecht Bouts's diptych panels of the Mater dolorosa and Man of Sorrows, produced between 1490 and 1525, as the chief case study to encapsulate and ground those ideas while still acknowledging that they also apply beyond this image. Considering the widespread commonalities between blood and tears in visual and textual representations of the early modern Flemish devotional culture and the visual similarities between weeping eyes and bleeding wounds, this paper argues that Mary's eyes act as the external manifestations of her internal wounds and become locus of her Compassion for Christ. Furthermore, pictorial blood and tears function as metonymic devices that, like the Man of Sorrows type, invoke the entirety of the Passion and Compassion. The multivalent functions of the blood and tears in Bouts's diptych expand it beyond just a representation of Mary and her son and allow it to become a window and mirror into which viewers could look to engage in penance and communion with Mary and Christ.
College and Department
Humanities; Comparative Arts and Letters
BYU ScholarsArchive Citation
Bekker, Katharine Grace Davidson, "Blood, Tears, and Wounded Eyes: Holy Effluvia and the Compassion of the Virgin in Early Modern Flemish Visual and Devotional Culture" (2022). Theses and Dissertations. 9485.
Mater dolorosa, Man of Sorrows, Albrecht Bouts, Boussu Hours, Compassion of the Virgin, effluvia, blood, tears, eyes, wounds, weeping, bleeding, gendered devotion, soul formation, penitence, weeping, pictoriality, materiality, diptychs, book of hours, affective piety, vision, marginalia, devotional touch