> What is unique, as far as I know, about the group is that the BVM is nursing
> the body of Christ on her left side in marked contrast to other Pietās of
> the period or subsequently, at least until Cindy Sherman's 1990 photo.
> Although Campin, Riemenchneider and Stoss, among others, portrayed the BVM
> carrying an infant Christ on her left arm I can find no Schmerzmutter doing
> a similar thing.
> Do any of the learned members of this list know of any other "left-handed"
> BVMs and do you have any idea why the supporting left arm is common for a
> Virgin and Child but not for a Vesperbild?
In late fourteenth and fifteenth century French and
Netherlandish painting, their are lots of Virgins holding
the child in the left arm (a look though Friedlander will
give you plenty, plus see Sluter's Virgin on the Portal
at the Chartreuse de Champmol, Dijon, and Fouquet's Melun
Virgin c. 1450, Antwerp). One of the reasons for this may
be the demands of picture making: many of these Virgins
once had donor portraits attached to them, and the
conventions for which side the man should be on dictated a
child facing towards the donor. In general, in the
Netherlands, in a diptych the man was placed on the
Virgin's left; if a triptych was planned with the man's
wife to be included, the man moves to the right, the wonman
is on the left. In general, in France, the convention seems
to have been for the man to be on the right whether or not
his wife is included. There are exceptions to both these
rules, but if you place the man on the right, the child, in
order to relate visually to him, will often be placed on
the Virgin's left arm.
As regards the Pieta with Christ on the left arm of the
Virgin, there is one example that struck me instantly, and
this is Rogier van der Weyden's Miraflores altarpiece. The
Pieta image is the central scene of three, the other two
being the nativity and Christ appearing to his mother. I
think that here the reason may be visual: Rogier wanted to
design an image that worked well in narrative terms. He is
prone to changing iconographical motifs where it suits his
sense of design: for example, in his Beaune Last
Judgement, he changed the position of the scales, with good
going up and bad going down (in the underdrawing it is the
other way round), to emphasize the upward movement of the
saved and the downward movement of the damned.
Interestingly, in all the copies of Rogier's Pieta from
the Miraflores altarpiece (and there are lots), the
composition is reversed, with Christ being held in the
Virgin's right arm. These copies are independent images
without other narrative scenes on either side.
My point, basically, is that right and left do not have to
carry meaning, and that the demands of picture making can
override an iconographical need.
Good luck with the research, and enjoy Leuven! (by the way,
Rogier's most famous work, the Prado Descent from the
Cross, was designed for a chapel in Leuven)
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