This piece is a diptych entitled Christ and the Mater Dolorosa. Let’s start with just a little vocabulary. A diptych (diptik/) is a piece of art that is in two pieces, typically hinged so it can open and close. This one was created by Hans Holbein the Younger (his father was also a famous artist), about 500 years ago.
The subjects are, obviously, Jesus and his mother, and the setting is Pilate’s palace. Jesus has been whipped (although not graphically here) and crowned with the painful thorns but has not yet started the terrible walk to His crucifixion.
Imagine all the hate and mockery and suffering that is still to come this day. Now can you imagine what it would be like to know all of that is still ahead of you? No wonder Jesus looks so very exhausted and sad!
Now imagine you are Mary. She also has a good idea of what is ahead for her beloved Son and she cannot do anything to stop it. In fact, the arrangement of this piece, with her on a completely different panel, just highlights her separation from Jesus on this day. “Mater Dolorosa” means Mother of Sorrows; a perfect description of a mother who is helpless to stop the unfair death of her beloved child.
For those who use this piece on a prayer table, I recommend folding it so it stands up (in the spirit of the diptych design), and possibly passing it around so all the children can spend a moment or two gazing into the tortured face of Someone who loves them so dearly.
Image Credit: Web Gallery of Art