The Art of Empathy: The Mother of Sorrows in Northern Renaissance Art and Devotion


The Art of Empathy: The Mother of Sorrows in Northern Renaissance Art and Devotion



The painting is one of only five known works attributed to an anonymous fifteenth-century Nuremberg artist known as the Master of the Stötteritz Altarpiece after his most significant surviving work: an altarpiece in a church outside Leipzig in Germany. This small panel – dating to c. 1470 and only 9 inches high – is now in the collection of the Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens in Jacksonville, Florida. When it entered the collection in 1984, it was declared the “most important discovery in early German painting [in decades]” by art historian Colin Eisler (Professor at the Institute of Fine Arts, New York University).

Prior to its acquisition, the painting was unknown to art history and the fact that it survives at all is remarkable. Painted in oil with gilding on a wooden panel, it has always been extremely vulnerable; when it was rediscovered, there was a large crack through the wooden support. Although similar paintings of the Virgin Mary were often paired with images of Christ, author David S. Areford argues that the Cummer Mother of Sorrows was probably designed as an independent devotional image based on Byzantine models.

Areford explores how Mary’s intense expression of emotion is framed by other realistic details of her clothing, hair, and gesturing hands. These details help prompt a multi-sensory response that completely involves the viewer, who becomes a participant in recreating the scene of suffering through a process of empathic connection with the figure. Referencing recent explorations of empathy (from the scientific to the political), the catalogue also explores art of subsequent centuries, from Picasso’s Weeping Woman (1937) to a recent video installation by Rineke Dijkstra.





Publication Date



Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens; D Giles Ltd


Jacksonville [Florida]; London


empathy in art, northern Renaissance art, Master of the Stötteritz Altarpiece, Nuremberg artists


Ancient, Medieval, Renaissance and Baroque Art and Architecture | Theory and Criticism


Published to accompany an exhibition held at the Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens, Jacksonville, Florida, from November 26, 2013 to February 16, 2014.

The Art of Empathy: The Mother of Sorrows in Northern Renaissance Art and Devotion