The tormented pain of the “Compianto sul Cristo morto” (“Mourning over the dead Christ”) is the masterpiece of Italian Early Renaissance sculptor, Niccolò dell’Arca. The pain of Jesus’s friends, as he is taken down from the cross, could not have been expressed with more intense pathos. Sorrow digs into their faces, forever frozen in the spasm of desperation.
The terracotta group, created between 1463 and 1490, is displayed in the Sanctuary of Santa Maria della Vita, in Bologna. Among the six life-size figures that stand around the body of Jesus, John quietly cries, his chin resting on the palm of his hand, while Mary holds her hands together, her head tilted in grief to one side.
She seems to speak the words Jacopone da Todi (1233-1306) wrote for her in his ‘lauda’ (song of praise) “Donna de Paradiso” (“Woman of Heaven”): “O figlio, figlio, figlio, / figlio, amoroso giglio! / Figlio, chi dà consiglio / al cor me’ angustïato? / Figlio occhi iocundi, / figlio, co’ non respundi? / Figlio, perché t’ascundi / al petto o’ sì lattato?” (Oh son, son, son, / son, lily of love! / Son, who will ever comfort / my grieving heart? / Happy-eyed son, / son, why won’t you answer? / Son, why do you hide from / the breast that once nursed you?”).
Only a miracle can break the spell of such pain. And it will, three days later, surpassing even the most daring imagination.