Simeon’s prophecy “Yea, a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also” (Luke 2:35) is the basis for this depiction of the Mother of Sorrows. This devotional theme became popular in the late Middle Ages. Meditative reflection on the empathy of the Mother of God for her son is typical of the active culture of lay piety in the pre-Reformation period. Dürer’s mater dolorosa was originally surrounded by a U-shape of individual scenes: The Seven Sorrows of the Virgin, from the Circumcision of Christ to the Lamentation (now in Dresden). In that respect, the altarpiece, which was presumably disassembled before 1588, resembled Italian vita retables. The shell form at its upper part—a Renaissance ornament—which was trimmed posthumously, and the face of the Virgin, recalling Giovanni Bellini’s Madonnas, point to southern influences, perhaps in the wake of Dürer’s journey of 1494–95.


  • Title: The Virgin as Mother of Sorrows
  • Creator: Albrecht Dürer
  • Date Created: c. 1495-98
  • Physical Dimensions: 110 × 43.6 cm
  • Technique and Material: Pine
  • Provenance: Acquired from Benediktbeuern Abbey as part of secularization in 1803–4
  • Museum: Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen München, Alte Pinakothek
  • Inv.-No.: 709
  • ISIL-No.: DE-MUS-096417
  • External Link: https://www.pinakothek.de/besuch/alte-pinakothek
  • Copyright: Photo © Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen München / Sibylle Forster; Text © Renaissance and Reformation: German Art in the Age of Dürer and Cranach, A Cooperation of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, the Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden, and the Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen München, Catalogue of the Exhibition at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Nov 20, 2016 – March 26, 2017, Munich: Prestel, 2016; cat. no. 5 / Andreas Plackinger
  • Catalogue: https://prestelpublishing.randomhouse.de/book/Renaissance-and-Reformation/Stephanie-Buck/Prestel-com/e504919.rhd
  • Artist Dates: 1471 Nuremberg–1528 Nuremberg
  • Artist Biography: Dürer, who initially trained in his father’s goldsmith workshop, apprenticed to the painter Michael Wolgemut from 1486. His travels as a journeyman from 1490 to 1495 took him to the Upper Rhine and northern Italy, to which he returned a second time in 1505–7 (his stay in Venice). In 1520 he traveled to the Netherlands. Dürer’s prints, his most important source of income, made him famous throughout Europe, and the monogram AD became a seal of quality. His abundant production of paintings included altarpieces, portraits (especially of the patricians of Nuremberg), and self-portraits, among other works. Emperor Maximilian I entrusted important commissions to Dürer’s workshop, where Hans Baldung, the Beham brothers, and Hans Schäufelein were working. Dürer, who was in constant contact with important humanists, also wrote on issues of art theory, especially the theory of proportion. He was regarded as an Homo universalis (Renaissance man) already during his lifetime.

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