Good Friday: the Pietà


We continue the Easter Triduum by moving on to Good Friday. According to the Gospels, after being arrested the night before, Friday was easily the most tragic day for Jesus: he is taken to Pilate, the Roman governor by which he is examined; when Pilate leaves the decision on his fate to the crowd, the people choose to save Barabbas, a criminal, instead of Jesus. Jesus is thus finally crucified on Mount Calvary. During the three hours of his crucifixion, and until his death on the cross, it is reported that the sky went almost completely dark even though it was actually around noon: this event is referred to as "Crucifixion darkness".

The sorrowful but somehow sweet illumination above depicts a case of Crucifixion darkness used in a manuscript. The other theme of the illumination is the Pietà ("pity" in Italian), a recurrent subject in Christian art portraying the Virgin Mary cradling Jesus' dead body once he was deposed from the Cross. Although somewhat common in paintings and illuminations, the theme of the Pietà was most often found in sculpture, the prime example of which being Michelangelo's famous Pietà housed in St. Peter's Basilica, Vatican City.

"Pietà", illumination from a Book of Hours, Use of Paris, ms. Widener 8, f. 99v, 1499, Rare Book Department, Free Library of Philadelphia.

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