News | Published: Wed 30 Jul 2014
Mesmerisingly beautiful and just under life size at 33.6cm tall, the Virgin of Sorrows’ gently furrowed brows, natural flesh tones, glass eyes and teardrops and eyelashes made from human hair, still elicit a powerful response from the viewer 350 years after it was made. It was most likely created for the private chapel, study or bedchamber of a devout patron, and would almost certainly have been protected under a glass dome and originally paired with a similarly-sized bust of the Ecce Homo (Christ as the Man of Sorrows).
The Virgin of Sorrows is on show in the Museum’s Spanish and Flemish Gallery, alongside other masterpieces by contemporary Baroque sculptors and painters.
The Spanish Golden Age, early 16th to late 17th century, was a period of incredible artistic and economic output for Spain, seeing the nation rise to one of the greatest empires the world has ever seen. From the conquest of the New World, to the writing of Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes, this period changed the course of world politics and culture. The Fitzwilliam Museum has a small collection of Spanish art, including two works by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, but the more emotive Catholic works, exemplified by painted wood sculpture are extremely rare in British collections. Taste and religion played their part in this: indeed, most of de Mena’s sculptures remain in the churches, monasteries and convents for which they were made.
The Fitzwilliam Museum has already raised a substantial amount towards the work (including £30,000 from the Art Fund and £10,000 from The Henry Moore Foundation) but needs to secure a further £85,000 by the end of September 2014 in order to acquire the remarkable bust.
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Other Spanish Golden Age initiatives within the University of Cambridge include an ongoing funding campaign to establish a postgraduate scholarship post in the period at Clare College. The campaign is in the memory of Dr Anthony Close who was a member of the University’s department of Spanish and Portuguese, and one of the world's leading experts on Cervantes, and his masterpiece, Don Quixote.