MEDIAEYAL SOURCES OF THE PIETA*
One of the most popular mediaeval representations we commonly cali the Pieta, using this
old Italian term for the Latin one — Pietas. This abbreviation s'ands f. r Domina TSostra de
Pietate — the name applied in the Middle Ages to the group of the Virgin seated with the dead
Son on Her lap.1
The term Pietas appears 23 times in the Bibie, describing there the acts of virtues. St Paul
refers to Christ as to magnum sacramentum Pietatis.2 Among divine virtues there is Pietas Dei,
Pietas Christi. The Virgin Mary was recognized as a perfect imitatress of the divine virtues,
of the Pietas too: Maria fuit imitatrix precipua Christi filii sui, quem secuta est affectu Pietatis.3
For this reason to Her numerous titles as early as the XIIth century the following ones were
added: Mater Pietatis, Plenitudo Pietatis, Templum Pietatis and, the most important to our
problem, Fons Pietatis.i In the middle of the XIVth century the latter was explained by Ray-
mondus Jordanus ( "j" ca 1380): Maria est fons pietatis erga miseros peccatores ad quos fluunt
misericordiae eius.5 Antonin of Florence ( f 1459) basing himself on St Thomas' statements,0
gave an even more precise definition of the title: Maria est fons pietatis sive ąuantum ad actum
miserationis et subreniendi pauperibus.7 Thus, the Pietas of the Virgin is at the same time the
act of obedience to God and the act of mercy, directed to those, longing for Her help. The
representation of Mary's humility was callcd in the Middle Ages Domina Nostra de Humilitate.6
The image of the Virgin with the body of Christ obtained the name of Domina Nostra de Pieta-
te — the fact, reflecting a conviction that this holding of the dead Son taken off tb.3 Cross was
the most perfect act of the virtue, called Pietas.
The present study intends to bring together texts of mediaeval authorities, which may throw
a new light on the problem of the Pieta. These statements testify to the belief held in the
1 I am much grateful to Professor Jan Białostocki for the happy opportunity of publishing the present study in the Bul-
lelin dc Musee National de Varsovie as well as for a!l his editorial help. Miss Paulina Ratkowska was kinu enougb to
translate into English my Polish text.
1. C. Du Cange, Glossarium ad ScriptoTes mediae et infimae latinilaiis, Parisiis, 1733: Pietas — imago Deiparae mortuum
filiiim gremio lenens, AA.SS., tomus II, Junii, p. 498 (dc S. Rosselina): ...tabulam depictam in qua est Pietas.
2. I Tim. 3:16.
3. Bernardin of Sicna (1380 — 1444), Sermo de Assumptione BMV, sce H. Maracci, Polyanthea Mariana, Coloniae Agrip-
pinac, 1728, p. 302. About this virtue of the Virgin Jacob of Voragine wrote in his Mariole: Mater Christi pia, quae
pielalem habuit in animo, ostendit in verbo, exhibuit in facto (senno 8).
4. See G.G. Meersseman, Der Hymnos AkatJiislos im Abcndland, Freiburg, 1 (1958), 11 (1960) s.v. pietas.
5. De B. Maria Virginc, part I, contemplat. 15.
6. Summa tlicologica, part. 4, tit. 15, cap. 1, § 2.
7. See L. Schiitz, Thomas-Lexikon, Paderborn, 1895, p. 598 — 599 s.v. pietas.
8. Such an inseription is found on the panel of Bartholomeo da Camogli (signed and dated 1346) in Palermo, Museo
Nazionale, see M. Meiss, "The Madonna of Humility", The Art Bullelin, XVIII, 1936, p. 435-464, fig. 2.; E.M. Vetter,
Mario im Rosenhag, Dusseldorf, 1956, p. 18-19, fig. 5.