When I got to view this wood engraving by German artist Martin Schongauer at the Met up close recently I was at first overwhelmed by the cramped chaos and immense detail that fills the page. Luckily, I got to spend some time with the print, looking closer at the details that are easily missed if one doesn’t slow down to take them in. After running my eyes over the scene multiple times I finally found Mary, almost disguised in the crowd, looking down at her son being tortured as a man nearby heckles her. Upon first finding this smaller scene I noticed my own increasing level of discomfort, feeling the hopelessness of this dark, twisted segment, and I wondered why Schongauer chose to create such a grotesque image.
Then I found an even smaller detail- a detail of hope within a narrative consumed by despair– Mary’s open hand. Open, willing to accept the Father’s will for her son that would lead to humanity’s salvation. This tiny gesture blends in so well with the rest of the engraving that you almost miss it if you aren’t looking closely. Mary gazes at her son with sorrow and anguish, yet is open to the present situation with humility and gentleness.
May our hands conform to Mary’s as we enter into Christ’s Passion this weekend. May our hearts be formed to Mary’s in the sacrifices of our lives, which don’t always require our understanding, but always require humility, peace, and gentleness.
(“Christ Carrying the Cross”, ca. 1475-80)