Close XYL-30 The Pietà with the Instruments of the Passion

 [England (Syon Abbey?), c.1499]. Woodcut, with English inscription.

 Schr. 976. The Virgin sits before the cross, bending her head to the left over the body of the dead Christ, naked but for his loincloth, who rests on her knees. They are flanked by the lance and the reed with sponge. The inscription on the tablet over the cross reads ‘.I.N.R.I.’ In the background, on either side of the Virgin, there rises a hill with two groups of fortified buildings with towers and steeples. The picture is framed by a border of 26 compartments containing instruments of the Passion. The panel beneath the image contains a three-line indulgence of 6,755 years for the performance of a devotion before the Arms of the Passion: ‘Who sum euer deuoutly beholdith. | these armys off cristis passyon hat | vj.M.vij C lv yeris off pardon:-’. This unique item is one of only two recorded single-leaf woodcuts from England depicting the Pietà (for the second see Dodgson, English Woodcuts, fig. 14), although close copies of this design were used as illustrations in Wynkyn de Worde’s editions of the Imytacion of crist (?1515, ?1520; Hodnett nos 455, 461–2; fig. 27–8, 35).

ills. Schreiber, Manuel, VI pl. XXII; Dodgson, ‘English Devotional Woodcuts’, pl. XXXV (d); Dodgson, English Woodcuts, fig. 13; D. Gray, Themes and Images in the Medieval English Religious Lyric (London and Boston, 1972), pl. 6; Illustrated Bartsch (Supplement), 163.976; Duffy, ‘Devotion’, fig. 3.

refs. Schreiber, Manuel, I 284; Schreiber, Handbuch, II 976; Dodgson, Ashmolean, 34 (Bodl.21); Dodgson, ‘English Devotional Woodcuts’, 96 and 100 (no. 7); Dodgson, English Woodcuts, 9; Hodnett no. 2512; STC 14077c.22; Driver, ‘Bridgettine Woodcuts’, 239; Nicholson no. 91. See also: The Bodleian Library in 1882–7. A Report from the Librarian published by permission of the Curators (Oxford, 1888), 49–50.

copy Chancery half-sheet. 224 × c.180 mm (woodcut 148 × 108 mm). The watermark is a distinctive cuffed hand surmounted by a large quatrefoil; Nicholson’s suggestion that this watermark might be associated with Wynkyn de Worde has not proved verifiable. Chain-lines vertical. Printed in black ink in a press on one side of the paper. Uncoloured. The text of the indulgence has been scored through. The lower part is torn, but has been repaired. The third of three woodcuts placed at the beginning of a set of devotional texts in Latin for the use of Birgittines. For the function and context of the woodcut, see XYL-13.

Binding: See XYL-13.

Provenance: Syon Abbey, Middlesex, Birgittines. Richard Rawlinson (1690–1755). Bequeathed in 1755. See XYL-13.

shelfmark: MS. Rawl. D. 403, fol. 1v.