The Art of Empathy

GBP £11.95

Out of stock



ISBN: 978-1-907804-26-7

64 Pages

279 x 203 mm (8 x 11 in)

50 colour illustrations

In association with the Cummer Museum of Art

November 2013


The first study to showcase this unique masterpiece, presenting art historical and technical research that suggests that the Cummer Mother of Sorrows was designed as an independent devotional image based on Byzantine models.

“Lively prose, and lavish illustrations”—Andrea Pearson, Speculum

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When the Mother of Sorrows entered the Cummer Museum’s collection, it was declared the “most important discovery in early German painting [in decades]” by art historian Colin Eisler. The painting is one of only five known works attributed to the anonymous fifteenth-century artist known as the Master of the Stötteritz Altarpiece. Painted in oil with gilding on a small wooden panel, it has always been extremely vulnerable, and the fact that it survives at all is remarkable. The painting is a fine example of the realism and emotional intensity that characterise the early Renaissance in northern Europe. The Madonna’s sorrow is explicitly revealed in her red swollen eyes and the tears that fall upon her cheeks. Her intense expression is joined by details of clothing, hair, and gesturing hands depicted with painstaking acuity. Extending her left hand in a gesture of intercession, the Virgin welcomes the prayers of the faithful and prompts a multi-sensory response that is meant to completely involve the beholder.

Nearly 50 carefully selected images—including close-up details and technical images—illuminate the context of 15th-century art production and religious devotion. Further, by referencing recent investigations of empathy (from the scientific to the political), the catalogue explores art of subsequent centuries, from Pablo Picasso’s Weeping Woman (1937) to a recent video installation by Rineke Dijkstra.

The Art of Empathy represents a significant contribution to the study of Northern Renaissance art and devotion, and also demonstrates how the emotional response created by the Stötteritz Master is still relevant today—not only in terms of engaging with images but also in discussing empathy as a defining characteristic of humanity.

About the Author

David S. Areford is associate professor of art history at the University of Massachusetts Boston. He specialises in the devotional art of the late Middle Ages and Northern Renaissance. He is author of The Viewer and the Printed Image in Late Medieval Europe (2010), coauthor of the exhibition catalogue Origins of European Printmaking: Fifteenth-Century Woodcuts and Their Public (a finalist for the Alfred H. Barr Jr. Award for Museum Scholarship, 2005), and co-editor (with Nina Rowe) of Excavating the Medieval Image: Manuscripts, Artists, Audiences (2004).

Table of Contents

  1. Foreword
  2. Acknowledgments
  3. The Art of Empathy: The Cummer Mother of Sorrows in Context
  4. Checklist of the Exhibition