Object Image

Madonna and Child with Angels Bearing Symbols of the Passion

This drawing is filled with minute details-most strikingly, the multitude of cherub faces amidst the clouds-and yet it reflects the grandeur of the large altarpiece for which it was made as a preparatory design. The altarpiece was made for the transept of Munich's Jesuit Church of Saint Michael, one of the greatest Counter-Reformation churches in German-speaking lands.

As God, angels, and the dove of the Holy Spirit look down from above, the Virgin Mary and Christ child sit atop a throne surrounded by earthly subjects: a cardinal, bishop, and pope on the left, and nobles on the right-including the Duke of Bavaria, who commissioned Friedrich Sustris to oversee the church's design and decoration.

Sustris's fine penmanship creates a light and airy atmosphere. Brown ink defines the figures' often-elongated forms over chunky light-gray washes that add some weight to the grounded and floating figures. The ink looks like gold in some areas, contributing an aura of holiness to objects of the Passion presented by the angels. The crown of thorns, cross, and pillar of the flagellation were meant to encourage meditation on Christ's crucifixion. Such lavish displays of iconography throughout the church and exemplified in this drawing expressed a defiant, new Catholicism seeking to convert Protestants.

Digital image and text courtesy of the Getty's Open Content Program.

c. 1583
Pen and brown ink and gray ink and wash
38.4 x 26.2cm

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