Our Lady of Sorrows

Author: Unknown painter

Dating: Late 17th century

Material: Oil on glass

Dimensions: 41x31.5 cm

Location: Milazzo, Church of the SS. Crucifix in San Papino


The painting, most likely originally placed at the foot of the Crucifix in the chapel of the same name in the church of San Papino, depicts the grieving Madonna, pierced by a sword while contemplating the crown of thorns she holds in her hands. Her head, slightly recumbent, is framed by a white cap that lets out the wavy locks of hair on her shoulder, while the blue veil partially covers her white dress, edged in gold. The subject of Our Lady of Sorrows is a simplification of the Seven Sorrows of the Virgin, a theme depicted with the iconographic attribute of seven swords wounding Mary's heart. It is a faithful representation of what we read in the Gospel of Luke about the prophecy that Simeon made to Mary on the day of Jesus' presentation in the Temple, revealing to her that a sword would pierce her soul. This subject, which mainly interested artists from northern Europe in the 16th century, is found in Italian and Spanish works during the 17th century.

The depiction of Our Lady of Sorrows, without the sword, contemplating the instruments of the Passion, also became popular during the same period. This is the iconography of the Virgin of Solitude or La Soledad inspired by a religious legend that tells of the Virgin left alone, after the death of her son, in a chapel opposite Calvary until the day of the Resurrection. This latter theme was treated especially by Spanish artists working in the climate of the Counter-Reformation and also spread to Sicily, where the confraternity of Nostra Signora de la Soledad was founded in Palermo in 1590. The iconography of this painting appears as a synthesis of the two subjects due to the presence of both the sword piercing Our Lady's heart and the crown of thorns, the object of the Virgin's contemplation.

The general layout of the painting seems to refer to a model, perhaps known through the circulation of engravings that were circulated to boost the cult of the Madonna of Sorrows in the 17th century. However, the rendering of the shading of the face, the soft drapery and the anatomical details reveal the hand of a skilled artist capable of mastering the technique of glass painting. One must consider the fact that glass painting is characterised by the constant use of prints, drawings and models taken from monumental paintings, as is also often the case in contemporary miniatures because their devotional function prevails. The fact, moreover, that glass painting, which arrived in Sicily towards the end of the 17th century, later than in other parts of Europe, was characterised by an uncertain design and a rather popular style with bright colours, shows the absence of workshops specialising in the production of such paintings.

On the whole, the work of fine workmanship can be ascribed to the late 17th century, as also suggested by the contemporary frame with large carved and gilded acanthus scrolls embellishing the painting. The iconographic model, on the other hand, could date back to the first decades of the century, when works characterised by a moderate patheticism were circulating, created to meet Counter-Reformation demands and in which mannerist stylistic elements still converged, often also influenced by contemporary Flemish painting. It is therefore difficult to hypothesise its attribution, and it is also possible to assume that the painting, intended for private devotion, may have been made outside Sicily and then purchased by the noble Baele family who, as sources attest, patronised the chapel of the Crucifix.


Buda V., Lanuzza S. (a cura di), Tesori di Milazzo. Arte sacra tra Seicento e Settecento., Milazzo 2015