Harry Clarke, Irish, 1889-1931
Title: The Mother of Sorrows
Date: 1926
Medium: Stained glass
323.5 x 48 x 0.1 cm
307.5 x 48 x 0.1 cm
Credit Line: Purchased, 2002
Object Number: NGI.12262
DescriptionThe subject is a Pietà, with the sorrowful Virgin holding the limp and emaciated body of Christ within a mandorla, the almond-like shape traditionally associated with representations of them. The unusual vertical format and the Virgin’s piercing gaze add to the intensity of the scene, which is portrayed with the richness and detail typical of Clarke’s stained glass. Flanking the two main figures are St Francis of Assisi, barefoot in a richly painted habit, with birds fluttering around him, and St Catherine of Genoa, one of whose visions was the dead Christ held by his Mother. St Catherine of Genoa’s dress is predominately red, symbolising the fire of divine love. Above are angels in prayer. The background sky is ultramarine blue with tiny colour insets that sparkle as they catch the light. The mandorla has a border of tiny bunched flowers, and at its centre aqueous organisms suggest the origins of life.
The window was commissioned in 1926 by Sister Superior Mary of st Wilfrid (1894-1926) for Dowanhill Training College, Glasgow. It followed the success there of Clarke’s The Coronation of the Virgin (1922). A bicycle accident delayed completion until the autumn and Clarke worked on it alone in London, without assistance from his Dublin studio. Intended as a First World War memorial, the death of Sister Wilfrid led to it becoming a memorial to her, inscribed at the base with her favourite stanza from the Stabat Mater and family motto.

March 2016
Label TextAt the centre of this composition, the Virgin, framed by a mandorla, holds the lifeless body of Christ. Flanking this pietà are Saint Francis of Assisi, with birds fluttering around him, and Saint Catherine of Genoa, one of whose visions had featured the dead Christ in the arms of his mother. The window was designed as a First World War memorial for Dowanhill Training College in Glasgow, but became instead a memorial to Sister Superior Mary of Saint Wilfred, who had commissioned it. Included at the base are her family motto and a stanza from ‘Stabat Mater’.

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