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DESPLĀ "PIETAT"
MUSEU CAPITULAR DE BARCELONA

by Dr. Josep M. Martí Bonet
Canon for Conservation of Barcelona Cathedral and Episcopal Delegate for Cultural Heritage

The works of art in the care of Barcelona Cathedral are of considerable historical and artistic interest. They are arranged in three distinct collections, one in the chapter house, another in the treasury and the third being kept in the choir and chapels inside the cathedral itself and in the cloister. The first of these makes up what we call the Museu Capitular or Chapter Museum. (...)
Perhaps the artistically most valuable piece in the Museu Capitular is the painting depicting the Pietat (or descent from the Cross) by the Cordovan artist Bartolomé Bermejo, dated 1490. It stood in the chapel of the archdeacon Lluís Desplā, now the interior of a tower of the Episcopal Palace occupied by the Diocesan Archive. The donor (Canon Desplā) appears in the scene. Saint Jerome is also shown reading a codex in which we can make out the word Montserrat.
The crosspiece at the base of this magnificent panel bears an inscription in Latin, rendered in translation as: "the work of Bartolomé Bermejo of Cordova, revered by Lluís Desplā, Archdeacon of Barcelona, completed on the 23rd day of April in the year of the redemption of Christ 1490". The panel had two matching pieces, now lost, the three of them together forming a triptych; both uprights show evidence of having had hinges attached.
The expression of the central group (the dead Jesus and the Pietat) is of great beauty and realism. Mary’s eyes, half closed and blinded with tears, express great pathos. Her mouth, twisted in grief, shows deep sorrow. The blood-drained body of Jesus lying across the lap of the Mother of God highlights the painful death He suffered, the wounds in His hands, side and feet still bleeding. Jesus’ face conveys an intimate perception of goodness despite the intense pathos it proclaims. (...)
Bermejo’s Pietat is the culmination of a wide artistic career. The composition of the piece shows no trace of discord, neither in the anatomy nor in the broadened perspective, which shows clear Flemish influences without breaking away from the pictorial tradition of the Catalan international Gothic.