CATHEDRAL, Bermejo's Pieta'

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The so-called Pietà Desplá is the most significant work of art that you can admire in the Cathedral Museum: this great altar panel is named after the Cathedral Archdeacon Lluis Desplá, the canonical scholar who commissioned the work from Bartolomé Bermejo, the most important Spanish artist of the 1400s.

Look at this dramatic scene set against the backdrop of a vast landscape: the Madonna is racked with grief, and holds the body of her dead son on her lap. To the Virgin's right is Saint Jerome, dressed as a cardinal and immersed in his readings, even wearing glasses on his nose. Curled up at his feet is a slumbering lion: according to tradition the Saint had removed a thorn from its paw. On the Virgin's left, you can see the kneeling archdeacon. He is depicted with a wistful glance lost in meditation, which is clearly a reference to his normal demeanor, and conveys a sense of his profound participation in the drama.

The entire work emits a great sense of sadness, which is emphasized by the scenery: above Jesus' head a dark and rough sky is thickening with clouds that announce an upcoming thunderstorm, which are opposing the increasing brightness of dawn, with a flock of startled birds heading into it. The painting's left side also includes a reference to the earthquake that occurred with Jesus' death, depicted by a cliff collapsed behind a hermit's cave.

This masterpiece shows that Bermejo had perfected the technique of Flemish painting, with his detailed description of reality in even the smallest natural aspects, and had combined it with the effectiveness of a sober and monumental composition that's reminiscent of Italian art.

In contrast with the tragic feeling of death, you can note some flowering bushes and a variety of small animals or insects in the forefront, which are all signs of good auspices: the lizard is the symbol of the soul's salvation and regeneration, the ladybug represents the Virgin, and the butterflies allude to the resurrection of Christ. Even the snail is a symbol of the burial and resurrection of Jesus.


FUN FACT: in this work, researchers from the Institute of Biodiversity of the University of Barcelona counted and filed an impressive 43 different plant species, three kinds of fungi and lichens, and 22 animals!

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