A new form of painting emerged in the fourteenth century, towards the close of the Middle Ages, with the express purpose of evoking strong emotional responses. Newer images shifted the focus to the waist up, depicting Christ and the Virgin in half-length rather than full-length stances. According to one art historian, this brought the sacred figures closer to the observer, allowing them to engage in “the immediacy of a quiet conversation.”

Using “close-ups” of regularly shown stories, the artists explored new techniques. Painting Jesus alone, his wounds flowing, staring out of the image at us would be preferred to depicting the entire flagellation incident, which would have seen him chained to a column and thrashed by Roman troops while Pontius Pilate looked on. Instead of depicting the procession of Roman troops and spectators making their way to Calvary, they would depict Jesus sitting down immediately before he was crucified.

At the Last Supper, they would depict only Jesus and John the Evangelist, his most loyal follower, rather than all twelve followers. These were the kinds of moments that the new artists picked out so that people may focus on the deepest, most personal feelings. A hinged connection was used by the new artists to create twin portraits. On one side, we see the Virgin Mary crying; on the other, we see Jesus, scourged and crowned with thorns, representing the man of sorrows.

In order to display them on a table or home altar, visitors might open the double photos like books. On the other side of the hinge, Mary appears to be staring at Jesus. As I sit here with this double image open, I can almost feel like I’m a part of a small, reverent circle of mourning. Even if I did speak, it would be very softly. I would be engaged in a passionate discussion, encircled by the anguished Savior and the distressed Madonna.

Pages upon pages of vibrant red ellipses depicting the gash in Christ’s side, or the holes in his wrists or feet, are included in prayer books in certain images that focus on his wounds. Some of those pictures are strangely sexual; they’re red, squishy, and resemble vaginas more than wounds. While contemporary academics have pondered the implicit sexuality of these pictures, their original intent was to draw the observer in closer, to heighten the personal nature of devotion, and to display just that which the heart could comprehend.

Many people must have been brought to tears by the precisely cropped half-length photographs, frequently referred to as “devotional images” (Andachtsbilder in German). A new teaching was floating about, encouraging believers to do more than only feel compassion for Jesus and Mary; rather, they should strive to physically connect with them via prayer, seeing themselves as Jesus or the Mother of God. You may stare at the picture for what felt like hours or days, immersing yourself in the thoughts of the Virgin Mary or the Savior. At last, you would experience emotions similar to theirs and be able to view the world, although partially, from their perspective. Then, as the concept of compunctive had always maintained, their tears would be your tears.

Weeping Madonna by Dieric Bouts, Painting emerged in the fourteenth century evoking strong emotional responses

A Chicago devotional picture. Among these images is Weeping Madonna by Dieric Bouts. Bouts had his workshop create many copies because, like other Andachtsbilder, it was quite popular. Across the street from my workplace in Chicago is the Art Institute, where I am most familiar with the one. Another, created not long after, may be seen in New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. These paintings are on the little side, perfect for displaying on a shelf. At one point, they were each supported by complementary paintings of Jesus. Chicago is home to one of the most stunning paintings by Bouts.

Port wines: Taylor Fladgate 30 Year Old Tawny Port

Alone in a chamber, the Blessed Mother sits. She wears her coat haphazardly drawn up over her head, causing it to be uneven. She appears to be praying serenely rather than trembling or crying, as seen in previous artworks. Despite facing Jesus, she avoids making eye contact with him. Her fists are tightly interlocked, with one hand’s fingers nestled in the spaces between the other. She has her tiny fingers bent slightly and held apart from her other fingers. A slight pressure is applied by the finger pads touching one another. They’re fascinating hands: relaxed but tense, impromptu yet unmoving